Spring and the return of a "Zero TV" home

In the past, I would find myself sitting on my couch during a beautiful spring & summer day and using the excuse of a baseball game on TV to avoid chores or yard work. Today, I didn’t do that. I was doing yard work, on a beautiful spring day, and enjoying every moment of it while listening to the Red Sox on the MLB At Bat 2013 iPhone app.

The benefits of canceling Cable TV for a second time, joining a rapidly growing group of friends and colleagues in my generation, are really starting to show in small ways. In the morning, I seem to have more time to relax before heading to work. At night, I’m usually listening to music with my wife, perhaps watching an episode of The West Wing on Netflix, or devouring books like I used to back in high school.

This is a small step for me to become more minimalist with my life. A little less clutter, frustration (those awful Cable TV boxes), and entertainment on demand the way I want it (instead of being spoon fed it) really seems to be helping me out.

Broadcasters should be worrying about “Zero TV” homes big time.

Cable TV free

We have done it. As of yesterday, we are Cable TV free. Cable boxes were returned, bill adjusted (just $59 per month for Internet & basic cable), and now figuring out what to do next. The price drop is over $70 from our previous cable bill.

So far so good. We definitely have watched a lot less TV, although we haven’t been home much either. When we were home yesterday and this morning, my 4-year-old nephew was over, so I ended up streaming cartoons for him over Netflix. Including the original Popeye cartoon from 1936, which was really neat to watch with him.

While my bedroom TV can see the few Clear QAM channels in HD, my 2007 era living room TV cannot (it only sees the SD versions). This is something that will need to be rectified. I may experiment with a TV antenna just to see what channels are in the area.

I’ve begun to think of what is next. I’m seriously considering a Mac Mini server & home theater computer. Combined with the Elgato EyeTV we could work around the HD issue I mentioned in the previous paragraph, record anything on basic cable worth recording, and also have a centralized server for movies, music, etc. Then use an AppleTV for easy access. Another option would to build a Windows Media Center PC as that seems like fun to play with, although it seems to have its own annoyances.

I also have been wondering whether to get a receiver and start building a home theater sound system. The problem I’ve had so far is that all of the receivers I have found are bulky, have tons of connections & buttons I would never use, and aren’t my definition of simple. There are also very few that are even Energy Star qualified. Where is the Apple of home theater receivers when you need one?

Operation Cable TV free so far appears to be successful. More updates to come.

Going cable free

Tonight my wife and I decided that by the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs (roughly a week or so from now), we are going to turn in our Cable TV boxes and go Cable TV free as an experiment this summer.

Why we are doing this:

  • It is the summer, let’s get out and enjoy it instead of sitting in a chair being zombies.
  • Online options (Netflix, iTunes, and similar services) are now very viable options for when we want to watch TV.
  • The only time we watch TV is for local news & sports. Here is the kicker though…we rarely watch the sports, we just listen to it while doing other things. Use the radio for that, much cheaper.
  • We want to do more reading, work on our condo, and hopefully be moving into a house this summer. The last thing we need to do is be distracted by whatever is on the Food Network.
  • Of course the big part, our cable bill will be significantly cheaper. An early estimate is a reduction of half our current bill.

The only thing I will miss is the sports game that I WANT to sit down and completely focus on. Like a Red Sox/Yankees game. But maybe in this rare cases I will go to a family or friend’s house, a local bar, or just listen to it the old fashioned way as well.

Sony's critical error

Reading about how bad the security breach of the PlayStation Network is, I don’t know how I could ever trust Sony again. At least not anytime soon.

Waiting six days to tell us that all of our personal information is most likely compromised (including my password) and they cannot guarantee the security of my credit card data?

I can deal with name, e-mail address, etc. But password? That tells me they didn’t follow standard practices for password security. Which definitely doesn’t give me confidence about them protecting my credit card information.

Since I have linked my Facebook account to my PlayStation Network account, I think I am going to change that password too. Since I have no confidence that Sony hasn’t safely stored that password either.

I would sell my PS3, but I am sure there is a flood of them hitting the market this second.

What a mess. They have a lot of explaining. The next week and what actions they take to calm our fears and compensate the PlayStation Network users is going to be make or break for the PS3 in gaming market.

Moving away from cable…slowly

The cable companies must be deathly afraid of what people like myself are trying to do…slowly moving away from subscribing to Cable TV. While I cannot completely kill that bill (not until there is a reasonable option for live sports), I have begun to take baby steps in that direction.

The bedroom TV is literally used for two things: morning news and movies. That is it. In fact, even saying movies was kind of inaccurate since there wasn’t any DVD player in there. In the past, if I really wanted to watch a movie in there, I had to lug my PS3 into there and hook it up.

Not anymore. The HD Cable Box is unplugged and will be dropped off at Comcast shortly. The AppleTV plugged in, configured, and in use. Cable TV cord plugged directly into the TV so we can access the Clear QAM channels such as our local TV stations (all still in HD). Took less then 20 minutes to pull this off (plus the time to do a channel scan on the TV).

The setup is vastly easier to use. My wife always had trouble getting the cable box and TV to be turned on at the same time. That issue is gone. The AppleTV is always on or in standby, a simple button press on the spartan Apple Remote away from being active. Using just the TV remote for switching channels, inputs, and volume is much better.

Test streaming of Netflix and content from our laptop worked flawlessly without issues. Watched two Firefly episodes and really enjoyed it. Ripped DVD’s from our collection work perfectly and look remarkably good. Still have to get all of our movies ripped and encoded, but we are getting there.

Curious to see if we ever miss the cable box in there (based on our usage the past few months, I am almost certain we won’t miss it). I am also going to see how often in the living room we really watch a TV channel not available on Clear QAM. I suspect only when it comes to live sports.

Once Apple allows apps on AppleTV (it is a matter of time before that happens) and if the major sports remove blackout restrictions for local sports viewing, we will easily have enough content to officially cut out the TV part of our cable bill.

The LOST finale

Last night my favorite show of all-time aired its last episode. LOST was finally done after a mind bending six season. I have been organizing my thoughts regarding the entire series and its conclusion all day. As sad as I am to see it go, it was time. I first started watching between season 1 and 2 and became immediately hooked.

Never have I watched a show that incorporated so many genres, whether it was drama, sci-fi, mystery, comedy…it was all there and all well done. It was certainly a show that required people to think and that was the best part about it. I knew I wasn’t going to stumble across a casual LOST fan, those people simply did not exist. You either were all in or all out.

One thing is for certain. There will never be another TV show like LOST. Thank you.

Why I pre-ordered the iPad

Friday morning (after a slight hitch with a gift card) I ordered a 32GB iPad (Wi-Fi only). I am sure some of you are wondering why I threw down $599 on a tablet device that maybe 30 journalists have touched for 15 minutes apiece. Here are my reasons.

As far as cost goes, it actually costs me out of pocket not that much. I had a gift card from my employer that covered the vast majority of the purchase. How I had the will power to not spend it to now? Even that amazes me.

The light went off in my head after the iPad was announced on exactly the type of scenario where I would use the iPad heavily. Every day when I come home from work, I usually sit down on the couch and catch up on any RSS feed reading I hadn’t done during the day, catching up on Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Right now I either use my iPhone or I grab my laptop. With an iPhone, it is much more suited for quick tasks not for a hour of reading and surfing the Internet. The laptop however is overkill for this task: short battery life, very little need for a keyboard in most cases, hard for me to be comfortable using it. I also typically only do one or two tasks at a time during this time period anyways, barely multitasking.

I held a book roughly the dimensions of an iPad to see how it may be for these types of situations. Was I comfortable? Could I easily do the touch motions that I can do on an iPhone? It truly seemed perfect.

Speaking of books, another reason for this is I really want to do heavy reading again. One of my big skills is how fast I can read, I have been known to finish 400-500 page books easily in one day. Buying books results in lots of clutter in our small place. I also will be doing some traveling for work reasons this year, so I want a device I can easily carry with some books for these trips. Consolidating these books onto one small device sounds perfect to me. I could also see an argument for not bringing my laptop along on some trips. Depends on where I am going, but it is certainly a possibility.

Finally, obviously I have 100% confidence in the UI. Apple almost never messes up the UI, especially lately. Their development tools do a great job at getting 3rd-party developers to follow along with their UI design. I am exited to see what applications are created for the iPad. I can’t wait for example to see what someone pulls off with a genealogy application. That could be stellar for research purposes.

I am really looking forward to April 3rd. Hopefully it goes as I think it will!

How could I get rid of cable TV?

My earlier post on using Netflix on my cable TV has gotten me thinking. Realistically, how could I realistically ditch my Cable TV bill and use just Internet streaming, over-the-air TV signals, and DVD rentals? A move that could easily save me $60 a month.

After some careful consideration, I think the following would need to happen:

  1. Access to live streaming video of sporting events. There is some moment in this direction with ESPN360.com, MLB.TV, NBA League Pass, NHL GameCenter Live, etc. In fact, outside of NFL Network broadcasts, I do not think any NFL games are available online. In order to cut the cable bill, I would need to be able to access live streaming of my team’s games, no matter where I am located. I am willing to pay for it too.
  2. A well designed and reasonably priced HD device that allows for streaming feeds from multiple providers while also allowing me to use my local content. What I envision is a meld between a Roku player, Boxee, and AppleTV.
  3. Live news feeds when needed. Obviously watching the 24-hour news networks is like asking for your brain to turn to mush, but for live breaking stories or even as general background noise for an hour, they cannot be beat. While some occasionally offer live feeds on their sites, I do not see any permanent live feeds available…yet.

How are we doing so far?

#2 you can argue is pretty close to being accomplished. If Apple were to come out with AppleTV version 4 with “app” support that allowed Netflix, Pandora, MLB.TV, etc. to create apps that run on the AppleTV, that would clinch that part for me.

That would also open the door for #3 to occur and potentially, #1 once a big enough market can be generated for someone (my money is on MLB.TV) to remove blackout restrictions. In fact, MLB appears to be moving in that direction already with deals with the Yankees and Padres to stream in-market games.