Starting to simplify – cutting the cable TV cord.

Enough is enough already! I’ve watched my monthly cable bill keep increasing over the last several years (as I’m sure most of you have). Oh yeah, I’ve played the switching game to take advantage of the promotions: Comcast to Dish Network…back to Comcast…to Dish…to Comcast…and most recently to Uverse. I was simply tired of paying close to $80 a month for TV service. My most recent experience with AT&T Uverse finally did me in. Don’t get me wrong, I think they have a good product – their multi-room DVR pretty much sets the bar when it comes to the TV service offerings in my area. However, I couldn’t continue to justify the cost for the handful of TV shows that my family watches on a regular basis. This decision undoubtedly affects my kids more than my wife and I, as the kids programming is the biggest thing lacking (I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing though).

At any rate, we decided to stop paying that huge monthly bill by utilizing a combination of low-cost and free programming. I can’t say that it’s perfect, but it’s been working for our family for about the last 4 months.

So, what did I do? Well, the first thing I did was purchase an antenna to pick up over-the-air (OTA) digital channels in my area. I’m using a fairly inexpensive RCA indoor powered antenna (~$30), and am able to pull in about 20 digital channels – all of the major networks CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and PBS…with superb picture quality compared to pay-for services.

I was really missing the DVR capabilities to watch recorded/on-demand content, so that was the next thing to tackle. I found a product called PlayOn. This great little piece of software runs on a Windows PC and allows you to stream content such as Hulu, CBS, ESPN, CNN, YouTube, Netflix, etc to the three major gaming consoles: XBox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii (still beta). I tried the free demo for a couple weeks and decided it was well worth the $30. I have tried PlayOn on each of the three gaming consoles and in my experience, the PS3 is the best for both picture quality and ease of use. Using it on the XBox was a fairly close second…but the Wii was essentially unwatchable. So, now if I miss an episode of “The Office” or “House”, I’ll just fire up my gaming console and connect to Hulu through PlayOn to watch it on demand.

In addition to OTA and PlayOn, I decided to sign up for the basic Netflix account – no this isn’t free (it’s 8.99/month for the cheapest plan), but this gives you 1 DVD rental out at a time and unlimited access to their streaming media. Netflix doesn’t have a huge selection when it comes to movies (especially when it comes to new releases), but they also have a pretty big library of the previous seasons of several TV shows. I just recently opted to upgrade my Netflix account to add Blu-ray for an extra $2 a month, well worth it as far as I’m concerned.

As far as Netflix goes, there are several different options to play their streaming content (PS3, XBox, Roku, PC, Mac, to name a few) – the PlayOn streaming software even allows you to connect to your Netflix account to stream video. I prefer to use my PS3 for Netflix, the picture quality is much better than streaming through PlayOn….and the XBox 360 requires you to have a Live Gold account to use Netflix (c’mon MicroSoft, gimme a break!)….of course, this was one of the reasons I bought PlayOn – to use Netflix on the XBox without needing a Live Gold account.

I guess I do need to mention that I have a high-speed internet connection, which is really a requirement to do any kind of video streaming. I did keep AT&T Uverse for 6Mbps @ $35 a month….but hey, it’s necessary for my line of work anyway – and if you’re reading this, chances are, you have high-speed internet already too.

All in all, our family has been pretty happy with the switch. The “hardest” thing is a bit more inconvenience when it comes to switching between watching over-the-air channels and Netflix or PlayOn. Since most of our TV watching is over-the-air anyway, it’s not that big of a deal. Besides saving money, one of the other benefits we’ve found is that we don’t waste nearly as much time channel surfing anymore…and ultimately end up watching some crappy show because nothing else was on.