Tuesday, September 6, 2011

We've Done the Research...Now It's Decision Time

As you know, or maybe you don't know, we have been shopping around for a new way to save money and one of the most obvious ways is to get rid of cable, but we have found ourselves in quite the pickle as we try to figure out what is the best way to do this and I will tell you why....but I will break it down by categories: Netflix (dvd and instant streaming), Hulu (and Hulu+), Amazon Prime, Digital Antenna with Tivo.

Netflix (dvd and instant streaming): Despite the recent hoop-la over the hike in prices, the benefits of Netflix abound. You can pick the plan according to your wants/needs/budget. We have 2-3 accounts (depends on how our budget is going). It is easier for us to keep track this way: I have an account where we have our instant streaming and I receive unlimited 2 discs a month. This works well for me because I like watching TV on dvd, so I, on my free time, will watch different series of shows like Little House on the Prairie or White Collar. Sierra has an account where she does not get instant streaming, but she does get 1 disc at a time with unlimited discs. This works well for her because she has things she likes to watch and the cost is minimal. Matt also has an account that is the same as Sierra's except he can get blu-rays. With his account, he can watch those obscure movies that I/we have no interest in AND/OR he will get any family movies we want to get. With instant streaming, there is a growing library of movies and tv shows that benefit the whole family...Matt has been watching Bond movies as well as old Star Trek shows, Daniel has Spongebob, Sierra...well, now that you mention it she doesn't watch anything personally, though she DOES benefit the most on our favorite family show, The Cosby Show, and I watch several tv shows with Netflix and several movies. The benefit to Netflix Streaming is all you need is a device that has Netflix Streaming like a Wii, blu-ray player, Playstation, tv, etc. The negative to instant streaming is most of the shows are older shows. We, as a family, have certain tv shows we look forward to each season like Amazing Race and Survivor plus other shows like Fringe, NCIS, Criminal Minds, etc. With Netflix ONLY we would be forced to wait for dvd sets to come out, which none come out for Amazing Race or Survivor (never mind that we would likely hear WHO won via the internet). So, for our purposes, Netflix does not work on it's own. We need something that can keep us up to date on our favorite shows. So, then there is--

Hulu (and Hulu+): Ah, Hulu. It is a great program, in theory. They play many of the more recent episodes of many of your favorite shows (sounds like their byline, huh). There are certain restrictions, though. First of all, there is Hulu and Hulu+. Hulu is FREE, but can only be viewed on your computer (gather around kids, we are going to watch our show on mommy's laptop). Now, for a small monthly fee you can get Hulu+ that is broadcast over the tv, but you have to have a device to hook up to the tv to view...a blu-ray player or a tv with hulu+. The monthly fee is low (something like $7/month) and they have a fair variety of shows. So, easy choice, yes?? Well, not so. Reviews on blu-ray players that have interfaces with Netflix or Hulu+ are less than stellar. I read many, many reviews that said the same thing, you are better off with a Roku device than the blu-ray player. Ok...so, let's do that. A Roku box is about $70 and has the best reviews. BUT, hold on....what shows ARE on Hulu+?? Not as many as you would think!! First of all, CBS will not stream ANY of their recent shows. They feel that they are the number one network so WHY would they give a consumer a break? So, that cuts off a lot of what WE like to watch...most of our shows ARE CBS. Also, amazingly so, many shows signed contracts with Hulu, not Hulu +. So, there are a number of shows that are ONLY available through Hulu and NOT Hulu+. So why not just Hulu?? Well, Hulu is for the COMPUTER only. There are a number of shows that you can only watch on the computer. Well, we are back to the original issue....Hey kids, let's gather around Mommy's computer to watch Castle (only show I could think of). That's not cool. So then we hear about a little thing called:

Amazon Prime: Amazon Prime. I am a big fan of Amazon. They rock...they have everything available. I do a lot of my consumer fact checking via reviews on Amazon. I LOVE AMAZON. With Amazon Prime, you pay a one time, $79/year. You can pay this and be good for a year of Amazon Video on Demand shows and movies at your fingertips plus free 2-day shipping on any item, no matter how big or small. Sounds GREAT, right. Yeah, I thought so too. But then you realize not ALL Amazon Instant Video shows are FREE....just some select titles. You can imagine what is free. Comparing these titles to the Netflix titles is just sad. So, how much could an episode cost? Well, most of what I saw was $1.99 per episode. A typical TV series has 24 episodes in a season. If you don't have cable and you would pay about $25 a season per show you were watching. If we were doing Cosby and Castle, and any number of shows, you are getting into MAJOR dough AND you still run into the CBS problem. WHY!!! Then there is:

A Digital Antenna paired with Tivo: It was one of those "a-ha" moments last night. I started thinking aloud....what about getting a digital antenna?? Well, then we run into the problem of having to be tied down to when shows aired versus watching at our own pace. With a digital antenna, you can pull in a variety of channels, but how does one record them?? Then I thought, what about Tivo?? So, here is the deal on Tivo. You can get a Tivo for about $85 on amazon. It is a "smart" dvr that can be hooked to a digital antenna. With Tivo, you can also stream Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu+ and whatever, so you have a dvr and the other things. There is a fee, of course, for using the Tivo service...$20/month. When you are paying close to $100 in cable, that $20/month is still a savings...a significant one. But where do you get the shows without cable?? Why, a digital antenna, of course!! Who would've thunk?? Such a concept as this. Gone are the rabbit ears. Gone are the sketchy receptions (I think). To get a good quality antenna, you need dole out some money, but than you have your local channels and a number of other channels broadcast over the air...no monthly fees....and it interfaces with Tivo.

There is, of course, the other thoughts: Continue paying the exorbitant cable fees with the current plan. Sign up with a new service from a new provider with lower cable fees (to start), but know that in a year, you'll be about where you started. And, of course, get rid of it ALL...rely solely on dvds/blu-rays and spend more time on family time. The first is just not an option...neither is the second. The third was a front runner last night...we thought, why not just get rid of it all. We can beef up our dvd collections and spend more time outside or having game nights or what have you.

But, let's get real. TV is not ALL it's cracked up to be, but there are certain things that bring us joy as a family. We like watching Amazing Race...it is a great show to watch together. The best option, for now, seems to be the digital antenna and Tivo route. It is not eliminating costs, but it is still bringing those costs way down. We still dvr, but we dvr only local stations and we do not pay a service fee for DVR AND Cable AND Local Stations. You eliminate 2 of those factors. The output cost at first is kind of high with getting the Tivo and the digital antenna, but in the end, you will save tons. And IF Hulu+ or Amazon Instant Video updates with more of our favorite shows, with the Tivo we can explore that.

Are we 100% sure this is the way we want to go?? NO!! But, I think we have gathered SO much information that we can go no further. It is time to pick it apart and make our decision. Hopefully, you can benefit from our research too!!

Addendum!! We have done it. We have made our changes and are fairly certain that we made the best choices. The fact is, there are several shows that we really enjoy throughout the fall and spring season. So, we called out cable company, AT&T Uverse, and talked to them. We ended up going down to Basic Cable (which gives us local channels and WGN) and we are saving $50/month. With this, our internet price will not go up (internet without a tv package would have raised our cost $10 more). We still have dvr. We do, however, lose the ability to watch our favorite USA and TNT shows (mainly Psych and The Closer), but next month we will buy a Roku box and decide then whether to use Amazon Prime for these shows or Hulu.

So, there you have it. Our decision is final, our channel line up is smaller....life is simpler...we are happier. We are not saving the $90 we originally were looking to save, but $50 is nothing to sneeze about.


Anonymous said...

THanks, that is helpful info. I'm sending it to my parents, who might want to do the exact thing you're doing. I would love to eliminate cable, but Mark and Kyle have to watch their sports! Besides that, and a few of the kids' shows, that's about all of the cable we use.

I prefer Netflix myself, like you, to watch certain DVDs. I hardly ever watch TV.