Diary of a Cable TV cord cutter: Week 2

Two weeks after cutting the TV cord, CNET editor David Katzmaier reports on what works, and what doesn't, for his household.

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
5 min read

Fourteen days after disconnecting them, I finally pressed "Send" on my Verizon Fios DVR boxes. Happy trails, little buddies. David Katzmaier

It's been two weeks since my wife, eBeth, and I decided to ditch full Fios TV service--complete with a whole-home DVR, local sports channels, HBO/Showtime/etc., and a $100-per-month bill--for "free" TV supplied by a rooftop antenna and the Internet. Check out previous diary entries, from Day 1 and Week 1, if you want to catch up.

Being away from home for most of the recent Thanksgiving weekend provided a bit of perspective. On one hand I experienced a warm, tryptophan-aided fuzzy knowing I wasn't "wasting" three days of pay TV service (a whole $10!) by not being home to watch it. On the other, returning home to our own less-than-stable Internet TV solution--supplied by PlayOn connected to my PlayStation 3--persuaded me to try something else.

Here's the day-by-day.

Dear Diary...
Tuesday, November 23: No problems reported from eBeth watching her daytime staples, although she's still frustrated that TV.com's CBS feed delays shows for at least a day, and often more. That evening was spent packing, and she retired early, but I took the opportunity to check out the Knicks/Charlotte game, again via a friend's Slingbox, as part of testing the Veebeam HD (review coming soon).

Picture quality was horrible once again (the fault of his upload speed, not any of the hardware), but Veebeam worked as advertised to eliminate the need for a wire between the TV and my laptop, and gave me easy access to Slingbox's software buffer for DVR action. I don't see it as a real Internet TV solution for us, however, because eBeth and I want to avoid firing up a PC every time we want to watch programming that originates online. It also monopolizes our lone living-room laptop, and costs $140.

The Veebeam HD can wirelessly project your laptop's screen, including video and audio, to your TV. Sarah Tew/CNET

Wednesday, November 24, through Friday, November 26: During the trip to visit the in-laws, the only day we really watched any TV was Thanksgiving, including parts of the parade and, yes, all three NFL games. I took some smug cable-cutter satisfaction knowing that if I were at home, away from cable, I wouldn't have had to miss a minute of any of them, including the Jets/Bengals nightcap on the NFL Network, since it was being rebroadcast by my local affiliate. The family was interested to hear how we had cut the cord, but I didn't sense any of them were quite ready to follow suit.

Saturday, November 27: After arriving home, eBeth spent her TV time catching up on DVR'd over-the-air shows, but again reminded me that she missed having live CBS (TV.com still wasn't up to date). That evening I tried to address some of the new-release blues by suggesting we watch a Blu-ray of "Inception" I had borrowed from work (as a CBS employee and TV reviewer, studios send me early releases of many titles). And, yes, it looked great.

Sunday, November 28: Resolved to solve the CBS reception issue, I once again scaled the roof and pointed my 14-foot Winegard HD 7698P north/northeast, away from NYC and toward Hartford, Conn. Success! My signal strength meter consistently read between 61 and 65, enough to assure solid reception (wind notwithstanding) of WFSB in HD, and I promptly celebrated by watching the Giants game.

As shown by this map of Week 9, my local Hartford affiliate got the Patriots (yellow), not the Jets (green). the506.com

Unfortunately for me, according to the506.com, that CBS affiliate prioritizes the New England Patriots over the New York Jets, so during the last two weeks of the season, when those two teams play in the same time slot, I'll have to find an alternative way to get my Jets fix. But any live CBS is better than no live CBS.

Our other TV intake that day, ironically enough, came mostly via Internet TV instead of the antenna. eBeth queued up a Hulu-sourced "Supernanny" marathon to run in the background while she worked, and we both watched a catch-up "Amazing Race" episode from TV.com that evening.

Monday, November 29: Received the call at work from eBeth wanting to know how to watch a show on Fox. Repointing the antenna has lost me the NYC affiliate, so I told her how to find the CT equivalent in the program guide. It came in fine, but unfortunately her show wasn't on the "new" Fox. Happily, after a bit of searching I found a My9 affiliate out of Hartford that carried it. Disaster averted!

That night I told eBeth I wanted to get a TiVo instead of buying the Channel Master DVR (we were using a loaner for review purposes currently) for $350. I described the benefits of TiVo, namely that the program guide would be improved and we could modify it to keep only the channels we wanted to watch from the antenna. I also briefly mentioned that we'd be able to get our Internet TV services without having to use PlayOn.

Later that night she got a "data is corrupted" while trying to access a show we had paid for from Amazon VOD. I restarted the PlayOn server to restore service, briefly, but then it froze midshow again and I resorted to simply connecting a laptop to the TV so she could finish the show. I mentioned that TiVo should solve this issue, but she said, "I'm sick of having to relearn a new thing every week."

I'm hoping TiVo is $20/month easier to use than my current OTA/Internet hodgepodge. TiVo

Week 2 reactions
Though it ended on a down note, this week proved to me that we could live without cable and not have to sacrifice too much. For her part, my wife still misses cable, but most of her viewing habits, despite the change in devices, are unaffected. But I did learn one thing: PlayOn isn't for us.

I've been told by more than one reader that Windows Media Center is a good DVR alternative, but I don't want to buy a new computer and I'm doubtful that having one in the living room will make watching TV simpler. eBeth and I agreed that for us, paying the $20/month subscription for TiVo fits in the budget--and, as a bonus, we'd be saving about $9/month in electricity by not leaving our PlayOn PC on all the time. So this morning I placed my order.

I chose TiVo because I needed a DVR for over-the-air and didn't want to pay for the ChannelMaster. The integration of Internet services via search also appeals to me. I decided against the other contender, Roku, mainly because it duplicates too many of the services I already get on my PS3.

On the downside, of course, we'll be back under the yoke of another monthly subscription, and I can't help but feel that by signing up for TiVo, I'm losing 20 percent of my reason for cutting cable in the first place. I'm hoping the payoff in ease of use will be worth it, but if it's not, I'll take advantage of the 30-day return policy.

Stay tuned. I'm skipping Week 3 because of a business trip, but I'll be back on lucky December 13 for a full recap of Month 1 (will it be worth the savings?) In the meantime look for sporadic entries on Twitter.