Watching TV in the Electronic Jungle

Watching TV was so simple for anyone who remembers life before cable. Today, we have more options than ever before – and more confusion. If you’re ready to go back to Square 1 and start all over again, here’s what to look at to reset your TV – or streaming content.

If you are still into watching live broadcast TV, which many do for news and sports, you could start with good old rabbit ears. That’s the term for an antenna – just in case you hadn’t known. Channel availability and picture quality depend on whether you can get a strong broadcast signal. Cable solved that issue nearly 50 years ago and gave us more choices. (Digital channels for broadcast offer more choices, though quantity should not always be confused with quality.)

Cable was simple. A cable company got the franchise for your community, and you paid – more and more without any recourse until satellite and the internet eventually gave you more options. The old cable companies and telephone carriers still have lines that carry the internet to most of America, but our “TV viewing” is changing at the pace of a revolution.

We have countless ways to get our programming because there are so many content providers and so many companies that package or bundle the programming we want to see. Even the carriers are becoming content bundlers and creators.

For this discussion, let’s focus on the systems that deliver content for viewing on a TV. Comcast’s Xfinity and Verizon’s Fios, the two major cable carriers in my area, still offer the most programming from traditional broadcasters and other producers. With more people spending more time at home, you probably want the most variety you can get to keep everyone happy. The cable companies still deliver by coaxial cable, and we know how to use their systems. You can watch content from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, etc. through your cable system, although you will need to pay for them either through the cable company or the content provider. However, convenience comes at a price. You can pay $5 or more for every cable box you have.

If you get your internet service from a cable/phone company, you may be able to stream your cable channel and – maybe – save the cost of the boxes. Why maybe? Xfinity, for example, has an agreement with Roku to stream content over TVs that use it as the streaming service. If you have a Roku-equipped TV, you can add the Xfinity channel from your Roku Home page by clicking on Add Channels. If you don’t have a Roku-equipped TV but have a TV with a USB port, you can buy a Roku connection device for as little as $30 and use your home Wi-Fi network. Your payback period is six months, and quality depends on your network.

You can get Roku boxes from Xfinity, which you pay for as with the old coaxial cable box, but we found a price break of sorts. We have nine TVs in our house, including one we carry out onto the back deck. By paying $40 per month for DVR service, we’re only paying for five Roku boxes; the rest are “free.” The advantage to the Roku boxes is that they’re not tied to a coaxial cable, giving us more flexibility.

We just installed this system, so we’ll need to get some operating experience before we can report on its success – or lack of it.

If you watch all your content on a computer or mobile device, the question of a cable box or Roku box is moot. If you don’t want to use your cable company to get cable-like viewing for broadcast TV stations and programming such as news and sports, there are numerous streaming providers.

What will work best for you? The variables include:

  • Broadcast signal strength for some live TV
  • The provider of the content you watch
  • Your preference of cable or internet-based content delivery
  • The devices you watch on and the number of devices you use at any given time
  • Your internet connection
  • Your Wi-Fi network
  • Your TV/internet budget

We can help you sort through the possibilities to put together a package that will meet your priorities, and we can install and configure any equipment you need. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your wants and needs.

Streaming in the Cord-Cutting Era

A lot of people have been cutting the cord from cable TV and satellite providers to get more flexibility in choosing their content and not having to pay for content they’ll never watch. But the plethora of streaming content providers could create an environment that’s not a whole lot different from the cable/satellite experience. And, you might even wind up paying just as much money, if not more.

We came away from a recent Disney conference with the distinct feeling that Netflix is destined to go the way of Blockbuster, at least in terms of being the only source for content. Remember them? They’re the company that basically had a lock on the videocassette rental market until the worlds of Netflix and On Demand made video rentals as easy as pushing a few buttons on your remote. If you want to rent a DVD, you can order it from Netflix or find a Redbox machine.

Most people, however, prefer to get their video content via the internet, cable or satellite, and those who hold the rights to that content are getting ready to scale up an access war. Netflix, in addition to producing its own content, has also provided feature films and old TV shows to its own base of subscribers. They pretty much had the market to themselves, but that’s changing.

In case you weren’t paying close attention, Disney, which makes films, owns the ABC network and provides sports programming through ESPN, recently bought Fox’s movie studio and many of its non-news TV assets. That means Disney now has a huge library of content, and they’ve already started to move some of into “+” Channels, such as Disney+ and ESPN+. This allows them to stream selected content for a few bucks a month more, and you can’t get it anywhere else.

Disney is not alone. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu all have exclusive content in addition to hours upon hours of movies of all ages and genres. And each has its own subscription fees. HBO, Showtime and a few others still offer movies and original programming, and YouTube and Sling offer packages of TV content now found over the air (remember broadcasting?) or offered by various cable and satellite companies.

Finally, the field is getting more crowded with the entry of Apple TV+ and its original shows and movies.

Regardless of whether your content is delivered through a cable box or streaming internet or both, there will be a lot of hands out there for your money. And in all likelihood, you’ll pay for more content than you want unless somebody decides to offer single events, single movies or a single series of programming.

You’ll have to decide whether to cut the cord based on what you perceive will be your best value. The cable companies have an incentive to keep you because they can sell advertising. They also provide your internet access in most cases, and that gives them leverage in controlling what you pay for it.

The Triple Play packages (TV, internet and phone) are a staple of their business, and many subscribers find their balance of TV content and internet speed. One selling point for the packages is that you don’t use any data to watch the content delivered over the cable. The cable also provides better quality in most cases than high-def content streamed over a Wi-Fi network, though you can build a network to handle almost any need.

Cutting the cord but keeping the internet service could raise costs in two ways. First, if you need more bandwidth for streaming, it will cost more as a stand-alone service. Second, you’ll likely face data caps, which could limit how much streaming video you can watch or the speed at which you can watch it. Of course, more money can mitigate the cap issue, but don’t forget, the content providers are looking for more money for what they bill as premium content.

If you’re highly selective in the premium content you watch, cutting the cord and finding the right internet service may pay for you. But if you need the wider range of choices, you just might want to keep that cord connected.

We can help you make a decision by looking at your Wi-Fi network and the internet capacity you’ll need to support your viewing. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your needs and set up an evaluation.

Cutting Cable and Satellite: The Big Picture

On our lists of businesses we love to hate, our cable/phone/Internet providers and satellite TV providers rank right at the top, regardless of who it is. The temptation is overwhelming to cut our ties with each and every one of them, and many people have given up landline phones and cable or satellite TV. Many have resolved to cut them in 2016. If you’re thinking about making your great escape, consider the possible consequences.

At first glance, it all seems pretty simple. Get rid of cable and satellite and stop paying for all the channels in your bundle that you never watch. Program providers and carriers such as Netflix, Apple TV, Amazon, Hulu and Roku, to name a few, all stream content over the Internet. Even longtime cable and satellite staples, such as HBO, Showtime and ESPN stream programming, and so do the over-the-air networks. All have charges, and all limit program availability.

So, if you think you are going to save a bundle of money by unpacking a bundle of TV channels, you may be in for some big surprises. A recent article in the New York Times can give you an idea of what some streaming services might cost you if you choose an a-la-carte combination of services. Depending on the services you choose, you could easily hit $100 for very limited offerings. And, just like any provider can suck you in with low introductory prices, you can expect to see prices go up and take you back to Square 1.

In the meantime, despite your monthly cable or satellite bill of $200 or more, you are getting a “deal” by bundling TV, phone and Internet for a certain period of time. When you unbundle your services and just take your Internet connection, you’ll need high-speed service, say 100 Mbps, and that could be $100 per month right there. Verizon’s FiOS service, for example is $44.99 for 50 Mbps and $264.99 for 500 Mbps. On the 50 Mbps plan, you get TV for $30 more per month.

Further, you need to either rent or buy your gateway – or modem and router system – that’s compatible with your Internet provider’s service, and you may need a network of boosters throughout your house to make sure wireless devices get a quality signal in every room. The Wi-Fi modem from Verizon for all packages is $10/month or $199 to own it.

So far, you may argue, we’re not that far off from what we’re paying for our cable and satellite bundles. You’d be correct. But now, let’s look at data caps – because the big providers are looking at them long and hard.

Just like the electricity, natural gas and water coming into your house are measured by a meter, it’s very easy for your data providers to measure what you use. Your cellular carriers already cap your limits, although some are lifting caps, at least for now. They can do that because your phone or tablet doesn’t require as much data to watch a movie or TV show. We bring that up just for comparison.

In reality, data caps are just around the corner. An article in the Motley Fool, which always shows you the money, says Comcast and AT&T are testing programs, and warns that you’re gonna pay. Comcast is testing a 300 GB/month limit in several markets around the country with a charge of $10 per 50 GB over the cap. They are looking at $30 to $35 a month more to go unlimited. AT&T is looking at 150 GB/mo for DSL customers and 250 GB for U-Verse customers. GigaPower fiber customers receive either 500 GB or 1 TB of data each month, and all customers can spend an additional $10 to receive 50 GB of data.

How much will you use? “To put this amount of data in perspective, ArsTechnica recently mentioned a Sling TV report that said if users streamed about 4.8 hours of TV per day they would hit 300 GB of video streaming each month,” the article says. “Data from Nielsen shows that adults in the U.S. spend an average of more than 5 hours watching TV each day. So it would appear Comcast’s data limits are already coming very close Americans’ TV viewing habits. As more viewers start streaming their content (as opposed to watching it through cable or satellite) it’s easy to see how users could start reaching their data limits quickly.”

That ties in with some thoughts in a Yahoo Finance article that looks five years into the future. Cutting the cable appeals to millennials and to any group of people who want to share subscriptions and have a small group of shows they want to watch. And right now, it’s likely cheaper.

However, the inevitability of data caps, expanded tastes in programming and more data-intensive viewing equipment – a really big 4K high-def TV uses a lot more data than an iPad – can easily wipe out those savings. With cable/satellite providers always looking to bundle products to lock in customer commitments, some cord-cutters might want to return to the fold.

“We believe that if consumers knew now what they will know in five years, they would change their mind and go back to the big bundle which costs them $0.25 per viewer hour and gives them 300 channels to choose from at any time,” says a note from financial analysts. The analysts say that putting together your own show list will eventually become more expensive than your cable bill.

If you really want to cut your costs way down and are happy with over-the-air TV, you can buy HDTV antennae for your HDTV TVs. As long as you have good reception, you will get an exceptional picture – and a bonus; many HDTV broadcasters have side channels that can provide extra programming.

As techie as I am, staying with the cable company I hate makes sense for my family of four. But if cutting the cable ditching the dish makes sense for you, we can help make sure you have the right network set up to power the TV sets – as well as the devices you’ll use for viewing. Give us a call – 973-433-6676 – or drop us an email to arrange for a survey.