This is how I watch TV

Português: Antena DirecTV apontada para o saté...

It was a year ago this month that we cancelled DirecTV, less to save money than to stop wasting it. We were paying $85 a month — $1,020 a year — on hundreds of channels we never watched.

We didn’t give up TV, and we didn’t stop paying for it. We just watch it differently, and we’re paying a lot less.

We get 19 channels with a TV antenna in the attic. I made the antenna out scrap wood and copper wire (learn how here and here).

I could have bought an antenna for under $100, but where’s the fun in that?

Our house was already wired for cable, so I plugged the antenna into the cable, meaning we can watch TV in any room.

We have a computer upstairs in the bonus room. It runs Windows 7, and Windows 7 comes with a spiffy app called Windows Media Center.

Our PC has a TV tuner, too, so Windows Media Center lets us use it as a DVR. It’s slicker than the one we used to rent from DirecTV, and it’s essentially free.

We also have an Xbox 360. It connects wirelessly with the PC and streams live and recorded TV from the computer to the HDTV downstairs in the living room.

It sounds complicated, but, in practice, it’s exactly like watching cable, except we use a game pad as a remote control. (We could buy a special remote control, but that seems pointless.)

Downstairs, we have a WD TV Live. Upstairs, in the bedroom, we have a Roku. They let us watch Netflix, Hulu and a bunch of other online “channels” on our TVs. We pay $7.99 a month for Netflix and $7.99 for Hulu Plus.

Our monthly bill has fallen from $85 a month to $16, from $1,020 a year to $192.

One year after cutting the cord, this is what I’ve learned:

  • Cord cutting isn’t for everyone. It’s a lot easier to pay $85 a month for a single box that gives you everything.
  • Still, a new survey by Deloitte says 9% of respondents have already cancelled cable, while 11% percent say they’re thinking about it. The younger you are, the more likely you are to cut the cord.
  • We don’t miss cable. We certainly don’t miss the cable bill.
  • We aren’t hurting for things to watch.
  • We can’t sit on the couch anymore and mindless flip through the channels anymore. We have to put some effort into it, put some thought into what we’re going to watch. I think that’s a good thing.
  • We can record live TV and watch it later, but usually we don’t. Usually, it’s easier just to stream the show on Hulu.
  • I wish we still had ESPN, especially during college basketball season, but some games are on broadcast TV, and every game of the men’s tournament will be streamed online free.
  • Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NFL and the NHL all have online subscriptions where you can stream every game online  — and watch them on a TV instead of a PC. You don’t really need cable or satellite anymore to get your sports fix.
  • Worse comes to worse, there’s a pizza place up the street with big-screen TVs and ESPN.

21 thoughts on “This is how I watch TV

  1. I finally went to roku last month. Love it. The ESPN problem is the only thing keeping me with pay tv, but buying the game packages seems more and more like an option to me.

    1. The Roku is great. Some ISPs offer an extra service to their Internet customers called ESPN 3. It streams a bunch of games, live. You could use an Xbox to watch ESPN 3 on your TV or software called PlayOn to stream it to your Roku.

    1. Sports really is the killer app of cable and satellite. I like watching games, but I don’t obsess over it, so I can live without ESPN, although I do missing watching my beloved Kentucky Wildcats.

  2. I’m groovin’ on this. I dumped cable in 2004 and just went without for a long time. Now I stream Netflix through our Wii. But I’m still rocking a 20″ CRT TV as our main set, so perhaps I’m just a Luddite after all.

  3. We haven’t owned a tv in a long time, and I haven’t had cable since before I went to college. For a while it was liberating–no tv! I won’t waste my time!– and if there was a show or two that I wanted to see I could always find somewhere to watch them.

    However with the rise of streaming television on the internet, even without a tv, I find myself watching more shows than ever. With Netflix, Hulu, etc, I’ve gone back and watched whole series that I missed out on (Arrested Development, Six Feet Under, etc) and started watching shows that are still on but five or six seasons in. In a sense it is good that I can’t just flip through the channels and watch something mindlessly, I have to have something in mind to find it, but whatever it is can generally be found. My favorite times to queue something up is during my lunch break at work or while I’m making dinner–then at least I’m killing two birds with one stone.

    My husband is a huge soccer fan, and a college basketball fan. He finds almost everything streaming on the internet. Granted, not ever soccer match has commentary in English, but he assures me the important word to know is “Gooooooooaaaaaaaallllllllllll!!!!!!” ;)

    1. I love watching TV shows like Arrested Development a season at a time. I’m working my way through Mad Men right now. I’ll watch an episode, and then it ends, and I think, “Wait, it’s over? What happens now?” So, I’ll start watching the next episode and, before I know it, it’s over, and I think, “Wait, it’s over? What happens now?” It’s a viscious cycle.

  4. We got a Roku last year and we love it! I am so tempted to drop Direct TV and just watch whatever we can via Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon through the Roku. Actually, our Direct TV box has been messed up and we haven’t been able to watch “regular” tv for almost two weeks. I haven’t missed it at all.

    1. There are some cable shows I can’t get right away on Netflix or Hulu, like “The Walking Dead,” but they’re available for sale the next day on Amazon. Paying $2 an episode for a show I really like is STILL cheaper than paying $85 for DirecTV.

  5. I cancelled for a while myself and found most of the same things you did. I signed back up last september, but I’m about ready to quit cable again. The sports thing was my kicker (and my need of a better antenna). I did most of the same things you have (Windows media center + 3 tuner cards + linksys media extender, and a google tv). One of the sites I found, which is likely a gray area in the legal space, was It’s a pay site, but you get HD hockey streams (including local games). It works well for me.

    1. I like to avoid the gray areas, partly as a lesson to the kids and partly because, with my luck, I’ll be one of the saps the NHL sues for piracy to serve as an example to everyone else!

  6. I’ve talked to a lot of people who are making the same decisions. We have so many different options now for watching TV according to our different schedules. Everybody seems to be in agreement that they won’t miss cable except for the dilemma of live sports. It seems to be the only thing we won’t watch recorded.

    1. This is how I broke it down: Do I want ESPN? Yes! Is it worth a thousand bucks a year to watch a few University of Kentucky basketball games and some baseball games in the summer? No, not really.

  7. We live out in the country, where the option is satellite TV or over-the-air reception of just a few stations. I guess we won’t cut our ties with the satellite for a while yet!

  8. The problem is getting CNN, MSNBC, FOX and CNBC in addition to ESPN and ESPN2. How do I do that as a cord cutter? I have Netflix and debating Hulu Plus, but I still need cable for Live cable events and news. I still need them and they know it. Maybe eventually they’ll have a “Live” TV package but for now…I pay.

    1. I’m a “news junkie” also. But I’ve found network cable news channels not the most premium anyway. I subscribe to the New York Times and a bunch of news podcasts, and listen to a lot of talk radio. If you really love the Cable news channels you’re right -they got you.

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