On Life and Love after 50 eNewsletter – March 29, 2019
by Tom P Blake
Cutting the Cable TV cord
A little background is in order. In 2014, the cost of Direct TV at my home was $120.00 per month and the cost of Cox Internet was $60 per month, for a combined monthly total of $180. Each year since, I watched the cost of those services go up.
At the start of 2019, Direct TV had reached $156 and Cox Internet $80, for a combined total of $236 a month, or $2832 a year. Spending that much on TV and Internet is unacceptable.
Three weeks ago, Greta and I were visiting friends who showed us this cool TV remote control streaming device called Roku. I asked, “What’s that?”
“It’s a way to watch TV without paying for cable service, it’s called cutting the cable TV cord.” My ears shot up like a rabbit’s.
I researched cutting the cable TV cord for a few days, and then ordered two Roku Express devices (one for each TV) from Amazon Prime, for about $31 each, and returned the Direct TV equipment, ending their service. Immediately, we started using Roku, learning the ins and outs. The potential savings: $1,872.00 a year.
The Roku Express (and there are other more expensive Roku options) uses a simple remote control, and a tiny box that is perched in front of the TV. The box connects to the back of the TV via an HDMI cable, which was provided with the purchase.
Roku Express remote and black box
For Roku to work, the TV needs an HDMI slot in the back. I use the same slot where the Direct TV cable box was plugged in. And we had to keep the Internet.
What we’ve learned after three weeks without cable TV:
- It’s not just with Roku that you can cut the cable cord. The Amazon fire stick 4k, Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Nvidia Shield also work. The prices of those devices vary, depending on the features offered
- If you choose Roku, you begin by signing in to Roku.com and create a free Roku account. You need to give them a credit card number to create the account, in case you want to sign up for any of the premium services offered by different channels that Roku offers. Getting a Roku account is a snap
- I recommend Roku users immediately sign up for the free Roku blog and research the blog’s previous articles. The blog is invaluable in providing information on the ins and outs of how Roku works
- You must have Internet at home for Roku and other streaming devices to work. Hence, getting rid of the Internet provider wasn’t an option so that expense remains. If someone only wants nearby local channels, a small antenna that plugs into the TV can be purchased for $15 to $30 (I use Amazon Prime). I’ve read they work well in some locations and one Champ told me it won’t work where they live. She said bad weather hurts the reception. There is no other cost besides the purchase of the antenna but try to get some opinions before buying an antenna
- The picture and sound quality have improved compared to Direct TV, which was always out of lip sync
- With Roku, there is access to many free channels. The Roku blog lists them and explains what’s on each one. However, to watch some premium programs, people pay a monthly fee–like Netflix, we pay $15 for their premium version, but they have cheaper options. However, I had to pay that for Netflix on Direct TV in addition to the $156.00. Since, we were paying extra for Netflix on Direct TV, I don’t consider having Netflix as an added cost with Roku, but for people who don’t have it, there is an extra cost
- If you are an avid game-show watcher—thinking Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, Family Feud, for example—and you want the current version, you’ll likely have to use one of the premium channels provided by Roku for $30 (or more per month) to get them. Consider this before taking the Roku plunge because you do lose most of your current local TV programming that you are used to
- Watching 60 Minutes on Sunday on CBS has always been a favorite for us. To be able to watch that, I simply signed up for CBS All-Access at a cost of $6 per month. And the basketball March Madness coverage is included in All Access. It’s like having your local CBS channel at your fingertips
- One of the paid channels on Roku is Amazon Prime. If you already subscribe to Prime for your shopping, then access to it on Roku is at no cost. It has tons of viewing options. Amazon Prime for shipping is now up to $128 per year.
If where you live only has sluggish DSL service, this cutting the cord option may not work for you. Or, if you live too far from a city that has TV service, the antenna may not work either. But it sure the heck is worth looking into.
There is a free website called Broadband Now where you can type in your zip code and get a list of Internet providers in your zip code.
You might sign up for one of the premium channels on Roku such as Hulu + Live TV or You Tube TV and give it a test run. You can cancel a subscription at any time. One or the other would cost you an estimated $45 a month and might be adequate for all your needs.
Beware, the cable companies don’t want to lose you as a subscriber and will do all in their power to convince you not to leave them. Like keep you on hold forever. They will offer promotional rates for a limited period to keep you attached to them. Direct TV came back to us and offered $35 per month for a year.
How do we feel about what we’ve done? We are seeing concerts, documentaries and shows we would have never seen on Direct TV. And boy, are we ever thrilled! Not just for the cost saving, but for the programming we would have never seen.
For example, on Roku, I mentioned the You Tube channel (totally free) and the You Tube TV channel, which costs $30+ per month. On the free You Tube channel, we’ve seen concerts by the Doors, ABBA, Neil Diamond, Sergio Mendez and Brazil 66 that have been incredible. On Wednesday night, we watched a Bruce Springsteen video of his Broadway show (Springsteen on Broadway) on Netflix that was incredible with him narrating and occasionally singing. His tribute to his former E Street Band Saxophone player, Clarence Clemons, was very moving.
I’ve figured out how to watch the sports events I want. So far, we are flabbergasted and thrilled with new-found enjoyment. Not to mention, saving more than $1800 a year. The biggest issue: discovering how to watch the favorite shows, local news, and programs we were locked into.
I’ve read that the biggest group of cord-cutters is in the age 18-44 bracket. So, if those young whippersnappers can do it, so can we. (However, you might need to eat a little senior crow by asking one of them to come over and show you the ropes).
Trent: “I live in San Diego and we are pretty much held hostage by Cox for our TV and Internet cable service with their ever-increasing rates. We recently opted to go with just Internet and ditched cable. We have purchased the Roku Ultra for one TV and use an older Apple TV on our upstairs TV.
“We subscribed to YOUTUBE TV for $39 per month and it has all the channels you want (local news, network stations, pretty much all the cable stations we had before). If you want Premium channels like HBO those would cost an additional $15 per month. We can share the YOUTUBE TV on up to 6 devices with family and its even viewable from our phone while traveling. The ROKU player was about 50 dollars online and even has voice command. The apple TV also is good and can be picked up for around 100 dollars.
Alex (Tom’s website guru, a youngster, whiz)
“I’m all about the Amazon fire TV stick and the Apple TV. You may want to touch base on Apple’s streaming service, they announced it on the 25th. Rumors are saying it will be great.
Loretta, “Roku is Ok. Not for current events such as nightly or regional news. It’s a decent alternative to paying for boxes. You still need high-speed internet and a good signal. Boosting the internet signal may be needed to have a good experience.
Subscriptions to channels you can’t live without are available. Make sure you have the right length cable to install the device. Take a photo of your internet password so you have it and you are not chasing it down.
Sandra: “Apple TV 4K in CT. I have been off grid for 8 years with a digital antenna and Apple TV. Wonderful selection of programs delivered at your convenience.
Dee, “Partner and I have the Amazon Firestick (2 years now) and take it with us when we travel and must spend time in our room. This way we are not stuck with the hotel viewing offers. At home it is always convenient too and is now connected to the 2nd TV.
“Last summer, I purchased Ron a larger screen Roku (to my initial distaste…why have a bigger TV? I thought), and we both enjoy the ease of it. We have simple internet connection though AT & T, for which we pay $60 per month, then we have various subscriptions which change depending on our needs or wants of the season.
“Currently we subscribe to Netflix and Hulu in addition to being Amazon Prime members. To me it gives us more control and is less expensive than the Cox TV/Internet choices.”
Terry, Connecticut: “I cut that cable cord several years ago and haven’t looked back. My setup: I have a an outdoor HDTV antenna (screwed to the top of my condo privacy fence and cable snaked through the AC wall opening) for local news and broadcast stations (including 3 kinds of PBS), along with two Roku devices, one for each of my TVs (I like the “box” rather than the stick).
“I have more television/streaming than I’ll ever be able to watch. Paid services via Roku: Netflix, Hulu (the cheap version with commercials) and Curiosity Stream (documentaries, channel by the fellow that created the Discovery Channel).
“ I like movies, documentaries, comedy, and certain TV series. Admittedly, am occasionally transfixed by YouTube (so helpful for DIY research, travel, arts, crafts, and amusing otherwise).
“All together I pay $17.14 a month for Netflix/Hulu, and $35 A YEAR for Curiosity Steam. Cut that cord, folks! You will save TONS of cash. (However, I will eat cat food before giving up my internet.)
“Service outages sometimes happen when the landline has issues with storms, car taking down a pole, etc. Every so often I need to reboot the modem to “refresh” the internet connection. Minor annoyances for the much cheaper cost.”
So, that’s it, Champs. Do your research. What might work in one location might not work as well in another. I hope you save some money.