Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Confessions of a Cord Cutter, Part I

I'm breaking this topic up into two posts: finding a DVR, and then how to choose an antenna and hook it up.

We took the plunge and cut the cord with cable several years ago – and by took the plunge, I mean we were cheap ass grad students who couldn't justify the expense of cable. But then we moved into an apartment complex that offered free internet and cable as part of rent, and I could rent a DVR for only $15 a month. When we moved into the new house, we thought we'd see how we could do without cable. Cutting the cable is one thing, but I love the flexibility of being able to record a program and watch it whenever, which meant we needed some kind of DVR.

Before we made the big move, I started looking into "OTA" DVRs. Basically, these are DVRs that capture free, legal, over-the-air unencrypted HD signals like NBC, ABC, FOX, PBS, etc. I pretty quickly narrowed my search down to two possible DVRs: Tablo and the Tivo Roamio. If you're considering cutting the cord and you'd like to check what kind of channels you might get, plug your address in here.

Dolla Dolla Bill Y'all

Cost wasn't the only factor (I'll talk more about that below), but it was certainly a biggie. Tablo doesn't have built-in storage, which means you need an external hard drive, and it doesn't connect directly to your TV, so you need a streaming device. Here's how the numbers broke down for me:

Cost breakdown of Tablo and Tivo Roamio 4 tuner OTA DVRs

The "lifetime service" refers to the cost of the program guide (the channel listing). If you'd rather not pay the cost up front, both Tablo and Tivo offer cheap monthly rates, but I like the idea of a "one and done" kinda deal.


In my view, the good and bad thing about Tablo is that it doesn't connect to your TV. On one hand, the fact that it's not tied to your TV means that you can set it up wherever you get the best TV reception... which may not be a three foot radius from your TV. On the other hand, it means you need to buy another device like a Chromecast or AppleTV to stream stuff from Tablo to your TV. In addition, it doesn't have storage built in, which means you have to buy yet another device to store your TV shows.

One of the other things I wasn't crazy about: there's no remote. The idea is that you access Tablo through a streaming device (like Apple TV or Roku or whatever), so you would just use whatever remote or app goes with the streaming device. This is just personal preference, but I like having a more fully featured remote that has buttons for the channel guide, mute, etc. I should point out you can definitely buy a remote to coordinate with the Tablo (like a Logitech Harmony), but again, it's an additional cost and yet another thing to program.

Tivo Roamio

First of all, I like that everything you need is pretty much right in the box. I hate electronic clutter and cords, so that's a big plus to me over Tablo. It has integrated access to a bunch of streaming services like Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu, so you don't need to switch over to another device for those; another plus. It's got four tuners, which means you can record four programs at once, which is nice if you like a bunch of shows during prime time. I also like that it has a remote. If you have non-techie family members, the remote works pretty much like every cable remote ever, which means it's familiar and easy to use.

One of my favorite features is OnePass. Basically, Tivo finds your favorite show, and searches out episodes on whatever platforms you use: TV, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, whatever. It doesn't matter if they're recorded, have yet to air, pop up on streaming, or are just coming soon to streaming, they all show up in one easy-to-navigate screen.

Oh... and hopefully I won't sit on it.

Sex and the City Miranda TiVo
(Sex and the City fans, I hope you remember the reference! Cordcutters can watch the series for free on Amazon Prime.)

The Verdict

We've been using the Tivo for over a month now, and we LOVE it. I would say the only drawback is there's no easy way to check how much free space is left. My model records about 500 GB. I don't think we're in danger of hitting that limit, but it's hard to say for sure.

I've used DVRs from Comcast and Verizon, and the design and intuitiveness far oustrips either of them by a mile. You have to figure -- they were first to the DVR market, and they know what they're doing.

This isn't a picture from our Tivo (no cable), but it's better than the potato-gram my iPhone took, and it gives you a sense of what the channel guide looks like. It's the exact same on our Roamio, with the nice little channel icons and everything.

If we ever buy more TVs, we can purchase a Mini, which looks about the size of an Apple TV, I guess. You pop it on the additional TV, and the Roamio will beam whatever you want to that TV from your DVR. (It comes with a remote, too, so your guests won't be left out in the cold.) So, I like that it's easy to expand no matter how many TVs you have in your household.

You might also wonder what we've been watching without cable. Well, Making a Murderer, OBVI. We're only up to episode three, so NO SPOILERS, y'all. But seriously... we've been doing just fine; there's a ton of stuff to watch. I won't lie, I do miss all my HGTV shows, but the nice thing is there's a ton of those programs on Hulu, and I can always buy an iTunes season pass for current shows if I really feel the need.

Ok, that's the wrap on the first installment of cord cutting. Stay tuned for how we picked an antenna and hooked it all up.