For whatever reason, cancelling paid TV became all the rage in 2010. Like others, we’ve been thinking about getting rid of DirecTV for some time now, but there was always something holding us back. Each time we got close to pulling the plug, a last minute protest would derail the plan and return us to status quo.
Well, mother nature finally forced the issue by making the tree in front of our house tall enough to block the satellite signal. After DirecTV tried and failed to reposition the dish, we had no choice but to cancel. Being that any crisis is an opportunity, I decided to find a cost effective alternative. What I needed was good HD content (both movies and TV) that could be easily displayed on our TV.
As it turns out, there are many choices for online video content. When it comes to movies, Netflix is the 800 lb gorilla. These days, it seems like everything from dvd players to toasters has support for Netflix streaming. For TV content, Hulu Plus has a reasonable selection of new (SNL, Family Guy) and old (shows like Sliders and Buffy, both favorites of mine). As an added bonus, both Netflix and Hulu offer iOS apps so that you can watch stuff on every screen you own (TV, iPhone, iPad, and computer).
To get online video content to your TV you need an online video player. I looked at two: Roku and Apple TV. Both support content streaming, both output HD content via HDMI, and both are very very tiny (almost comically small). Also, both players are quite affordable: Roku is between $60 and $100 depending on the model, while Apple TV is $100.
I ended up choosing Roku (XD) primarily because it has support for Hulu Plus. It was a bit painful to set up (problems connecting to the Roku server), but once everything was set, it turned out to be quite a cool device. I fired up an SNL episode from last season and it looked pretty nice on my big screen (not quite 1080p, but close enough). Another cool thing is that I was able to pause the show on Roku and continue watching it on an iPad from where I left off. How’s that for device/content convergence?
Quick note on Apple TV: although I chose not to get it initially, it does have some unique features that I find very appealing. Specifically, Apple TV lets me stream my entire iTunes library (movies included) and content from iOS devices to the TV. Given that it’s pretty cheap, it’s likely that I’ll get one in the near future.
The big thing that’s missing is sports, specifically basketball and football. Apparently, I cannot watch the Lakers or the Niners play in real time online. A workaround (albeit a limited one) is to get a HD antenna that picks up local channels and therefore at least some games. Either that or go to a sports bar for the big game.
We were spending about $120/month or $1,440/year on DirecTV. Netflix and Hulu Plus are each $8/month or $96/year. Roku XD is $80 and Apple TV is $100. So, I can get Netflix, Hulu Plus, Roku XD, and Apple TV for ¼th the cost of annual DirecTV subscription. To put it another way, I will save a thousand bucks this year and twelve hundred each year after that.
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