Living Without Cable TV

Because I’m approaching my retirement years, and contemplating living the last third of my life on a fixed income, I’m spending a lot of time examining how I spend my money.  One of my biggest monthly bills I pay is from Comcast.  I get cable TV, Internet and local/long distant phone service from them, so naturally the bill is going to be big.  Even after I retire, I know I’ll want high speed Internet, so I positively have to budget $50 a month for that.  For now, I’m not ready to be one of those people who live a cell phone only lifestyle.  So that leaves the $120 a month for cable to consider. 

I’ve already cut $23.90 from my bill by returning the bedroom cable box/DVR, so I’m down to $96.  My plan is to quit cable entirely as soon as True Blood season 2 wraps up, but I want to explore just what I desire from cable TV and how much is it worth, and what I will miss when it’s shut off.

Pros of Cable TV

  • Watch shows in DVR time
  • Excellent selection
  • Elegant integration of DVR and guide
  • Channel guide
  • Convenient

Cons of Cable TV

  • Cost
  • Hate paying for channels I don’t use
  • Overwhelmed by the choice of too many channels
  • I watch too much TV

Pros of Over the Air TV

  • Free
  • Non-compressed high-definition
  • PBS, ABC, CBS and NBC actually cover most of what I watch
  • Simple – less to worry about
  • Will watch less TV

Cons of Over the Air TV

  • Must watch in real time
  • No channel guide
  • No DVR unless I build one
  • Missing 9 favorite cable channels

The worst downside of free TV is watching in real time.  I could build a Home Theater PC, but I’ve explored that idea and there’s a great deal of aggravation involved.  [Note to television makers:  Invent an elegant but simple to use over-the-air DVR turner that works with an online guide via the Internet – but doesn’t require the show stopping $13 a month subscription like Tivo.  A 1gb model for $199 would be a killer product.]

I’ve also explored the idea of just getting basic cable, but at $50 a month I still get far more channels than I want, and most of my favorite HD ones would be lost.    [Note to Comcast:  Offer over-the-air local HD channels and my favorite HD cable channels listed below, with a simple DVR for $30 a month and I’d stay with cable.  And I think a lot of people I know who don’t get cable would consider it too.  Or this setup with high-speed Internet and voice for $99.95.]

Most folks I talk to, hate cable because they feel cheated by the huge bill and being forced to buy far more than they want.  Cable needs to reinvent itself.  Since everyone is moving to digital reception and digital TVs, offer a basic HD package for $25 a month, and provide a la carte selection of cable channels at $1 for those with commercials, $2 for those like TCM, without commercials, and whatever the premium channels think they are worth, and then see what people really want.  Also offer bundle packages for those folks who like to buy in quantity.

Which Channels Would We Miss the Most?

My favorites are:

  • The Science Channel (wished it was HD)
  • Discovery Channel HD
  • National Geographic HD
  • History Channel HD
  • Turner Classic Movies (wished it was HD)

My wife wants to add:

  • Home and Garden HD
  • TLC HD
  • Food Network HD
  • DIY Network (wished it was HD)

If we had those 9 channels with PBS, ABC, CBS and NBC – and a DVR with channel guide just for those channels we’d be in TV heaven.  Everything else, Susan and I could get on Netflix.  And if the documentaries I love from those first four cable channels were easily available on Netflix, I could live without them too.  Netflix and streaming Netflix could be everything for me with just PBS, ABC, CBS and NBC for random watching.  Those are our lucky 13 channels.  Currently we’re overwhelmed with two digital tiers, a bunch of premium channels and scads of music channels we never even flip through.

Comcast and other cable companies need to study what people really want.  Ever since I wrote “Saving Money on Cable TV and Internet” a bunch of my friends have come up to me and told me they were thinking about the exact same thing.  Everyone I know hates paying a big cable bill for so many channels they don’t want.

Living the Simple Life

Our culture forces everyone into living with information overload.  I’m predicting a movement towards simplifying life.  Even the young will burn out from Twitter and Facebook overload.  Kids feel bad if they don’t have 800 friends in their social networks, but the reality is you can’t have that many friends.  And you can’t watch 200 TV channels, and the Internet is just as overwhelming.  There’s got to be some consolidation.

Because I won’t get the a la cart cable service I want, I’m going back to four TV channels:  PBS, ABC, CBS and NBC.  Maybe this makes me a TV Luddite, maybe this is bad for the economy, and maybe it will even reduce what I get to learn about the world, but it might also be innovative for my lifestyle.  There’s that old saying about your life flashing in front of your eyes when you die, well, too much of the life I will see flashing in front of my eyes will be sedentary in front of a TV.  I regret that.

JWH – 8/29/9

15 thoughts on “Living Without Cable TV”

  1. i want to stop my dvr and huge cable bill and too many choices but can you give just get those basic channels without getting cable? I figured you needed cable to get the reception??

  2. “Cons of Over the Air TV
    * Must watch in real time
    * No channel guide
    * No DVR unless I build one”

    Have you heard of the DTVPal DVR? It is a DVR designed for over the air tv and has a subcription-free programming guide. See:

    “hate cable because they feel cheated by the huge bill and being forced to buy far more than they want.” “Comcast and other cable companies need to study what people really want. ”

    That will never happen. Cable companies are for-profit companies and their goal it to make as much money as possible. They honestly do not care about the customer unless it results in them losing money. Research shows that the majority of people only watch about 10 channels. If cable companies had a la carte and charged $1 per channel the cable companies would make very little profit. Currently cable companies justify their $50-$70 a month fee by saying you are getting 100+ channels. Most of those channels are shopping networks, religious channels, infomercials, music only channels, or channels that no one watches.

    I find it amazing that people are willing to pay a subscription fee for cable TV when it is loaded with commercials, infomercials, and product placement within TV shows. Why do you have to watch commercials if you are paying a subscription fee, or why do you have to pay a subscription fee is there are commercials? Over the air TV is supported by commercials and has no subscription fee, while on the other hand cable TV has both. Commercials pay for the production of a TV show and the subscription fee is extra money in the cable Co’s pockets.

    1. Sam, do you have a DTVPal DRV? I’m not finding much about them. One place that was selling them says they are discontinued, and I see a lot of forums where people are having problems. The specifications for the unit are exactly what I would have designed.

  3. For my “DVR fix” I just purchased a Magnavox DVD recorder, which also has a built-in hard drive recorder!

    While the timer is “VCR like” and not like the DVR channel guide we have with Dish Network, the unit works great. Just like a DVR you can start to watch a recording while it it still recording, and you can also do all of the live TV tricks, pause, rewind, etc. with your OTA signal.

    What was interesting is that the only place I could find the unit was at the Wal-Mart on-line store. But with their site-to-store shipping, I had it sent to my local Wal-Mart store for pick-up, and I didn’t have to pay any shipping.

    We are going to cancel the Dish at the end of this year (as we are paid through 12/31) and just go with the antenna and web sites like I have a laptop hooked up to our 40″ LCD, and it works great. Free TV, can beat it. 🙂

  4. I have been doing research on this as well and I came across some information on QAM tuners.

    If what it says is true, Comcast by law must provide HD local channels in their basic package. I had asked Comcast before if I can get HD channels with basic and they said no. I called a week later and asked more specific “can I get local HD channels with basic” and they said yes with a $6/month box which I am guessing is a QAM tuner. My TV does not have a QAM tuner, but I did just buy a Hauppauge TV tuner for my computer which has QAM so I am going to drop down to Basic and see if my TV tuner will pick up the local channels. If so, then I am thinking of getting the Toshiba DR570 recorder because it has a QAM tuner. Has anyone tried this on Comcast basic?

    1. Gary, is your TV analog or digital without a QAM tuner? Have you considered a digital converter box?

      My DR570 records over-the-air HD channels wonderfully. If I use 1 or 2 hour mode, the shows I record look great on the 52″ widescreen TV – in fact they look like high definition TV.

  5. I have a 50″ Sony that is the model before Digital (ATSC) tuners were being used. We have a smaller plasma that has ATSC but no QAM. I confirmed from Comcast that they do provide the local HD on their basic pacakge and all you need is a QAM tuner. They won’t provide that information unless you ask specifically. It took me asking 4 Comcast reps and learning to be “specific” before I got the right answer.

    If the DR570 does receive QAM then it should do the job. I am also looking at this

    I have read good reviews on it. It does not mention QAM on the site, but everyone that uses it says it supports QAM and says so on the box and in the manual.

    I tried an antenna and it worked great until our first lightning storm. I could get the CW at 100% and during the storm it dropped to 0%. I think their tower may have gotten hit. But for $9/month I will get basic cable and either opt for the $6/month box or buy the DR570 or the Centronics ZAT502. Trying to weigh my options.

  6. James,

    I used to be a heavy TV watcher….in the long run it is NOT good for your health. I went back to the health club and started working out. I also reduced the cable from Expanded Basic ($ 51) and had about 80 channels…….to Limited Basic ($ 15) and had about 24 channels. I don’t need a DVR and don’t wish to sit down so that I may watch television all day long.

    I recently purchased a great Digital antenna and now I get 32 normal Digital channels off the air. They come in perfectly and actually higher quality than Cox Communications Cable provided previously to me.
    I also get 4 analog channels as well.

    Thus now I get 36 channels beautifully and I get it all for FREE. I have a ZERO monthly bill in regards to Cable TV.

    Give it some thought………in the long run you save a fairly substantial amount of $$$.

    Digitenna, I got the Deep Fringe model.


    1. Richard, did you install your antenna yourself, or did you hire a professional? And if you hired someone, about how much did it cost. I do great with an indoor antenna, but I have friends who will need an outside one. I get ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS1, PBS2 and I’m completely happy. Even with my indoor antenna I could get 12-15 more channels, but I find I’m happier with fewer channels. I’ve programmed my clicker to only show those 5 channels. And I only see those five channels on my computer where I can record shows. I can see at a glance when I look at the guide if there’s anything I want to see. TV life is simply and easy.

  7. hi!,I really like your writing so so much! share we be in contact extra approximately your article on AOL? I require a specialist on this space to resolve my problem. Maybe that is you! Having a look ahead to look you.

  8. James,

    I recently purchased the following:

    Boxee box
    Over the air antenna

    With these three devices I can get rid of cable. I purchased a Netflix account for$7.99 a month and will get a HULU pluss account for (I think it is $8.99 a month)
    My wife and I like a variety of TV shows and figured out the list of shows we watch and came up with only two or three shows we wouldn’t be able to watch with this setup. This gives us a savings of about $80 per month. We figured it would take about 4.5 months of cable bills to break even due to the costs of the products bought but it was well worth it.

    Hope this helps.


    1. I’m very happy with just Netflix. I stream it off my Blu-Ray. I have a Roku box but don’t use it. I record over-the-air shows to a HTPC I built, but I don’t watch all that I record. Netflix streaming and disc provide me with more than enough TV. I’ve discovered since I’m older I’m not as impatient to see stuff. So waiting months to watch the latest Weeds or Big Love is not painful. I keep thinking I might add Hulu Plus though or Amazon Prime. So I’d be curious if you and your wife feel the need for Hulu Plus with Netflix.

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