Tech Soup  

Time to ditch your cable bill?

I was having lunch with a friend the other day and we were discussing the current slate of new shows introduced this fall TV season. For the record, only HBO’s Enlightened and Fox’s New Girl are worth adding to your personal TV schedule (please don’t tell me you like 2 Broke Girls or the equally dreadful Pan Am). As the conversation progressed, he reminded me - for the hundredth time in the last year - that his family does not own a television. I often forget that in order to keep up with most of the current small screen offerings one only needs their computer and an Internet connection. So I got to thinking: what do we need our cable providers for? Aren’t we paying too much?

The answer to that question depends on your expectations for picture quality and convenience. If you, much like myself, just have to watch Sons of Anarchy in its stunning HD glory, your options are limited. You can get it through your cable provider, or pay US$2.99 per episode on iTunes to “own” it, assuming you have a US iTunes account. Here in
Canada, we’ve never had the option to rent TV episodes nor do we have the selection available in the US iTunes store. Up until August, Apple’s US iTunes store allowed users to rent episodes for 99 cents, whereby after 24 or 48 hours the file would self destruct like Mel Gibson (though The Beaver is a really good film) and be rendered unplayable. I guess Apple decided that they weren’t making enough margins on the 99 cent model so they decided to scrap it - forcing consumers into a longer-term commitment with their favorite shows.

The iTunes model, while certainly delivering on diverse content and excellent picture quality, can get really expensive. You could easily ring up monthly costs that would dwarf your cable bill. So what other online options are there? For one, you can head over to either of our three main TV network websites and watch shows for free. Between globaltv.com, cbc.ca and ctv.ca, you’ve got a good majority of the top TV shows covered. The quality is quite good, but you’ll have to put up with some online commercials in exchange for the free content. The Netflix service also has a semi-decent selection of TV shows in their Canadian streaming stable, but nowhere near as good as its US service. This is pretty much the case across the board comparing our two countries: here in Canada we don’t have access to Hulu, Amazon streaming or any of the other cool online services.

Which leaves the other method of procuring our TV shows: downloading through potentially nefarious torrent and P2P sites. If you know where to look, almost everything is available. Free. And often in high definition quality if you don’t mind a longer download for a larger file. I’m not advocating going down this route, but here in Canada, due to much less
stringent piracy laws, you can do so without much consternation of criminal repercussions. A jailbroken AppleTV box running XBMC will give you the best of both paid and “unpaid” worlds (e-mail me if you’d like more info on this). One big drawback to the unpaid method is the source of your downloads - using Windows you’ll have to be up to date on your
anti-virus and spyware programs.

Can you live without your TV and your cable bill? It obviously varies from person to person. With the advent of the PVR, convenience has become a huge factor in keeping most folks from ditching their cable subscription. I suggest doing an audit on what programs you absolutely need to watch on the big screen at home, then adjusting your cable package accordingly. Also, make sure you keep tabs on which promotions the competing cable companies are offering. Call your cable provider and see if they’ll match. It’s amazing how effective this tactic can be.

Video of the week

Angry Birds is everywhere. Toys, a movie, a new version of the game every week... you can’t get away from those flying flocks and papery pigs. I know when I first played and reached a brutally difficult level, my frustration could be summed up with this toddler’s reaction to the game.

How does this story make you feel? (210 total votes)
Castanet MoodMeter

More Tech Soup articles

About the Author

Each week, Tech Soup will be written by a member of the Okanagan's burgeoning first-rate technology community. We already have a few regular contributors, but if you're interested in writing a tech piece for this weekly column, send us an email to [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories