Cord Cutting Update — Part Two: Video

This is the second and last part of my cord cutting update, refreshing the information I first posted back in 2011. Last time, I tackled phones. This time, it’s video.

Streaming Video

Many of the same players are still doing great stuff, including Roku, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, and Vudu. Netflix is turning heads with the release of original series (including the highly anticipated return of Arrested Development), and Amazon Prime continues to add more content every few months.

As before, the sands of streaming video constantly shift, and so it’s not easy to know what’s available on each service, or how long it will be accessible. Thankfully services like CanIStreamIt are making it less difficult.

I’ve seen a trend toward allowing access to online video only if you subscribe to cable, which might work for some, but I don’t get the sense that I’m missing anything essential. Eventually, it all comes out on DVD, where I can simply rent it.

I’ve experimented with PlayOn, a service that collects and catalogs most of the free video that’s available online and packages it in a format that can easily be accessed. They don’t explain it that way in their sales pitch, however, which is frustrating. Instead they make it seem like it’s a magic “free cable” program, which it certainly isn’t. As nice as it seems, I just haven’t found myself using it. It’s easier to bookmark free video pages in Chrome (I’ve set up a special account just for online video, and sync it across machines).

My favorite source for streaming world news has become the 24/7 Al Jazeera English channel. I find that it has excellent reporting from underserved areas of the world, offers new perspectives, and isn’t laden with anti-American/Western propaganda, as it’s sometimes portrayed. I’m hoping that more people get to see what a valuable source of current events and in-depth reporting they are.

I use the free media center XMBC to access most of my streaming content and do my DVD-watching. As an open-source project, it continues to improve with every version, and has much more of a future than Windows Media Center seems to.

Over-The-Air (OTA) Video

Using an HD antenna continues to be one of the best values in entertainment. I continue to enjoy beautiful picture and sound quality over a wide array of channel options, and it remains completely free. OTA shows also prevent me from getting closer to the bandwidth caps imposed by my ISP.

My DVR of choice, Windows Media Player, seems to be less and less of a priority for Microsoft. It doesn’t even come with Windows 8 (you have to add it on yourself), and so I think it may be going the way of the dinosaur. Such a shame.

The new player to watch in this space is Aereo, and I’m looking very forward to them coming to my area someday. The service allows you to view and record OTA programming over the Internet, circumventing copyright law by using a complicated dance  that essentially provides you with your very own little HD antenna back at Aereo’s local HQ.

The Boxee Box also looks interesting, as it has a OTA DVR built-in along with all of the usual streaming options, and XBMC has just added DVR support to their latest beta, which is quite promising.

Conclusion

It’s been several years since we’ve cut the cord, and I remain quite happy with the choice. I never lack for entertainment choices, I save a great deal of money, and I am constantly finding new and interesting things to explore.

My hope is that things will continue to expand and improve between now and my next update, but between lobbying efforts and back-room deals, I’m not entirely confident that things will get better. The best I can do is enjoy it while it’s here, and keep spreading the word.

Cord-Cutting Update — Part One

It’s been well over a year since my first post about cord cutting, and enough has changed that I think it’s worth an update. This post is part one of two, and deals with phone communication.

Cell Phones

Today there is no reason to sign a contract for cell phone service. Top-tier, expensive phones like the iPhone and Google Nexus are now available without a contract, and there are plenty of affordable and reliable choices for considerably less. Non-contract players like StraightTalk, MetroPCS (now owned by T-Mobile), Virgin Mobile, Cricket, and (my choice) Republic Wireless offer excellent service for hundreds less than the big carriers over a typical two-year span, and rumor has it that T-Mobile will soon be ditching their own contracts.

As long as you’re willing to pay for your phone up-front (a practice in most markets worldwide), you’ll save. My current deal with Republic Wireless, for example, gets me unlimited phone minutes, texting, and Internet use for $19 per month. A perfectly serviceable, but not cutting-edge Android phone costs $249.

The “catch” with Republic Wireless, which really isn’t one in my opinion, is that it can use WiFi networks for voice and data traffic instead of relying entirely on cell towers. Because at least 80% of the time I use my phone I’m near a WiFi network, this is a virtually unnoticeable hurdle.

Home Phones

I’m still enjoying the Obihai device to send and receive calls via Google Voice. As I’d hoped, Google is still letting us call anywhere in the US and Canada for free, and the hookup to our cordless phone base station continues to be rock solid.

If I made more than a few phone calls a week at home (neither of us back at the ranch are exactly “phone people”), I’d very likely upgrade to something more robust but still extremely cost-effective like the Ooma. One important thing it provides that Google Voice doesn’t is 911 service, almost worth the upgrade in and of itself.

Part Two, coming soon, will update cable-less entertainment choices.

Bad Behavior Online

PBS webseries Off Book does it again, providing an important look at negative online behavior. While this impacts us all, our children often get the most exposure and need the most help figuring out how to navigate the social aspect of being online, particularly when it turns bad.

I also love when they point out that freedom of speech does not equal freedom from criticism! Yes!

Off Book publishes some of the best online video I’ve come across, and I hope they keep going for a long time to come.

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Can I Stream It

Can I Stream It searches to find out whether movies and TV shows are available for streaming, and if so, where. As a cable “cord cutter”, it’s invaluable – you can even set up email alerts to let you know when things appear. While the majority of content is available across multiple services, quite a bit of good stuff is exclusive to Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus.

CanIStream.It: Search Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Google Play, Amazon, iTunes and more for movies and TV shows to stream instantly, rent, and buy.
CanIStream.it allows you to search Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Google Play, Amazon, Crackle, Redbox, XFINITY Streampix, HBO GO, Showtime, Blockbuster, Youtube Movies, EPIX, and iTunes to see if a movie or t…

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Lazy Truth

If you use Gmail, add this extension to Chrome, and it will help you debunk claims made in  forwarded emails. This is a great tool for students (and adults) to determine the truth or falsehood of the dreaded email chain letter.

LazyTruth
Fiction, Meet Fact. LazyTruth is a free Gmail gadget that automatically triggers fact-checked content when you receive a misleading email forward. Get LazyTruth.

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Sfxr

sfxr is a fantastic, free, and easy-to-use tool for creating 8-bit video game sound effects. Perfect for the game-writing students I teach, but I’m having a blast (ahem) with it, too.

Just pick your sound type (jump, shoot, power up, etc.) and listen to random permutations until you get something you like, or tweak the settings directly to get the exact sound you’re looking for.

Note that there’s a Mac port of it as well (cfxr), look for the link under the description.

sfxr

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A Web Whiteboard

Here’s another tool for your digital toolbox: a quick, web-based whiteboard that works on everything I throw at it, whether it’s a tablet, desktop computer, or mobile phone. If your device or computer can handle HTML5, you should be set.

I love the simplicity, utility, and the way that it just plain works.

Whiteboard
Touch. Draw. Share. A Web Whiteboard is touch-friendly online whiteboard app that lets you use your computer, tablet or smartphone to easily draw sketches, collaborate with others and share them with …

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Make Them Fear You, Cut the Cord

Monthly bills for cable television, home phone, and cellular service can easily add up to nearly $200 these days. You’re also paying for Internet on top of it, right? Yikes! If you’re sick of paying so much for so little – and brave enough to take the leap – you can choose fantastic entertainment and communication options at a fraction of the cost.

In early 2009 I dropped the land line, fired my old cell provider, and canceled cable TV. I’ve saved thousands of dollars already, and feel stupid that I waited so long. My entertainment choices are vast and growing, and I actually like my phone service better than before. Here’s an in-depth guide to my cord-cutting journey. I hope you’ll find that making the cut works for you, too.

Photo by Scott Swigart

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