CancelCable.com featured in Washington Post

Just checked our logs and noticed that our traffic is through the roof.  Turns out we were just written up in a Washington Post article titled ‘TV Breaks Out of the Box‘.

The article mentions our Showfinder tool and talks about how canceling cable is becoming a viable alternative for some broadband users.  My favorite was the anecdote about how Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer watches his favorite show (Lost) online for free as opposed to paying a dollar for it on Itunes.  I think Post’s author Mike Musgrove summed it up best when he said “Ever have a billionaire make your feel dumb for leading an overly extravagant lifestyle?”

Two more reasons to cancel cable? Xbox/Tivo to stream Netflix content

Netflix streaming movies will soon be available on Tivo and Xbox Experience.  Previously, Netflix’s Instant Watch content could only be viewed on a computer or using a $99 set top box called a Roku.   Since Roku, Tivo and Xbox will pull all the content off of a standard broadband connection, cable TV service is not required.

We’ve been using Netflix’s Instant Watch service since it first launched in 2007.   At first the content was very minimal – mostly pretty unknown “straight to video” movies.   This has changed quite a bit in the last year.   Netflix has recently partnered with the STARZ movie channel and now offers more than 12,000 shows and movies which can all be watched for free.

Here’s a video demo of the Xbox Netflix interface:

Any downsides to Netflix Instant Watch? A good amount of brand new first run movies are not on it yet, so you may have to wait a day or two to get those in the mail on DVD. The fast forward and rewind controls are slightly clunky, although they do work pretty well once you get used to them. Also it appears that only the new Tivos (Series III and HD) and latest Xbox (Xbox Experience) will support Netflix.


5 Reasons Roku is better than Cable, Itunes and even Hulu.com

In case you haven’t heard of it, Roku is a small $99 set top box that lets Netflix subscribers watch over 12,000 on demand shows and movies for free.    We bought ours shortly after we canceled cable and have been really pleased with it.   Here’s why…

1.  It’s like having a free on demand cable box without having to pay for cable: If you are already a Netflix subscriber, all shows and movies on Roku (approximately 12,000) are free.   If you aren’t, you can sign up for a $8.99/month unlimited Netflix plan.  So for less than the cost of basic cable, we get unlimited instant rentals each month.

2. Much cheaper than Itunes. We recently got hooked on the show Heroes and watched the entire first season (23 episodes) on our Roku for free.   If we bought the season on Itunes, it would have cost $64.99.

3. No commercials: Unlike Hulu.com, there are no commercials – even on the TV shows.  So you can watch your favorite one hour TV shows in about 42 minutes.

4. Easy to use interface. The remote only has a few buttons and the graphic interface shows a picture of each DVD on the TV screen.  So simple that our three year old can find his favorite shows and play them on his own.

5. Great for kids. Since titles are added from a master account on our computer, the only shows and movies on the Roku are one’s we have personally reviewed and think are appropriate for our kids to watch.  And if we make a mistake or change our mind, we can easily update the queue remotely at any time.

Any downside? Sure, when we first got our Roku, there was a limited selection of current movies.   This has gotten much better, mostly due to their recent partnership with the STARZ movie channel.   Since most brand new releases still take a while to appear on Roku, we still watch a lot of movies the old fashioned way (DVD) using our Netflix subscription.  But since our membership includes 3 DVDs at a time as well as unlimited Roku movies, we almost always have something good to watch on TV.

2011 Update: Roku now offers 3 different models with pricing dropped to $69 for a basic model up to $99 for their deluxe model. Roku also now supports Amazon Instant Video, which lets you instantly watch current releases for about $4 a piece.

Screenshots of our “cable-free” reception

When we first plugged in our digital converter box and started using free digital TV, we were surprised to see that our reception was actually better than our old digital cable signal. We’ve since learned that this is very common since free digital broadcast signals are often less compressed than digital cable signals.

Here are some sample screenshots to give you an idea of the quality (keep in mind that tv screenshots look a little fuzzy on computer monitors, but notice that there is no static or wavy lines)…

All screenshots were taken using a Zenith DTT900 which we picked up for $19 at Circuit City (after using the $40 coupon we received).

Just added Showfinder Tool

After learning PHP this week, I just created a Showfinder Tool which lets you search for and watch your favorite shows online. You can search for an individual show or browse different categories (HBO shows, kids shows, classic shows, etc.)

The tool currently lists shows on Hulu, Netflix and Itunes as well as a number of different network and cable channel web sites. Once you find the show you want to watch, just click on ‘view’ to jump directly to the site.

To access the tool, click on the following button…

p.s. Since this is the first version of the tool, I would be very interested in any feedback you might have about it. Thanks!

Using Tivo to record free digital broadcast TV (ATSC)

After we switched to free digital tv, the next step was to get our Tivo working. Unfortunately, this wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. After hours of research and experimentation, here’s what I learned…

Since our Series II Tivo doesn’t have a digital tuner built in, it needs to be hooked up to a digital converter box to receive digital TV. The problem is that Tivo has not yet updated its software to support the new digital boxes. Once this happens, it should be as easy as connecting the included IR cables from the Tivo to the digital box. Tivo hasn’t announced a date for the software upgrade, but I just received the following e-mail message…

After I received Tivo’s message, I went to http://www.tivo.com/digital2009, entered my serial # and received the following screen…

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Watch your favorite cable shows using Hulu.com, Netflix and Itunes

We recently canceled cable TV service and use free digital broadcast TV. The deciding factor was we can still watch our favorite cable shows (even the ones on HBO and Showtime) without spending additional money. Here’s how you can too…

I. Watch your favorite shows for free using the Internet

One of our favorite sites is Hulu.com, a site which lets you legally watch hundreds of shows and movies for free. It is owned by NBC and Universal, but also features shows from other networks (Fox, Comedy Central, SciFi Channel, WB, etc.). Here are some of our favorites…

- The Daily Show
- The Colbert Report
- BattleStar Galactica
- The Office
- House
- 30 Rock
- The Simpsons
- Family Guy

If you can’t find a show on Hulu.com, it may be available directly from the network or cable channel site. For example…

  • ABC has full length episodes of most popular shows (Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, etc.)
  • CNN.com has live video feeds and is updated every few minutes.
  • Disney and Nickelodeon have popular shows online like Hannah Montana, SpongeBob SquarePants, Jimmy Neutron, etc.

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Like buying a new 50″ TV each year and tossing it in the dumpster.

Dumpster

What if you could eliminate your gas bill and still drive 95% of the places you currently go? Or stop paying for heating by keeping your thermostat two degrees cooler? These aren’t possible, but you can stop paying for TV and still watch most of your favorite shows.

Budgets are tight. But most people are still reluctant to give up cable. Even when it may be financially crazy to keep it. Paying $95/month for cable? That’s over $1100 a year. Or enough to buy a 50″ HD Plasma TV each year.

Save the money or put it towards that new big screen TV. Then use free digital broadcast TV and avoid paying monthly cable tv fees. Save the money and earn interest on it. With a 6% rate of return…

  • After 3 years you will have saved $3747
  • After 5 years you will have saved $6648
  • After 10 years you will have saved $15,621
  • After 20 years you will have saved $44,083

Congratulations! You have now turned a major expense into an investment.

What are you missing? Not much. We did it and still watch all our favorite shows. Most were broadcast (Lost, 24, etc.) . Using a $16 digital antenna our picture quality is actually better than our old digital cable. Most of our favorite cable shows (Daily Show, Colbert Report) are available for free on the Internet. Our kids watch videos on Disney.com and Nick.com and we get current movies and HBO shows with a Netflix subscription.

Next: What is free digital broadcast TV?

How to buy a digital tv receiver for less than $20

Update: The Digital TV Converter program ended in July of 2009.   The purpose of the program was to make it more affordable for the millions of OTA (over the air) TV users whose old analog sets would stop working when the digital transition occurred on June 12, 2009. Over $990,000 was allocated by the department of commerce from this program.  Since the $40 coupons had a 90 day expiration date, they are no longer of value even if found or bought (e.g. on Ebay). At the time, most digital boxes sold for about $60 and were able to be purchased for under $20 using these coupons.

Do you need a converter box?

Keep in mind, if you own a flatscreen HDTV or recent HDTV, you do not need to purchase a digital converter box.   If you still have a ‘regular’ TV and want to watch free over-the-air digital television, you’ll want to pick up a converter box.

Since we still get a lot of requests for coupons or inexpensive digital converter boxes, we did a little research and here are the 3 cheapest digital converter boxes we were able to find online…..

  • Zinwell ZAT-970A Digital to Analog TV Converter, [$40 on Amazon with 4 star rating]
  • iView 1000STB ATSC Digital to Analog TV Converter Box, [$44 on Amazon with 4 star rating]
  • Access HD 1080D, currently $38.95 (But have seen as low as $26.99) on Amazon with 2.5 star rating.  (Be sure to read reviews first as some major issues with this unit were mentioned)
We’ve also seen many used and new digital converters listed on ebay, some as low as $15 fixed price and others being sold by auction with selling prices between $15 – $50. eBay Advice: If you are new to eBay make sure you thoroughly read the product description (commonly indicates whether new, used, or partially damaged), factor any shipping costs into the total price and check out the ratings of the seller since you’ll be dealing with an individual as opposed to a store.

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Previous information about coupon program left for historical purposes.
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The U.S. Department of Commerce has launched a Digital TV Converter Box coupon program which will provide up to two $40 coupons for the purchase of basic digital tv converter boxes.The coupons actually look like gift cards and are accepted at stores like Best Buy, Circuit City and Radio Shack.

To apply for a coupon, visit:

https://www.dtv2009.gov/ApplyCoupon.aspx (no longer working, please see above note)

Since basic digital boxes sell for $50-$60, you should be able to purchase a digital box for less than $20. Keep in mind that these coupons are intended for basic digital converter boxes. They will not be honored for high end devices (digital recorders, combination digital recievers / dvd burners, etc.)

Coupons also expire within 90 days from when they are mailed, so you may want to request one coupon at a time. It took me about 3 weeks to receive my coupon. Here’s what it looked like…

Digital Converter Box coupon

Next: How to watch your favorite cable shows without cable TV

How to see what digital channels are available in your area

The easiest way to see what channels are available in your area is to visit a site called AntennaWeb.org. If you want to get the most accurate estimate, go ahead and enter your street address, town and zip code. Or, if you are in a rush or don’t want to give out your personal information, just enter your zip code.

AntennaWeb Screenshot

You will then see a list of stations along with the distance of each station from you…

On the left hand side, there is a column for Antenna type. Results can vary, but from my experience I was able to pull in stations coded in yellow and red with a very inexpensive $16 antenna from Radio Shack. If you are more than 30 miles from most stations, you will probably want to get a larger grid type antenna and place it in your roof or attic.

If availability looks good, you’ll want to pickup a low cost digital tv receiver (also called a digital converter box). Right now the government is offering $40 coupons towards these receivers.

Next: How to buy a digital receiver for less than $20