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Summary:

Reader Doug van Kirk and his family were cable subscribers for a while, but Comcast’s package deals just weren’t working for them. So with some upgrades to their home entertainment solutions, including a connected PC and Windows Media Center, they joined the ranks of the cable-free.

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What is it like to cut the cord from pay TV? What’s working, what’s missing, and what kind of equipment does the best job replacing the cable box? In our new weekend series, we’re asking cord cutters to tell us about their experiences. This week, reader Doug van Kirk talks about upgrading his gadgets and ditching his provider.

Like a lot of families, we signed up for Comcast’s triple play (basic cable, Internet and phone) for $99 a month for the first year. Then the price went up. We got them to extend our intro price for 6 months, but after that our subscription skyrocketed to over $150 per month. That’s a lot of money for a rarely used home phone, decent internet connection and 60 channels of highly pixellated and commercial-laden TV.

So we bought a new TV. Seriously. We finally tossed the old 27” Sony and bought a nice Samsung LED-LCD flat panel. But instead of upgrading to HD cable service, we got a refurbished HP slimline PC with Windows Media Center and a 1TB drive, added an HD Homerun networked TV tuner, and put an antenna on the roof. We pick up 79 digital channels here in San Jose, including about 10-12 public TV channels. WMC is my DVR and while it’s not as easy to use or as feature-rich as the TiVo Series 2 it replaces, it does record hi-def broadcasts. And of course, we use Netflix streaming to watch a lot of stuff.

Also, after installing an antenna and taking the box back to Comcast, I discovered that they send local digital channels – in HD, where available – unencrypted down the wire (QAM format) when you have broadband service. They also include unencrypted SD versions of a few cable channels. No ESPN unfortunately, but our system has Discovery, History, HG and a few others. Getting this working with Windows Media Center was a bear, but now that I’ve got it set up, it’s going well.

This was primarily a value-driven decision. It seems ridiculous that we should have to pay money to watch advertising-sponsored programming, especially when so much of that programming is such poor quality. For example, I used to like the Discovery Channel, but most of their stuff follows the same tired formulas (ax men, ice road truckers, guys fishing, etc. ad nauseam), and the commercial interruptions are just incessant. And every year it costs more?

In short, cable TV is a lousy value. So now we pay Comcast $60 a month for internet access only. Between Netflix (discs and streaming) and recorded over-the-air broadcasts, we have more than enough content to watch. We particularly love Netflix for TV because there are no commercials (really important when you have kids). I’ve missed an occasional football game (I didn’t know Monday night Football was cable-only until after I unplugged), but when I total up the money we’re saving, I don’t miss it that much.

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  1. I just cut the cord here in NYC and the only thing I miss is having the clock on the cable box display next to the tv. The OTA hd signal looks much better than the highly compressed stuff we were getting from time warner cable and we’re saving $100 a year.

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