Monday, September 5, 2011

So, It's An Intermittent Blog, After All

Where were we and where are we now?

It's been six months since we turned off cable TV. I've saved about $408, Actually, I should subtract the $2 a week bribe I'm paying each of my kids in the form of an increase in their allowance. I said if we could save a bundle of money, they should get a share of the savings. That cost me about $96 over the six months. So, $302 so far.

We weren't happy with the computer-connected-TV. Number One Son complained he couldn't watch Netflix in HD through the website. I was annoyed that every time I wanted to watch PlayOn, the computer was asleep and I'd have to hike to the game room to awaken it. (It's nearly 30 feet! And it's always after I get comfortable! wah!) So when my main desktop failed I took the TV-PC for daily use and bought an HD Roku to connect to the TV. It's working famously.

The 2-episode rule is still in effect. Two episodes of any one show, per day, to prevent hypno-marathons.We have to enforce that more often than I expected.

What are we watching? We "forced" the kids to watch an episode of "Dr. Who" with us, and #1 Son liked it so much he watched every episode from the beginning (2005).  He's watching "Deadliest Warrior" and sometimes joins his sister in watching "Rugrats: All Growed Up." We asked him to stop watching "The Office" (finally) and "Scrubs."

The Dau watched every episode of "Psych" and loved it. I think it's a pretty good show for the preteen crowd. She's asked to watch "Bones" next, saying she would like to "do that" when she grows up. Forensic Anthropology? Medical Examiner? Yeah OK I'm good with that. So I'm watching "Bones" to check appropriateness. Apart from some really grisly scenes I hate but she will absolutely love, I have not much problem with it. We did ask her to stop watching "Glee." Sorry, Gleeks.

The Hubster is still watching "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations." I don't think that show has an end. We sit down together about every evening to watch an episode of "Dr. Who." In my spare time, I'm watching "Spirited" from Foxtel in Australia. It had a really slow start but once everyone gets properly introduced it's totally charming.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Big Antenna

Well, I did try a bigger antenna, to see if I could get any more OTR stations. I picked up a powered antenna from a big box store, thinking if anything would do it, MORE POWER would be the thing. Nope. If I'd been thinking I would have paid more attention to the fact that tells me I should get 12 stations and in reality I get 23. If there's anything to pick up, I probably already have it. We're not watching OTR TV, anyway; we can't seem to remember the appointments!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Whoo Hoo!

$68.00 a month, back into my pocket!

You probably didn't realize that I'm a big, fat 'fraidy cat. Sure, I unplugged the cable but I didn't actually turn it off. I do feel strongly about changing the way my family consumes TV programming but I feel more strongly about headaches, arguments and whining. I didn't know if it would be worth the trouble so I kept the safety net. But, most issues have been resolved so I called the cable company and hit the switch. Sixty eight bucks, all right!

Our most recent issues:

#1 Son is now limited to 2 episodes of The Office per day. While I haven't seen anything egregious enough to prohibit him from watching, it can be a bit racy. I wasn't comfortable letting him surround himself in mini-marathons every day.

The Dau still cries, "I just want to watch TV!" by which she means The Disney Channel. I found it streaming live, commercials and all, and put a bookmark on the browser for her. It's not the best quality picture in the world but she can find better by choosing what show and episode she wants to watch. That is to say, by doing it my way. Mwhahahahaha! <--evil laugh.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"There's nothing to do now that we don't have cable TV!"

The shock is setting in.  That's The Dau who has nothing to do now. She has to go play with her friends or work on an art project or read a book or something. My fiendish plan is already working! 

My mantra for this project is, "Tell me what you want to see, I will help you find it." There's a little bit of a learning curve involved but most of the problem is having too many places to look.

Number One Son is most independent so far. He's discovered that every episode of The Office is on Netflix and that it's the funniest thing he's ever seen.  That's what he turns on when he wants to watch TV. I suspect there may be some inappropriate content but I haven't caught any yet.

The Hubster said he misses flipping channels. I adjusted the antenna (and added one on the other TV) and now we have 23 channels coming in through the tuner. He also told me he particularly likes Anthony Bourdain's No Reservation which we found on Netflix. Tonight we started watching The Cape on Hulu. That is some stupid awesome television, right there

It turns out The Dau just wants to watch the preschool shows while she eats her breakfast. I don't really know what that's about, but we found some Sprout vodcasts on the Nowhereman Roku channel. They're only about ten minutes long which is just fine for a little morning dawdle. What's very nice here is that when the vodcast is over, she has to pick up the remote and choose again; it doesn't just feed the next show. And as long as the remote is in hand, she might as well turn off the TV and get ready for school. This is so full of win!

A little bit more on Over The Air (OTA) channels: indicates there are only 12 channels in my area but I'm picking up almost twice that. Some channel strengths vary by time of day but most seem pretty stable. I went to My Yahoo! to see what listings I could get. There's an option to show only favorite channels and that lists more than the default channels but there are still some discrepancies. I'm not getting my local PBS station which probably means I should play with the antenna more. But I am getting This TV and it's not listed.

Also, the antennas I have are puny and cheap.  This one, on the TV in the dining room is about 1" high and 2" wide. The poles extend to make it about 14" wide. It has a little suction cup so I stuck it on a nearby window, as high as I could reach. I'm a little surprised to see that I paid the full $5.99 for it, I usually have a coupon for Meritline.

The other antenna I have came with a portable TV I keep for travelling. It's just a stick about 5" tall with a magnetic base. I may try a "better" antenna to see if I get more channels.  There are salespeople who will say you need a special, digital antenna and point you toward something pricey. I don't know how true that is. I plan to try something in the $12- 20 range and if that proves out I may consider a pricey one. But too many more channels and I'll just be defeating my purpose!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Connecting the Television to Internet Content

We have two TVs in the house with two different setups. Although we're disconnecting the cable TV, we still have broadband internet.

The primary television is in the Game Room. There is:
  • a 46" flat-screen LCD TV
  • a dvd player
  • a Wii
  • a Lenovo Q700 computer with a wired internet connection
The computer is connected by HDMI and runs Win7 with the usual stuff, plus Playon.

The second TV is in an entertainment center at one end of our dining room. The whole setup consists of:
  • A 27" flat screen LCD TV
  • a dvd player
  • a vcr
  • a basic Roku box with wireless connection to the internet 
  • an antenna, which I almost forgot to mention because I just added it yesterday.
The Roku is a device from Netflix that allows streaming to the TV. Mine is connected to the TV by HDMI but there are other connections available. I have access not only to Netflix Instant but also Amazon VOD, YouTube and a host of other channels to bring content from the internet to the TV.

Playon is software that allows me to stream internet video to supported devices. That is, it goes out on the internet to get my show, converts it to a format my device can display and transports it wirelessly to my device. It doesn't have to run on a computer connected to the TV; that just happens to be the way I have it set up. Through PlayOn, I stream Hulu, prime time programs, my own video files and a stack of other channels. Mostly I stream to the Roku but I have at least five other devices that are compatible.

The antenna provides about ten amazingly clear local HD channels and two that are not so good. Ten channels is not so much but tells me there are only 13 in my area, what can you do? I still need to put an antenna on the Game TV.

All this access and all these channels, how is this going to limit how much TV the kids watch? Well, honestly it's not really an issue of how much they watch. They play outdoors plenty. They have good grades, they have lessons on two instruments each and the lifetime sports to play. If it's miserable outside and their chores are done, don't hate me but I don't care if they veg out in front of the TV for a day. In fact, I'm fully supportive of weekend Star Trek Marathons (if only they would share my enthusiasm.)

What matters to me is that 1) they choose what they watch and 2) the advertisers don't get more influence than I do. I suspect that if they have to think about what to watch, sometimes they'll just do something else. Time will tell. I will let you know.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Turning Off Cable TV

Today is the day! I'm disconnecting the cable on our televisions. I'm surprised the kids are not putting up more of a fight but I think deep down, they agree with me. A short list of why:

1. To save money.  We pay a few cents shy of $70 a month for an HD connection including a set-top box. Our bundle discount is $13 so if we turn it off we'll save $57 a month. There are other expenses to consider that I'll summarize soon.

2. To be more selective in the shows we watch. I've never been a helicopter parent and I never will be. I don't sit down and watch every show my kids see but I can almost always hear what they're watching. More and more lately, I've been hearing questionable content and asking "What are you watching?" and assessing appropriateness is not as cut-and-dry as it used to be. We've had some good discussions about why a show might be inappropriate but I still have to be somewhat unilateral. The thing is, they come across a lot of shows by flipping channels, to stop at whatever looks interesting. I want them to think about what they want to watch instead of letting the TV feed content to them.

3. To reduce commercials. My kids are pretty savvy consumers but the sheer volume of advertising is hard to take. I don't want the constant and repeated messages about food, gender, and adulthood to overrun my parental influence. Also, as they move to new and different providers, some of the ads become as questionable as the programming.

So, Off With The Cable! Next post, I'll talk about our setup and how we plan to cut the cord without losing access to the shows we want to watch.