Ya know… Getting rid of your cable or satellite subscriptions ain’t as easy as you might think. This is what I’ve learned so far…
I recently got a new job in a different state. While we wait for the housing market to improve a bit before we sell the house, I’ve got long term, temporary housing set up. In an attempt to manage costs, I’ve decided to forgo with a local cable TV subscription and have decided to become a cord cutter. Internet TV or even getting TV on your computer isn’t as easy as you thought it might be; and I’ve learned some interesting lessons over the past few weeks. I’m going to do my best to cover as many of them as I can.
You Still Need a TV
I’ve got a 27″ Thunderbolt Display; and as a computer monitor it’s totally awesome. As a TV, however, it leaves something to be desired. It would be great if the right services were in place to be able to use it as a TV.
iTunes can be controlled with an Apple Remote on every Mac. I’ve also found that my Thunderbolt Display works well from across a small room; and an Apple Remote can perform basic VCR functions as well as control volume levels on my MacBook Pro. This however, is only part of the equation.
However, you can’t “change a channel,” and Apple TV functionality isn’t present on a Mac. Channel surfing really doesn’t exist in this situation. Things like Netflix or Hulu Plus are run in a browser and you need a full blown mouse or some kind of motion control device (like Microsoft Connect) to control your Mac from your couch.
If you have a TV and other accessories (see below) you can still cut the cable, but get the best of both worlds. If the Apple iTV was really a Thunderbolt Display with a built in Apple TV, or if there was a real world way to marry the two together, this would eliminate the need for a TV from the cord cutting equation. Unfortunately, I’m finding that a TV is still a required component.
Get a Set Top Box
As I mentioned above, if you REALLY want to have the best “cord free” experience, you’re not only going to need a TV, but you’re going to need a set top box. I’m really talking about an Apple TV, Roku Box, Chromecast dongle or other device that helps you find some traditional network (ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.) content, cable network (HBO, ShowTime, Cinemax, etc.) content, some specialty content (NFL Network, ESPN, etc.) as well as some streaming services like Netflix and/or Hulu Plus.
While streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus are available via a browser, as I pointed out above, getting a full blown TV experience is difficult without a set top box. It is possible to find traditional network, cable network or specialty content on the web with a web browser; but that often involves a separate fee. The set top box is often licensed by the content owner to play or stream the content without paying an additional licensing fee. It also makes using your streaming service subscription a lot easier, as it consolidates all of your options – including those available on your PC – into a single interface and place. Again, if I could use my Apple TV with my Thunderbolt display, this would solve a big problem for me.
Invest in a Really Good Digital Antenna
Services like Aero are really kinda cool. However, Aero isn’t available in all markets, and there really isn’t anything else like it that would allow streaming of local channels over the internet or other network connection. This is a huge problem if you’re a cord cutter and are trying to obtain digital TV services without any kind of cable or satellite TV package.
The obvious thing to do here is to purchase a really strong, really good digital antenna for your TV. While this will insure that you can get local TV programming, the most important thing you have to remember is that even though this is the Digital Age, you’re going to take yourself back to the Golden Age of Television when you do this. In other words, it’s going to be a challenge.
Local TV stations are required by Federal mandate to broadcast their programming over the air so that you can pick them up with a digital antenna. You don’t HAVE to have a cable or satellite TV subscription in order to get these channels, though in many ways, this is the easiest way to insure that
- You get the local programming
- You’re able to view it all clearly, without reception issues
I’ve used digital antennas before with other digital TV products and I’ve noticed that, like the SD TV’s from the ’50’s to the ’80’s (i.e.: before cable really took hold), a lot of antenna adjusting may be required based on your geographical and topographical location (where you are and the shape of the geography around you). The best thing you can do is to insure that the antenna you have is the best you can afford. The stronger that receiver is, the better the quality of the picture you will receive. (You’ll also cut down on the amount of tin foil and forks you’ll need to use to insure that the picture comes in clearly.)