Cutting the cable (almost)

Almost a year ago we embarked on an experiment here at “Casa Lembo”.

We dropped our cable TV service and switched to over the air (a/k/a “terrestrial”) and Internet sources.

Our connection to the cable company isn’t completely severed, however. We still get our Internet and phone service from them because (so far) they still offer the best quality at the lowest cost from among the few other options we have (AT&T and Clearwire are the only real competitors available, and neither measures up very well).

The house is located on the northern side of a ridge about 10 miles south west of Raleigh, North Carolina. The nearest TV tower is about 4 miles away, but all of the towers for affiliates of the major networks (PBS, ABC, CBS, NBC) are over 17 miles away. The PBS affiliate comes in with a very strong signal, but all the others not so much. We get the best CBS signal from a powerful regional station well west of here. NBC comes in from a tower to the south east beyond Raleigh, and ABC from a VHF station in the same direction.

That means that our ability to pull in over the air programming is mixed, and at times dependent on weather conditions. The one VHF station can be troublesome because the antennae we’re using were designed to capture UHF signals. Of course it would help if I’d just get up the courage to mount those antennae on the roof rather than moving them around in the attic.

All that said, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the excellent quality of the digital picture delivered. As for programming, I lean heavily towards two of the three digital PBS channels (the third is exclusively kid’s programs), but as a family we regularly watch a few shows that appear on the three commercial networks on the primary channels of their local affiliates.

And of course we now watch the local news.

Beyond broadcast, there’s a growing number of programming sources on the Internet. The big one for us is Netflix’s streaming service (we subscribe to both the streaming and DVD-by-mail services, and were happy to hear that, for now at least, the company has decided not to commit commercial hari-kari by severing and renaming their DVD business).

In addition to Netflix we use a service called PlayOn to serve up content on a PC that can be accessed by a couple of inexpensive media clients (Seagate FreeAgent Theater+) we have in the family room and upstairs “bonus” room. Originally we mostly viewed Hulu using PlayOn, but now that they’ve added channels for Live News and other services (including PBS video, SciFi… er, “Syfy”, Amazon VOD, TBS, etc). My only beef with PlayOn is that it runs exclusively on Windows, preventing me from putting it on a dedicated media server (which of course runs on Linux).