Cutting the Cable Cord: Week 2

poltergeistWell here we are, 8 days after turning all of our cable boxes in and telling Comcast to take their $130 cable bundles and shove em… And I’ll be Mayan’d… The world didn’t friggin end! Yet.

The true cord-cutters test will come this Sunday evening when we have friends over to watch the Walking Dead and we’re able to pull it off without a hitch. On the other hand, I am starting to believe that I was only afraid of losing cable because cable wanted me to be afraid of losing it. With the set up we have going now, and thanks to some late-night homework on my part, I believe I’m more than prepared for any of my family’s audio/video entertainment needs.

house-of-cards-posterThe name of the game in cord-cutting is cover your bases. You know there is a show you like and you know when it’s on and what channel, there are ways to get those shows as early as 15 minutes after they air. There’s the standards, like Netflix, which has become the cord-cutters banner for streaming media. Seriously, they have about two-thirds of any TV show, movie, or cartoon you could ever want to watch… for $8 a month. Sold. The most exciting thing about Netflix is their original programming. We watched House of Cards a few weeks ago, and it was exceptionally compulsive television. Produced and directed by David Fincher, one of the most talented filmmakers on the planet, Netflix made the bold move of releasing the entire season at once. They plan on doing the same thing for their next original show, the resurrected Arrested Development. However, besides original programming, they don’t add newer content ever… So Netflix is really good for a video library of all the old stuff you love and maybe want to watch or catch up on… But new episodes of Breaking Bad won’t be on until a year after they air.

imagesThen there is Amazon Instant Video. I’m not 100%, but I think these guys get most their new episodes the next day, in full HD (except for HBO, and I’ll talk about that later). Although I have not tried it yet, this is a great option. I hear Hulu Plus is good, but no AMC, no money from me. I can get it elsewhere. Then there is iTunes… But with Apple, I love their technology, but I hate dealing with them in any way, shape, or form. I’m sure I’m missing a few others, but only because I want to get to the meat and potatoes of my point here.

xbmc1My point is XBMC, which I find amusing because it comes from the Xbox which I’ve never owned, and often bashed for its lameness. If I wanted a Wii or an Xbox I’d buy one, but I’m a serious gamer. XBMC is a FREE multi-media player that runs on your computer and organizes all of your movies, shows, music, games, all in one place… and then you plug in your TV as your monitor and GO! I took an “old” Dell Optiplex 960, while not the best machine, still has a few cores to work with, and I simply ran an HDMI cord from the back of the PC to our plasma screen in the living room. Then I tucked it out of the way, turned it on, and let it know where my audio and video files were. Then it sprang to life.

navi-x-08XB uses online databases and scans your library, then throws it all together in a nice user-friendly format that’s completely customizable. You don’t like the way the cross-media bar looks or works? Change it. There are websites full of skins for it, and all of them have individual settings you can adjust to make it how you want it. Then the features! It allows you to use “add-ons” that let you access all manner of live tv, streaming video, all from sites like Hulu, Amazon, Comedy Central, any place that has their shows online for free, you can watch through XB. Instead of going to ABC.com to watch Once Upon a Time, it serves it for you. There are also add-ons that link to material that is slightly less than legally streamed, but it’s not against the law per se to watch, depending on your morality stance and your patience with non-HD content. xbmc-ios-remoteI tried one for academic purposes only and watched the latest episode of The Americans 15 minutes after it aired on cable. Whoever is streaming these shows is on the ball.

Then there’s the remote. Guess what? It’s an app. It’s a really cool app. It not only has the remote as a touch-screen on your phone but it allows you to browse your library on your phone as well. Want to watch a movie? Pull up your XBMC remote, look through your library, then hit “play.” It’s that easy. Oh, and did I mention Air Play? WITHOUT APPLE TV. Yes that means all you suckers who paid hundreds for your fancy little boxes got just that… Fancy little boxes. I can be looking at the IMDB app on my phone, see a trailer I want to watch, and throw it up to the TV from anywhere in my house. If I’m watching or listening to something on my phone I want to put on the plasma screen I tap one button. I love it.

There’s also a nice little app called Splashtop 2 for the iPhone and iPad that will stream any (wirelessly) connected computer to either device. I’ve had this awesome app for a year now, it lets me play Eve Online while I’m not sitting at my computer. It lets me control the Dell from the couch… Or the shower for that matter. So if XB dies I just open Splashtop, start it up again, and go! I’m still working out the kinks, but so far it’s worked fairly seamlessly. photo 3We tried it again last night for academic purposes, we chose a cool add-on program called “Navi-X” that hosts a ton of streaming content. There are a few dedicated genre playlists that people have created, and of course we found ourselves looking through the Sci-Fi movies. There was practically every popular contemporary science fiction movie in that list. My wife had never seen Solaris with George Clooney and Natascha McElhone (Karen from Californication), so we gave it a shot. The best part? All of them are 720p, high-def streams!

Well technology wouldn’t be technology without a few hiccups, and of course 10 minutes into the movie it stopped and we couldn’t get it started again. So with a little ingenuity I was able to find a copy within minutes and we were back up and running… And that seems to be the way it is without cable. Cable is a product, served up for a specific reason and has been updated, perfected, and worked on for decades. It’s designed to bring you TV and movies seamlessly, and it does. The issue is that mega-corporations that truly don’t care about anything other than the bottom line supply that product. Game-of-Thrones-Season-3-Posters-jaime1All of this new technology is only a few years old, there are still a million bugs to work out, so it’s expected that not everything is going to work 100% of the time… But it better come Walking Dead time I tell you!

Game of Thrones starts next weekend, and I’m curious as to how soon I’ll be able to get HD episodes from Amazon… Since HBO wants everyone to use their HBO Go app now, and you can only use that if you have a current cable package with an HBO subscription. Why doesn’t HBO simply make their Go app a stand alone product? Some of us can’t afford to fork over hundreds a month just to get one show! I’d gladly pay HBO a flat fee a month to be able to watch their brilliant programming… But they are so in deep with their cable company partners they can’t even rock the boat without fear of losing what? Their bottom line. I think they could more than cover their losses by making HBO Go a subscription-based service, and bring it to the millions out there who have to pirate Game of Thrones because there is no other way to watch it.

photo 1Long story long, between the PS3 and the XBMC, I think we’re covered. I can get any show just a few hours after it airs, live TV broadcasts, March Madness, and tons of other stuff. So far, cutting the cable has worked okay, however it has only soured me even more for the cable companies. It’s not a jealousy thing either, it’s a have-and-have-nots thing. If we could occupy Time Warner I think it would be a great idea… But what are the options? Pirate movies? Oooo, that’ll show em. Protest? That only gives them more ammunition. I suppose grass-roots legislation, but I’m fairly sure they’ve got their backs covered on that one.

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