State of the Unplugged

Unplugging

Last September, after *several* painful encounters with Comcast, my fiance and I decided to go Over the Top.  No more cable.   With the new season of Glee and House and Burn Notice coming, it was a bad time to unplug. 

The first month we subsisted solely on Netflix streaming.  At $15.99, we were able to enjoy season one of Lie to Me, and assorted movies.  The selections for netflix have been getting better over the past few months, but in the beginning it was really rough.  Now I can enjoy Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, and Psych; while my fiance can enjoy Grey’s Anatomy.

Soon after we started, Hulu announced Hulu+, a $9.99 service that allows viewers to catch full seasons of certain shows.  For us, that’s Glee, House, Burn Notice, Psych, Grey’s Anatomy, and Private Practice. It scores in all those arenas.  But it’s not all sunshine and unicorns: Hulu Plus doesn’t yet support the Xbox360 as a device to watch TV on.  To get around this, we purchased TVersity Pro.

TVersity allows your computer to act as media center to stream online content to your Xbox360 or PS3. As I mentioned before, there are a few caveats to using TVersity: It doesn’t work for Hulu+ content, and it does have some bugs.  The newest version has fixed the issues I’ve had with TVersity, although it’s still disappointing that it doesn’t work with Hulu+.

To get around the “No Hulu+ on TV”, there are a few options:

  • The Roku Digital Media player. This 89.99 media player allows you to watch Hulu Plus, Amazon Unbox, and other content directly to your TV. This product currently holds the most promise, but if you own an Xbox or PS3, then the Roku isn’t needed.
  • Several TVs and other boxes.
  • Sony Playstation 3: Hulu+ ‘has an app for that’, and it allows you to watch TV shows on your PS3.

After doing the math, and realizing I wanted a PS3 anyway, we decided to buy a PS3 to support Hulu+ from the comfort of my couch. 

Disadvantages

Limited sports.  ESPN has a free channel on Xbox360 that shows college sports; and UEFA, but no American professional sports.  That’s the rub with being unplugged; it’s nearly impossible to watch a realtime NFL game or MLS Soccer.  MLS does have the ability to watch games online, but currently that’s only for PCs.  NFL has something similar, but the same problem exists. 

Netflix doesn’t carry everything, and Hulu+ doesn’t carry everything else.  To watch the most popular shows, you may need to jump between Amazon’s Unbox, Netflix, and Hulu+.  Unbox is all a la carte, which is both a good and bad thing.

Why Over the Top?

HD Cable costs $99.99 per month.  Before taxes, that’s $1200 a year, just on TV. If you watch 10 hours of TV a week, that’s about $2.30 for every hour of TV that you watch. Hulu+, on the other hand, costs $9.99 a month, and Netflix is $15.99 a month (with DVDs in the mail). That’s $36.00 per month, or $432 per year: 1/3 of the cost of Cable!  There’s also the signal to noise ratio on TV. When’s the last time you actually watched every channel you subscribe to? Does it make sense to pay for channels you don’t watch? Going unplugged is a reasonable way to save money and to break the cycle of mindless channel surfing.

Bottom Line

Unplugging isn’t for everyone. If you don’t like sports and all the shows you like are on Hulu+, Unbox, or Netflix, and you either like to watch TV on your PC or have a PS3, you’re ok. If you have an Xbox360, you should see Hulu+ soon (it still says ‘coming soon’ on their wesite).

If however, you love paying a lot for TV, or you like to watch sports, now isn’t the time to go Over the Top.  We plan on finishing our unplugged experiment by next September, let’s just hope they have NFL available online by then so we don’t have to.

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