Cable TV: To Be...or Not?

Seeking digital lifestyle advice: is cable TV any longer necessary?

Last summer we bought a digital HD set, and then an HD cable package that gave us several hundred channels. At the same time, we hooked the set to a good DVD player and a Roku web-streamer, both in HD quality.

For a while the HD cable was a novelty, but after a few months we stopped watching. The ads are incessant, the content dumb or offensive, at least to us. The remote control is way too complex, and the channel “guide” often inaccurate. (It’s easier to just read and listen to music.)

So we’ve begun to think it’s time to drop cable TV. We gave up our landline phones last year, and now wonder why we didn’t get iPhones sooner.

Increasingly, we rely on our Internet Wi-Fi for ad-free content: indy and foreign movies, TV shows, major league sports. The very few cable shows we enjoy (Mad Men, Lost, Glee), are available at Amazon VOD for $1.99 a pop. That’s far less than paying Comcast $75 a month for channels we don’t watch at all. And in January they want to raise that to $120 a month, for the same dismal content.

So, we’re about to cut the cord, but is there a down side? And will web-streaming continue to grow? I’d love to find a way to set up a Mac-friendly HTPC, possibly using a Mac mini. If any one has advice and suggestions, would love to hear. (And that means everyone, not just folks on US cable systems.) Thanks!

Have you looked at the Mac-Tv section on AVS forum? … e=30&f=115

The people I know who’ve cut the cable-cord manage just fine on a mixture of over-the-air and Netflix streaming, with some supplementary Hulu and the like; some, with a network interest, adopt a non-system-tethered DVR: a Tivo or something similar, to avoid the freedom-from-arthritis advertisements.

We’re sniffing around ways to cut the cable-cord here, but we’re inconveniently placed for over-the-air reception without a more elaborate antenna than I want to look at every time I go outside.

I’m not exactly in the same boat as you, but have a similar situation. I live in rural Vermont. We don’t have access to cable TV, but most everyone in the area – including my parents next door – get satellite TV. I’ve thought about getting satellite myself, but when I’ve been at my parents and seen how little there is to watch, even with 200 channels, I’ve resisted. So, my wife and I rely on Netflix. Mostly we watch TV series. The few good ones usually end up on disc within a few months. No commercials, and it is really interesting to watch a series on consecutive nights, instead of waiting a week or more to see the next episode. The Netflix membership costs me half the price of satellite, too.

I do worry a little that at some point our viewing will catch up to the supply of quality TV shows available, but we are probably a long way from that point.


How far are you willing to go in “getting your nails dirty” for you HTPC?

All you need is an Apple TV, and a little bit of guts. But then you will get a little dirty with some low level stuff. My system will be

  • DVD ripped to local NAS
  • DVD managed via DVD-pedia and associated plugin
  • HULU/Boxee front end options.
  • Standard Apple TV features.

I built one of these for an acquaintance at his request. I liked it enough that I have abandoned my idea of a linux HTPC in favor of this option.

Ahab, thanks for the suggestion about the AVS forum. I’ll look into TiVo, but thought that worked only when you have cable TV input. One good thing about my Internet provider is 15 Mbps speed.

Vermonter, I’m with you on Netflix. Besides their discs-in-the-mail program, we keep a long list of movies and tv shows lined up on the Instant Play queue, for viewing on the Roku box. Last winter, I watched all five seasons of Lost in a few weeks. So I was not surprised that Hurley never lost weight!

Jaysen, do you make house calls to central New Jersey? I had to go to Wiki to learn about NAS. However, I do use DVDpedia, and would love to copy my collection of 700+ movies on disc to a storage drive, then control play-selection via DVDpedia. Or if not that many, maybe the 5 and 4-star rated flicks.

Can’t believe how lazy I am about finding a disc and putting it into the player. But it’s like the old problem of 35 mm slides; shoot, store, and forget them.

So, the Apple TV is a better option than a Mac-mini? That’s helpful in itself. Thanks, all.

TiVo has an over-the-air digital tuner. In your location (go to, and input your address for a plot), you should be able to get all the networks (including Telemundo) with a simple UHF antenna; you might need a low-band VHF for WPVI. The transmitter plots will show you signal strength and terrain obstacles down to street level. It’s possible you could get all the locals with an indoor- or attic-mounted antenna, depending on your location, foliage impedimenta, etc.

EyeTV ( makes an OTA digital tuner for the Mac. Lots of folks use that in conjunction with a Mac Mini as a sort-of PVR. (You can’t do this with an AppleTV; that’s pretty a pass-through from your computer to your TV, and an iTunes and other media player.)

So, unplugging from cable is certainly possible, especially with a 15mb ISP (ours is around 8mp, which is iffy for streaming).

You know if more people turned the TV off and just read books we would never have time to post anything here…

As to digital content. The idea in the future is not to have “cable” TV as we know it but rather everything on demand for streaming or download and you would pay a fee per episode.

Of course the one glaringly problem with that is BANDWIDTH. As the global network grows the content is far outpacing the capacity. So either expensive upgrades to the network (which will result in higher costs to the consumer) and of course bandwidth shaping and content control. Pretty soon ISP could in theory “lock you in” to only certain content by controlling bandwidth. (This is already done and is apparent very much so in the Cell Phone industry).

If you control the information you control the populace. The future of content in in the hands of the providers. If people start ditching their “cable” for digital content then companies that provide internet and “cable” will just offset the cost by raising the rates on digital content and access.

Books are cheaper. If you want the regurgitated trendy “3D” buy a pop-up book.

Captains Log - Star Trek Sucks. Star Wars Rules. The internet is all knowing and the assimilation of the youth has already begun.

BW is not the problem. Dense content is. There is sufficient BW to supply 100% streaming content.

Oh and buffers are your friend. If only products would add better buffering. BAH!

CNJ isn’t really that far. I could be pursuaided. Although I could just ship you one. I want to build mine first though. I like to have my own test beds…

As to ATC being better than mini… depends. As as simple HTPC that does not require “over air” yes. There are over air options, and you can even run a full OSX on the ATV. Just depends on how dirty you want to get. It really is nothing more than a computer.

That said, I only want a media center. If I need a computer I will buy a computer.

Make sense? … asics.html … cable.html … arted.html

But for those of us who’ve just spent yet another day doing little but reading–manuscripts, books, our own poor writing–it’s nice to take a little break and let our focus drift toward something a bit more distant: say, a documentary on volcano appeasement, where the village is saved by tossing Dorothy Lamour into the caldera. Or a series of borrowed Greek myths, only with tie-fighters and Death Stars.

Brett, TYVM for those great links. I’m embarrassed, because I’d read all of the stories but failed to save them! And now I have.

I’m beginning to think that a Mac mini would be superior to the Apple TV. The mini has a disc slot in it and is a true computer with OS; the TV appears to be an enhanced storage drive, and it only streams from iTunes, which is pricey for films or tv shows. Or am I wrong? Or should one have both?

Another challenge is hooking a laptop to the TV. Would be great If I could do that wirelessly, via the laptop’s Airport card.

I appreciate all advice. Jaysen and Wock must do this for a living. All the acronyms that keep spilling forth. BW, ATC, BAH!

You can get Boxee, hulu, and … I can’t remember the other one… working on ATV (Apple TV). So stream away.

ATV is a computer. It has an OS. You can connect an external optical if you choose. But you are right that as a generic device it is an OPTIMIZED solution for limited content distribution. A mini is not optimized and hence is more useful.

That said, a mini is NOT optimized for HTPC and will suffer some issues when filling that role. My experience is that using a 1080P screen that does not really support “computer use” becomes very tiring to use for simple tasks. Since you will be primarily in front row for HTPC you are likely to run into the problem I did; you can’t use the computer side of the device if anyone wants to watch a movie or listen to music.

Then there is is the cost. $250 is hard to compare to $700 if you don’t need a full system.

But this is my plan. Let me know if you need help/advice.

Netflix +PS3 = Movie rentals instantly (not all titles) (Streaming movies. Also blockbuster and a few others offer similar VOD (video on demand) featers)

Mac Mini shines in the automotive field … -mac-mini/

Nerdy instructions for actually installing a Mac Mini in your car (Mobile Scrivener anyone? lol) … r-car.html

For “end” devices (Such as PS3, ATV, etc) there is the “ROKU” which is very popular and rather easy to use.

For those college students who want a computer and a tv all in one. … tch-tv-my/

If you have money to burn and you want to be made famous by an act of stupity you could do this … _smash.htm

And if you are curious as to what the BEST job in the world actually is

“Bring me my brown pants” :slight_smile:

Agreed. I’m in the process of ordering a refurbished ATV, with 2-years of AppleCare, and in your view, do I need the Belkin HDMI to HDMI Cable - 6 ft? Total price is just shy of $258.

This may help you … &id=746715

HDMI is digital. Go cheap. You should be able to find a cheap no-name cable in your area.

That said, yes. Get an HDMI to connect your ATV to your display.

Cheap yet reliably high quality AV cables can be had from Blue Jeans
or .

Were it my money, I’d go with them rather than cheap discount-store no-names. Those can be good; they can be OK; they can be the source of that annoying glitch you’ll never track down.

You’re welcome. The price is: please keep us apprised of your progress in the great conversion. I saved those articles (and other earlier stories that I didn’t include because they’re too dated now) because we’re contemplating the same thing. We’re not major TV watchers anyway, and the only reason we have basic cable is that our package includes pretty fast broadband cable internet, still cheaper (barely) than the alternatives where I live. Unless other bilge rats want to weigh in with other suggestions.

Thanks, Ahab, Jaysen, and Wock for all the tips. I’m saving all the links and will diligently pursue. At the rate I’m buying gizmos and cables, I may be spending all the $$ I save from Comcast.

Brett, deal. Will relate my progress gladly.

You all know that my ultimate aim is to prove that the iPad will connect to the Apple TV and then write, film, edit and score the ultimate sci-fi epic that Keith is day-dreaming about, on his puny MBP. :laughing:

Hang on there. what exactly are you expecting the ATV to do for you related to your iPad?