Cutting the Cord : From Infant to Teenager

Over the past few years I have heard about so many people that have cut the cord and got rid of traditional cable TV, this seemed like a great way to save money but could my wife and I really do it and not get annoyed? Also would it really save us alot of money? Spoiler : We save about $115 a month but it could be more.

Over the next few paragraphs, I will take you through my journey from all in with xFinity to only paying them for internet and using multiple services and pieces of hardware but having a rather good experience.

Over the next few post I will break down the cord cutting into a few areas that you may only need a few pieces of so to help it will be in a few articles.

Overall our experience has been smooth but took alot of time and research to make it fit for us.  We are still learning as we go but for over $100 a month worth of savings

Cutting the Cord : Switching to Internet Only

This part is two fold. First its the experience of actually telling Xfinity that I was done.  This wasn’t too bad but just stick to your guns.  I could not do it online and had to call them and she tried to figure out what other packages I could use, even acting shocked when I said we had never picked up the land line we used to have but only had it because it was cheaper with a triple play than with a double play.  Once we got past the part where I constantly turned down the extra offers we got to the point of figuring out what internet only plan I wanted.  My current plan was for 200 mbps, which for most people was probably fine but was going to be about $80 a month anyway.  I asked what they had better, after I had already researched online but I gave her a shot.  She claimed she could only do a 400 mbps or a 600 mbps.  I politely inquired about a gigabit service I had heard about, “oh well we could do that but you would need a new cable modem/router” Since I spend the $10 fee every month to rent the router from Xfinity this seemed like something that should not have been an issue.  I spoke with her a little longer and found out that gigabit to my house was $115 a month.  Since I have all my smart home components plus we planned to only stream this seemed like a no brainer. It did require them to come install it which was more so they could configure it to the house but that was actually handy because I could turn in all my old cable boxes to the technician and didnt have to ship them.

Everything was going well with the install but after a day or two of testing I found my Ubiquiti AC-LR access points could just not handle the speed well for me and needed an upgrade.  I have been a big fan of the Ubiquiti gear but it is expensive, this was when i found the Google Wifi mesh network.  For $249 for a 3 pack on Amazon I figured I would try them and worse case return them.  I was very happy with them.  The install took less than 15 minutes and they are tucked away and hardly noticeable.

I did add the CloverTale outlet wall mount that was $10 just to make things easy. I will say that this is engineered very well The cable coils completely behind the mount and it hands from my outlet without any problem at all.  I expected this since I have similar for my Amazon Echo Dots .

Overall I have been very happy with the google wifi.  I switched the Xfinity wireless off and am running all my devices through the Google Wifi, it makes them very easy to manage, including port forwarding, DHCP, DHCP reservations, custom DNS and all from an easy app.  I did find that the range was good for my house (1200 sq ft.) however I did end up adding 2 more access points to extend the range for our deck and for our outdoor cameras.

Cutting the Cord: Streaming Service Selection

Probably the most important part of making this decision was making sure we could still watch the things we wanted.  I did trials with Sling, PSVue and DirectTVNow.  While each of them had rather decent interfaces and some channels, I had a few criteria that needed to be met:

  • Provide access to major networks (Be warned that no one had CBS yet)
  • Good Interface on Amazon FireStick, Apple TV and Mobile
  • Game Show Network (We watch a lot fo Family Feud when just sitting around)
  • DVR Functionality – O later determined I didn’t need this but more on that to come.

All seems pretty simple except PSVue didnt have GSN, Sling had it but it was an extra plan.  In the end I ended up with DirectTVNow for everything except the DVR function which Sling didnt have either.  What DirectTVNow did have was a free Apple TV 4K if you paid for 4 months upfront.  I had to use one of the old gmail tricks for this however.  My account is not my basic email but rather I used a + in my email since gmail ignores that.  I normally would not need to do this but the free AppleTV was for new subscribers only and if you have done the trial it wont work.  I didnt have to have the new AppleTV but one of mine was a version 3 and could not get apps so this seemed like a good reason.  More on the AppleTV in the next blog.

Cutting the Cord: Whats on the TVs Now?

Traditionally you either just plug the TV right into the cable or most likely a cable box, but since I dont have any of those, I needed to determine how we would watch TV.  I have five places I needed to worry about this, Living Room, Master Bedroom, Spare Room, my office and when I am traveling (since I can get local channels now) I am going to detail each one because they each had their own challenges although they have all been overcome now

Living Room

I have a Samsung Smart TV in the living room, I assumed this would be the easiest but the DirectTVNow app isn’t on it so I needed to add some other device.  Since I had the new AppleTV 4K this was the logical place for it.  I wanted to be able to control it all just like I had in the past so i hooked everything up and reprogrammed my Logitech Harmony Hub.  This let me turn everything on from my Amazon Echo as well since the Harmony Hub is configurable to it. I did have to factory reset the hub however but that could have been the combination of changing Wifi and lots of configuration changes.  It really was pretty simple and lets us use the Apple TV or the Smart TV although its pretty much always on the Apple Now.

Master Bedrooom

This one should also have been simple, I have a newer generation Vizio however I do not have a Harmony Hub in here and had been using an older Logitech Harmony non IR remote.  This meant that I could not control the Apple TV 4th Gen that I moved in there.  I found out thanks to my friend Nick over at DatacenterDude.com   that he was able to turn his TV on and off from sleep mode with his Apple TV remote.  I looked into this a bit and it just requires you to turn on CEC on the TV and find the device.  Keep in mind that most TV have this but many of you went a little cheaper have it disabled and you cant use it.  I was lucky and it works great. I simply hold down the TV icon on the remote and it puts everything to sleep and when I click on the touchpad it wakes up again.

Spare Bedroom

I expected this to be the hardest since its a small, old and cheap TV but it had an HDMI port and I had a Amazon FireStick I could hook to it.  This worked great to access the apps and watch things but I ran into the problem that I did not have CEC.  After a little searching I found a universal remote that clips on as a replacement to the back of the FireStick remote, it was on Amazon (of course) This did the trick, now I was down to a single remote in the spare room and it was easy for guests to navigate.

Office/Traveling

I am combining these two because I only need one at a time and the requirements seemed close.  In the office it was easy, I would just connect my laptop to my larger monitor, I can login to the DirectTVNow website and I can view TV.  The extra challenge was when i was traveling.  I have tried things like taking an AppleTV but they didnt work at hotels that required a website login.  This is where the new FireStick is amazing.  Anytime you are at a hotel you simply connect to their wifi and if you need the website login, then it will pop up and allow you to enter your required info, then you are online.  It is small as well and will power off the USB on the back of the TV.

Cutting the Cord: Can I stream my movies and what if I travel for my Ipad?

This one was the part I didnt think my wife would love but she doesnt seem to mind at all.  After talking with numerous people I found that running my own internal Plex server was the answer to my problems.  Now I know that not everyone has a machine just sitting around but I had a microserver I used for testing but it is only in heavy use a few times a year.  I decided this box would be perfect to use a Plex Media Server (PMS).  For those of you who are not familiar, the Plex Media Server catalogs your movies and TV shows and even music and home movies and presents them via a webpage or app to allow them to be streamed either internally only or over the internet if you so choose.  Since I already had most of my movies digital, this meant nothing more than installing the software on Windows (it is available for Linux and Mac as well).  Once it was installed I created a library from my movies folder and I was off and running.  You can also set things like TV Shows, these are even sorted by season and episodes.  there are lots of software packages out there that will help you get access to all the movies and shows you want but I am going to decline to go into those.

I then made sure the Plex app was installed on all my devices around the house and I am ready to go, I have access.  What I didnt realize when I started this was that I would need to go get the Plex Pass paid version, for a few reasons, the first was the ability to have household users.  I have a user created for myself and my wife so that we can be watching different things. Without this, anytime you connect and try to watch something and another person is watching something else on another device, you will kick them off.  This clearly was not going to be a solution and the paid version of Plex gave me user capability.  If you have kids this can be very useful also since you can limit what folders they have access to.

Another bid benefit for me of the full paid version was offline sync capability.  I can not connect my ipad and download shows and movies from my server for when I am offline, for instance when I am traveling.

One more benefit of plex is that I can share things like my Christmas movie collection with my family without ever having to get on a a plane or in a car and I can simply add them as friends and give them access to my library.

This paid version is $40 a year or $119 for lifetime, I opted for the $40 a year only because I like to give some constant support to companies that are writing software I use.

Cutting the Cord: What about a DVR and Local?

This was one question that I really wasnt sure how I was going to answer or if I would find a good answer but then Plex Premium came to the rescue again.  One of the add ons for the premium version is the ability to stream live TV and act as a DVR.  All that was required was a compatible TV tuner.  I have not used a TV tuner on a computer since the early days of XBMC and quickly realized it wasnt worth my hassle, but this time was much easier although I did have one mistep along the way.  I started by looking to use a small USB based tuner, the Hauppague WinTV-DualHD. This is a fine device if you are running things on a Windows 7 system or something consumer level, but since i have my server running on Server 2012, I found out that the drivers were not compatible and I could never get the system to do anything but recognize the device.  It did that fine but then would not find any channels.  Keep in mind this is for over the air TV only and will not work well if you are too far away from the antennas.  That being said there are some very long range HD OTA antenna available today.  So since I could not get any stations, i returned that device.

The reviews on the Plex site spoke very highly of the SiliconDust HDHomeRun devices, but they were a bit more expensive.  I opted for the HDHomeRun Extend.  I could have probably gone with a lower end unit but with hardware transcoding and compression built in, I felt like I would get better use and efficiency.  I wasnt quite sure what to expect form this device since it has a power cord, an ethernet jack and a coax connection for an antenna.  I did the initial setup for it and it picked up an IP quickly and to my surprise, the Plex server saw it almost instantly over my LAN.  From there it was just setting a few configuration on the settings screen in Plex and I had a program guide and Recording schedule added to my manage screen.  The recording options are limited but gives you the basics you need.Once you get your shows selected it gives you a nice interface of what will be recorded, and they all go into a TV Show folder you have created.  You will also notice that I get CBS shows this way.  I dont have to miss out on any of the shows I enjoy just because they wont let me stream them with any of the services.

Overall the Plex DVR is incredibly easy to setup and about $150 more to get configured, I look at it that what I save every month, even with all my purchases it will take less than 6 months to get all my return.