Finding a Cable Alternative

Dumping DirectTV for Tivo

Guest post by Chris Sully of JumpstartMyPC.com

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About this time last year I decided that enough was enough!  The latest DirecTV bill had arrived and I opened it to find yet another price increase.  I looked back at some old paperwork and found that my monthly bill had ballooned from $51 (May 2002) to over $112 (May 2010).  Sure, I had added a second TV and DVR to my package, but a 220% increase!  Compound that with the fact that my beloved TiVo DVR had been replaced with a horrible DirecTV DVR somewhere along that 8 year span and I simply couldn’t take it anymore.  I headed straight to Google and began to research my next move. It was time to cancel cable.

 

Research – The First Step to Cable Freedom

The idea of dumping cable simply scared me and completely frustrated my wife.  We are dedicated television and movie fans that spend at least 4 hours a day in front of our TV.  Her first reaction when I brought up cancelling cable was not something I care to repeat in this article.  It was very clear that I would need to make a decision that would work for both of us, so I began to compare the options:

  • Season Passes – With DirecTV gone, we would need a way to get our weekly fix of House, Supernatural, Smallville, Lost (remember this was last year) and all of our other favorite TV shows.  iTunes and Amazon both offered season passes for these shows, but when I did the math the results were scary.  The season passes would cost more than my monthly cable bill.  I would also need to purchase a device to stream all of this info and AppleTV was simply a myth at the time.
  • Home Theater PC (HTPC) – I could use my technical skills to build a home theater PC and download all of our favorite TV shows from the internet.  That would be great if it were only me, but my wife really isn’t all that technical and I could see this option requiring a lot of my time.  The savings were tempting, but it’s not worth the hassle.
  • Over the Air via Antenna - Since most of the shows we love are on broadcast television, this seemed like a great way to go, but we detest commercials!  A DVR would be an absolute necessity with this option, but that still leaves us in the cold on our favorite TV shows from SyFy, FX, HBO and the other cable networks.

 

TiVo to the Rescue

Of course!  It was about this time that the TiVo Premiere (amazon.com link) was released and information was flying around the internet about the latest DVR from the company that popularized it in the first place.  I began researching the new hardware and it was beginning to look like I had found the solution to my problems, but would it meet my checklist of demands and would it really end up saving me money?

  • Low Monthly Fee -YES – My monthly subscription fee would be about $20 for both boxes
  • HD Capabilities – YES – Through the use of an HD antenna I could pick up all of the local stations in HD
  • Season Passes – YES – Via Amazon.com I could purchase shows that didn’t broadcast locally and download them to my TiVo Premiere (for an additional cost)
  • Sharing - YES – Easily transfer recorded programs from one room to the next within seconds.  Pick up where you left off in the next room.  DirecTV did not offer this at the time.
  • Expandable – YES – TiVo setup is easy. External hard drives could be added to the units to increase storage capacity.
  • Purchase Cost – YES – The purchase cost (at the time) was high but after doing the math I realized that it would still end up saving me a ton of money in the long run.  For more info on the math and savings, check out Cancel Your Cable/Satellite and Save Money While Adding Functionality over on my regular blog.

A Year Later – Did Dumping DirecTV Really Work?

Here we are, almost a year later and I really could not be happier.  The TiVo units have performed almost flawlessly (meeting all of the requirements listed above) and there have been some added benefits to making the switch.

  • HD Awesomeness – As it turns out, over-the-air HD is actually better than the HD provided through any cable or satellite provider and I NEVER lost my signal!
  • Commercial Freedom – DVR units make it easy to skip commercials, but there is nothing like downloading an HD program from Amazon and putting the remote down.  HD quality and all of the commercials have been removed. Skipping commercials made Easy!
  • Netflix is Amazing – I already loved my Netflix Queue, but no other experience has touched the quality that is delivered to my TV by my TiVo Premiere.  I’ve tried XBOX 360 and the Playstation 3 and they did not compare.
  • TiVo Customer Service at its Best – A few months ago, my living room Premiere XL did crash.  It must have been from a power outage, but that didn’t matter to TiVo.  All it took was one phone call and a new unit was sent to my house in just a couple of days.  They stood behind their product and even credited me a month of my subscription cost for the trouble.   Side note: I have since added a UPS with battery backup and surge protection to prevent future issues.
  • The iPad App is Here – Just after the new year, the iPad app for TiVo was released.  I’ve used it a few times and it really enhances the TiVo experience.

If there was any debate that dumping DirecTV was an option, I have three words for you “Just Do It!”

 

Additional Resources:

If you have a Media Center PC and are interested in building your own OTA DVR – check out “Using a TV Tuner Card to build a PC based DVR for Recording OTA Free TV”. If you want to learn more about the different TiVo options out there, click here to read their full product list overview; or get an indepth overview of TiVo Roamio OTA by reading “Is TiVo Roamio OTA a True Cable TV Alternative?“. To see a full list of OTA DVRs, and to figure out which model is right for you, read Recording Over-the-Air Channels with a Set-top Box.

 

As always, comments are welcome and encouraged. Cheers!
p.s. If you really enjoyed this post, please consider helping me out and spreading the word below! Thanks!

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  • Hector

    Great read!
    Although not much of a TV watcher it’s great to see, with a little bit of effort, you can get what you want and how you want it without paying the big companies for mediocre service/product. A full year is plenty of time to be sure the change is consistently better too.. nicely done.

    • http://www.jumpstartmypc.com Chris Sully

      @Hector – Thanks for the compliment and taking the time to read the article.

  • Adnan

    Wow I always assumed TiVo was just a DVR unit with a better UI. I am currently doing the HTPC thing powered by a Mac Mini (mainly hulu plus, Netflix and streaming from network sites) which is nice at times but I haven’t found the right remote control/ keyboard/ mouse setup to make it feel like a couch experience instead of a bad desk experience. I will give TiVo a try someday it sounds like I could solve a few issues and simplify my cable free tv watching experience. Thanks for the info!

    • http://www.jumpstartmypc.com Chris Sully

      @Adnan – Thanks so much for reading the article and taking the time to comment. You make a good point about the remote and keyboard thing with the HTPC. A key point of my switch was making sure that my wife could also operate whatever we decided on and a traditional remote was all that would fly in our house.

      Also, TiVo has recently lowered their pricing structure and is offering the TiVo units for $99 (with a one year agreement).

      • Maria

        I’m confused about the TiVo unit for $99 with one year agreement. Above it said $20 a box. What is the difference?

  • Kevin

    Great article and info. I’m moving soon and want to drop my cable for good while still utilizing my TiVo Premiere. Quick question: While watching the local HD channels over-the-air, can you still pause and do the 6 second rewind on live shows or does it only work on programs that have already been recorded?

    • Mark

      No, that’s the really cool thing about Tivo, and what makes it more than worth the excessive $20 a month fee – you can go back in time! It’s a freak’n time machine! “Live” over-the-air broadcast? Not for Tivo! “does it only work on programs that have already been recorded?” Seriously, did you really ask that question?

    • http://www.jumpstartmypc.com/ Chris | JumpstartMyPC.com

      Hey Kevin – TiVo units will automatically record live TV, going back an hour (or maybe 30 minutes – can’t remember right now). Not only can you rewind that show you are watching, you can also turn on your TV and (assuming you don’t change the channel) jump back to the beginning of a program that you weren’t even watching. I love that feature.

  • Ijeijeeokp2de2

    this makes no sense. if you get tivo and want to watch cable, you still need cable. so how can you watch your normal tv if you cancel it?

    • http://www.jumpstartmypc.com/ Chris | JumpstartMyPC.com

      The HD Antennas that I have in place take care of all the local channels. I receive 20+ stations, including all the basics ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CW

      • http://yetanotherramblingblog.com Thomas Serio

        Yes, but you still can’t watch SyFy, FX, HBO or other cable channels with an HD antenna. I believe that was the point of the original comment.

        I’ve recently cut the cable myself (a few months ago) and was planning to just get season passes of the shows I watch on iTunes (all my shows come to about half what I paid DirecTV per year). I’ll definitely look into Tivo for the network shows (depending on hardware costs vs what I’ll spend on iTunes)…

        • http://www.jumpstartmypc.com/ Chris | JumpstartMyPC.com

          Yes, that is an issue and something I outlined in my more in-depth articles about this on my own site.

          I get Season Passes for shows that are not on the local channels (like Sons of Anarchy, Alphas, Breaking Bad) from Amazon and even figured out how to make them automatically download to my TiVo so they are there waiting on me when I get home. (http://j.mp/startmypc216) There is an added cost for these shows, but it is much cheaper than paying for a full cable bill every month.

  • Mark

    Low fee’s? Really? Your numbers are wrong. The fee is $20 per box! If you have 2 or 3 TVs in your home, that’s $40-60 just in Tivo fees alone, not to mention the expensive equipment you have to buy up-front.

    • http://www.jumpstartmypc.com/ Chris | JumpstartMyPC.com

      Hey Mark – A discount is offered for additional boxes, so I only pay yearly subscriptions of $129 (for the first box) and $99 (for the second). Also, there is always the option of going with the lifetime service that TiVo offers

  • Lisa Getch

    Thanks for the informative article. In order to view the Tivo program in different rooms (which I assume you mean on different TVs), do you need a separate Tivo unit for each TV to do that? Also, can you watch different shows on those different TVs simultaneously too? I’m debating between Tivo or Playon/Playlater, and still trying to figure out how all this would work when my son, husband and I may watch different things on different TVs in different rooms simultaneously on weekends.

    • http://www.killthecablebill.com/ KilltheCableBill

      Hi Lisa – Thanks for reaching out. As i understand it – you can push recorded shows to multiple screens across your home. But if you want to watch different shows simultaneously you would need a Tivo Mini for each additional television. Check out this article to learn more: https://www.tivo.com/my-account/welcome-center-roamio/tivo-mini

  • David

    Hi Dave,
    Thanks for the reply. I do have a couple of questions. Would I be able to connect the TiVo Roamio (base model) to an OTA broadcast antenna to get some channels AND an ethernet connection to get content from my service provider (if I keep FIOS just for internet access)? Would a Roku be better for accessing the channels I want?

    • http://www.killthecablebill.com/ KilltheCableBill

      Yes I believe that would work just fine. And I dont believe Roku currently offers a model that allows for an Antenna hook up. Additionally the TiVo should allow you to record OTA broadcasts!