Two years ago, I decided it was time to cut the cord. My Comcast cable box had broken down again, the interface was terrible, and it was expensive. I hastily canceled my subscription and returned the ugly cable box in the same day. There was no plan to replace it. I had an Apple TV, but didn’t use it much. I had heard of HD antennas, but never tried one. New Year’s Eve 2011 was spent on the couch, not watching the ball drop on network TV, but streaming a low budget local New York telecast from my iPad to the Apple TV. My wife was not thrilled. Fast forward two years later and we’re in TV bliss: paying less money for a better TV experience. Cutting the cord isn’t just for geeks anymore. Anyone can have a better TV experience and save money in the process. Here’s how I did it.
There’s a small investment required to cut the cord and still watch your favorite shows. For around $150 total, buy a Mohu Leaf HD antenna ($40) and either an Apple TV or Roku (your preference, both $99).
The Leaf antenna looks like a laminated piece of paper with an attached coaxial cable. The coaxial cable connects to the antenna input of your TV. Most TVs will automatically scan through all channels and save each available channel. I get around 20 free channels using the Leaf, including ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC in crystal clear HD. You’ll be amazed at how much TV you can watch for free with just the Leaf antenna. Local news, sporting events, and network prime-time TV are all available for free.
For all other content, the Apple TV has worked great for me. While many have speculated when TV is going to move to an a la carte model, few realize that it’s already here. iTunes offers almost every show from most major networks on an a la carte basis. Is Mad Men the only show you want on AMC? Great, just buy the season. New episodes will be available the day after they air. Some shows, like Mad Men, even include special behind-the-scenes features that aren’t available to cable subscribers.
The Apple TV interface is vastly superior to any cable box. It includes a “Favorites” page where you can pin your favorite TV shows, which is much better than trudging through a massive list of channels. Instead of remembering when to DVR a show, the Apple TV simply adds a badge to each icon when a new episode is available. If you buy a season, you’ll get an email when new episodes are available.
After 6 months or so, I realized that buying network shows like Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, Shark Tank, and Master Chef added up quickly. These are available for free using the Leaf, but only if you want to watch them live. Enter Hulu. For $7/month, Hulu provides a wide range of TV and movies, including the latest episodes of almost every network show. For me, Hulu acts as a DVR for the network shows you don’t watch for free using the Leaf.
Netflix provides even more TV shows and movies, and includes original series, such as House of Cards. I watch Netflix the least and its library seems to be getting worse, but I still keep it around for House of Cards and an occasional movie.
The combination of the Leaf, iTunes, Hulu, and Netflix provides more than enough TV to watch on-demand, and I’m able to watch everything I want, usually without commercials, and for less money than a cable subscription.
My Comcast bill was $175/month for internet and cable. Over a two-year period this costs $4,200.
I typically spend $30/month on TV shows from iTunes. This includes individual episodes, which cost $3/episode and entire seasons, which range from $15-45/season. Hulu and Netflix each cost $7/month. The combination of iTunes, Hulu, and Netflix, plus the up front cost of $150 and my monthly internet bill, costs $3,054 over the same two-year period, a savings of nearly $1,200.
What about HBO and ESPN?
These are the two outliers. They both have apps on the Apple TV, but they won’t work without a cable subscription. HBO does provide series for purchase on iTunes, but not until long after they originally air. Personally, I’ve decided not to watch these channels, however, I can appreciate that this is a deal breaker for some. At least HBO’s CEO doesn’t care if you use a shared HBO Go password.
There is much speculation about Apple’s plans to release a TV. In my opinion, Apple won’t be releasing radical new hardware, but instead will improve the current Apple TV hardware incrementally, improve the user interface, and, most importantly, deliver new content deals with media companies. Until now, Apple TV has been a “hobby” for Apple, but it has sold millions of units and spent years fine-tuning the experience and adding content. Don’t expect it to throw that all away. Instead, expect it to put the Apple TV front and center and run with it. It’s been a great experience for me and I could see it going truly mainstream with some small improvements and marketing dollars.