Replacing Traditional TV & DVR with Little Streaming Boxes

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After nine years with Dish Network, I’ve replaced it with an AppleTV and Roku 3 ($99 each, last time I looked). Having done that, what’s life like without traditional TV & DVR? In a nutshell, it’s just fine. My kids watch a lot of YouTube, and did before I retired Dish. I was bored with most of what I was watching on TV. My wife is only vaguely interested in TV. So, it’s not as if it was a big deal for our family. The question then becomes, what does AppleTV and Roku 3 offer instead?

In short, they offer enough. There’s enough free content just with the PBS & Smithsonian apps on AppleTV alone to keep a person occupied for years. If you add the Amazon Video app on the Roku 3, then there’s enough free content (for Amazon Prime customers) to keep you occupied for several more years. If you want to watch specific shows or movies, you can buy them on either platform. AppleTV seems to have more than Amazon, but both have a lot of content.

So, for me and my family, we’ve gone from an HDTV & DVR with Dish Network to a totally Internet-based HDTV experience, and I’m paying essentially nothing for it. Okay, so now for some practical questions.

What about sports?

I don’t watch any sports except for Formula 1. I am not aware of any legal way I can stream F1 on either the AppleTV or the Roku 3. I could be wrong. You can torrent the races if you don’t mind watching them delayed (Google it), but I’m quite sure torrented copies of F1 races keep Bernie up at night since he’s not making any money on them. IOW, the torrented copies of races are very likely illegal to distribute, download, or view.

What about current TV shows?

There’s lots of older TV I’ve never seen that’s available on Amazon Video to me as a Prime customer. So, good enough for me. I don’t care about keeping up with current shows too much. It’s just not important to keep up with current shows. My goal is to have a way to relax and blow off some steam when I’m not working. I don’t need the latest shows to pull that off. If you really want current shows, you can pay dearly via Apple TV and get just about anything you could want. At a glance, season passes are in the $25 – $45 range.

What about movies?

Rent, subscribe to Netflix, or go to a theater. IMAX movies in 3D make for a fun night out with friends. In my 6 or so month experiment with premium movie channels on Dish, I found I still couldn’t get the movies I was looking for with any predictability, and in fact was simply unable to watch many movies I was interested in. OTOH, lots and lots of movies I wouldn’t watch even on a dare kept playing in an endless cycle of tedium.

What about news and weather?

That’s what the apps on my iPad are for. I have all the news and weather I could ever want via the app issued by my local TV station. I don’t watch news channels unless there is a potentially life-impacting national emergency, mostly because I can’t seem to get actual news on those channels. I find the 24×7 news cycle deplorable, sensational, and devoid of intellectually engaging discussions. All apologies to the news & politics junkies out there.

Don’t you miss the DVR?

No. Apple TV and Roku 3 means I have the biggest DVR in the world.

What about bandwidth caps?

My current Internet plan is 50M down/5M up. That comes with a 350GB monthly data cap. If I exceed 350GB, the cable provider police spank me. So, yeah – that’s something I need to pay attention to. If I did my math right, that comes out to a 1Mbps stream, all day, every day (which is huge). I will be doing more analysis on this to find out just how much pipe an HD-quality stream with Dolby Digital sound eats. So, let’s say I watch 3 hours of HDTV per day, every day for a month. And let’s further say that these streams average 5Mbps, which probably a high estimate based on this article. Okay, so 3×30 = 90 hours of streaming @ 5Mbps. How much data goes through that pipe? 5Mbps = 300Mbpm = 18,000Mbph = 2,250MBph = 2.25GBph*90 = 202.5GB. So, in just 90 hours of streaming, I’m eating significantly into my allocation – 202.5GB of 350GB allotted. Do I watch that much TV? Not usually. Will all the streams be 5Mbps? Almost certainly not. Still, bandwidth caps are definitely a consideration.

Next steps are to find out just how much bandwidth we’re actually using when streaming. I am a network engineer. I run a managed network at my house. We have the technology to figure this out. Report coming later; I’m off to gather data.

I consumed this stream absolutely free of charge.
I consumed this stream absolutely free of charge.

10 comments

  • Nice! Ive been pushing on the wife for years to cut cable and we are making he jump next month. She is pretty picky about her TV so it was a challenge. For us though to keep internet the cable company includes basic channels at no charge so I dont have to worry about them OTA.

    This did limit which devices to use as a DVR since and at the end of the day it makes more sense to us to just keep renting the DVR from the cable company.

    Roku, Netflix, Hulu+, Amazon Prime and Plex provide everything else.

    • I am amazed at how much content Hulu+, Netflix, and the rest really offer. The only thing Dish & a DVR offer by comparison is convenience. It’s very easy to find what you’re looking for and record it, and somewhat less easy on the little streaming boxes. Other than that (and the bandwidth cap issue), I don’t see the point anymore unless you’re really into current TV and/or sports.

  • Ethan, I know by me HD antennas work to still get channels like ABC, CBS, FOX, etc. At least they did a year or so ago (no box). Not sure if they’d work in the farm country way up in the NE though :) I kid I kid…anyway, still something to look into for current shows, events, and public broadcasts.

    • Oh, you’re not wrong. Up here in the boonies, I am limited in what I can get OTA. I’m just too far away from most terrestrial broadcast antennas, the propensity of which are in the greater Boston area. It is something I might investigate again. There are some interesting antenna designs that are supposed to be helpful in situations like mine.

      • I’ve been a cord cutter since ~2010 and will concur with the OTA suggestion. Some real gems on some of the sub-channels as well. Ex. Classic TV shows, movies, etc. Antennaweb.org is a killer resource for helping with your OTA challenge. Put in your address and it will tell you what type of antenna you will need and where exactly to point it for each channel.

    • Just came across your article – totally agree with everything you’ve said. I ditched cable almost 6 years ago and found that my family really didn’t miss it. I do have a OTA HD Antenna along with a MythTV DVR – which I also find is an acceptable method for getting college/pro football. I still get BluRay discs through Netflix (yeah – I know it’s old-fashioned but I can get ANYTHING legally). One thing worth nothing on OTA/BluRay – the AV quality of these mediums are still superior to streaming (for the time being)- a real treat if you have a proper Home Theater setup that can take advantage.

By Ethan Banks

Ethan Banks is a podcaster and writer with a BSCS and 20+ years in enterprise IT. He's operated data centers with a special focus on infrastructure — especially networking. He's been a CNE, MCSE, CEH, CCNA, CCNP, CCSP, and CCIE R&S #20655. He's the co-founder of Packet Pushers Interactive, LLC where he creates content for humans in the hot aisle.

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