Life

Television Options

I’ve spent the last couple of months learning way too much about television service and the various ways of getting it. I’ve pretty much always had cable during my adult life because it was provided as part of every apartment I had, and then when I bought a house, it was provided as part of the HOA fees. I did finally break down and get a DVR, which cost extra, a couple of years ago, but otherwise, I didn’t think much about it. I just watched it.

Then in December, buried in the HOA board meeting minutes that were e-mailed, it was mentioned that our contract with the cable company was expiring in February, and they had voted not to renew it. They listed what it would cost for each homeowner to get the same service — and they weren’t lowering the HOA fees. I was a bit astonished at the cost. I’m lucky that I could afford it, if I wanted it, but then I started thinking about how much (or little) I watch TV. I did a calculation of the things I regularly watch on cable that I would actually miss, and it would come to more than $10 an hour. I don’t want to watch more to make it worthwhile. I could take a lower-tier package, but the cable networks I watch most are only on the high-level tier, and it’s not that there are any particular shows I’m invested in there. That’s just my best sources of history documentaries that I tend to use as background noise or something to watch when there’s nothing else on. Almost everything else I watch is on regular broadcast TV.

So I started researching antennas. It seems I’m in a tricky area where I’m not too terribly far from the transmission towers, but I’m under a hill, so I don’t get line of sight. That means I’ll need a more powerful antenna. I tried a cheap “rabbit ears” and managed to get in the PBS stations fine, and a couple more, depending on the angle, but I didn’t get the station I watch most, especially for local news. Apparently, that station is more difficult to get.

My first real cord-cutting purchase was a Roku stick, and that may solve a lot of my dilemmas, as my local station has an app that allows you to stream the news live. Since a decent antenna should give me all the other local stations, that just leaves my ability to snark about Once Upon a Time in real time up in the air. ABC is weird about allowing streaming of their shows. Even though it’s a broadcast network, you have to have an account with certain cable companies to stream new episodes for the first week. Almost everything else, I should be able to either bring in with an antenna or stream. I’ll miss some of the stuff I watch on SyFy and the various Disney channels, but my library gets the DVDs when they come out, or there’s Amazon Instant Video, where it’s cheaper to buy a full season of a show than to get one month of cable service. I may eventually get Amazon Prime, which has a lot of video available in addition to the shipping, and they get Doctor Who, plus you can add an HBO subscription.

The other thing I’m looking at is what to do about a DVR. For a truly cheap option, I can get a digital converter box and hook it to the antenna and to a VCR, but you can also apparently hook a hard drive up to one and use it as a DVR. You just have to program it like a VCR in the old days rather than clicking on a program guide. There’s a fancier thing that’s supposed to be available a little later this year that seems to be a midpoint between the Tivo and this thing. And there’s an over-the-air Tivo, which might be overkill for me. I can’t imagine needing to record four things at once. I mostly use the DVR for time shifting when something is on late, recording something that will be on while I’m out, or for archiving a series that I’d like to binge watch or rewatch. My local PBS station often shows interesting things in odd time periods, and it’s nice to be able to record it. I’m not sure the Tivo is worth that. Then again, it costs what about a year of the DVR and DVR service from the cable company costs.

And I’ve probably more time to researching all this than I spent actually watching TV in the last couple of months. I don’t watch that much these days, and I’d like to either watch less or focus on watching things that are worthwhile, that I choose to watch rather than just looking for something that’s on. I’d rather spend the time reading or writing or doing other things.

Then I need to come up with ways to force myself not to waste so much time online goofing off or obsessively researching things that aren’t immediately critical.

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