Another Example Of How To Go Cable-Free

We’ve posted before about how to break your cable habit without giving up on TV altogether–it’s possible, but can’t happen without some work on your end. This week, the New York Times’ Nick Bilton explained how he and his wife have combined their existing devices with a few new ones to create a content stream that enables them to watch what they want without cable.

Bilton’s solution combines a small dedicated computer and a keyboard and mouse. Supplementing the hardware is a Netflix subscription, the Boxee application from, Hulu Desktop, and, as well as occasional TV show and movie purchases from the iTunes Music Store. He notes that there’s so much content available on line these days that the very act of watching TV has begun to change, as anyone who has sat around with friends and shared favorite YouTube clips knows.

We still come home from work and watch any number of shows, just like the people who continue to pay for cable. We just do it a little differently, starting the computer and then using services like Hulu, Boxee, iTunes and Joost. Another interesting twist to this experience is that we’re no longer limited to consuming traditional programming. With these applications we can spend an entire evening flicking through videos from YouTube, CollegeHumor or Web-only programs.

Obviously this isn’t a no-cost solution, but even if you buy a new computer and splurge on expensive-ish digital rentals and purchases, the total annual cost can come out far lower than paying $140 a month to a cable company.

The one glaring flaw in this route is the dearth of sports programming.

I know the sports and technology enthusiasts don’t often mix, but if you’re one of the few people who live in both of those worlds you might have to look for other options. To watch baseball you can buy a little dongle that plugs into the back of your computer and streams free over-the-air high-definition channels. I bought this for the Yankees games and it worked perfectly. If you’re an ESPN fan you have two options. Stick with cable, or go to a bar to watch the basketball games.

“Cable Freedom Is a Click Away” [New York Times]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Blueskylaw says:

    Pretty soon the cable companies will buy out Netflix, Boxee, Hulu Desktop, and, as well as all the TV shows and iTunes just to be able to keep charging high prices.

    The oil companies did something similar when they bought all the patents to that engine that got 100 miles to the gallon and buried them in their vaults.

  2. jables says:

    Not so true about the sports. As mostly a college sports fan, I found that comcast supplies Paired with an antenna and I had more college football than I could possibly watch. Comcast was good for something for once.

  3. chiieddy says:

    Many New England sports are aired solely on NESN (cable only), but I figure for the few games I watch each year, a sports bar is a good option. I’m only upset about World Cup Soccer next summer. Anyone know if the games will be streamed online?

    We’re adding an antenna to our roof due to a large hill behind our home blocking incoming signals. This site was most useful.

  4. deadgoon says:

    I’ve been living cable free for most of the last 10 years. After a while, you don’t miss it. Most of the sporting events I care to watch come on broadcast TV and since I live in a major metro area, I can pick up about 20 channels on my rabbit ears. I also catch movies and shows on Netflix and Hulu and watch them at my own pace. I probably spend less than an hour a week watching broadcast TV unless a football game is on that I want to watch.

  5. all4jcvette says:

    yeah, I’m one of those people who live in both worlds. I keep looking for a way to get my sports over the internet, but nothing is there, expect the NBA league pass. One of these days though it will be there.

  6. melissam2828 says:

    My sister and I went cable free back in March. A little known loophole is that with Time Warner Cable in NY, you still get MANY channels through the cable line as long as you subscribe to internet service. We actually get all the networks in HD, plus TBS, Food Network, NY1 (HD), MY9 (HD) and tons of public access channels. We also bought cable to hook up our laptops to the TV as a second monitor and watch shows from online content such as Netflix and hulu. All we paid for was $15 for the cables and my monthly internet service. There is so much available for free, I rarely pay for anything.
    I do miss recording shows, but if i miss it, it’ll be available online the next day.

    • Bix says:

      Not all cable companies offer this, and not all cable companies offer HD locals over ClearQAM. Cablevision, my provider, puts a trap on the line of internet-only customers that prevents them from getting cable TV service, and a box is required for HD with only some SD channels available over ClearQAM.

    • antisane says:

      You could always go with a TV card for your PC to record TV shows (this is what I do). Then you can stream the video out to the TV, and the sound to your stereo… makes for a nice (and very inexpensive) setup…

      Total cost to me was about $100 for a decent ClearQAM capable card (for SD & HD broadcasts) and about $12 in cables (audio/video). So much cheaper than the DVRs the cable companies offer, and I can copy the files to my laptop to watch at work too!

  7. themsnumbers says:

    I’d love to be able to do this, but since online providers don’t generally care about the hearing-impaired, Netflix especially, I cannot. My girlfriend needs captions to be able to get enjoyment out of a show, so this is simply not an option for me.

    • codeman38 says:

      +1. People seriously don’t realize how much content is shown with captioning on TV but not available with it online. Aside from Netflix, which was already mentioned, nearly all the TV content on iTunes isn’t captioned, despite the capability for displaying captions actually being built in to iPods and Apple TV.

      • AJ_Syrinx says:

        My wife is not very fluent in English, so captions are a must for us. At first I found it annoying but then again, I learned to appreciate them because sometimes I myself would not get what was said.

  8. winshape says:

    This solution will work great until broadband providers (who pretty much all offer cable packages), decide to start metering your service.

    • SnoopyFish says:

      Not really a problem. We are capped at 200 GB a month and I still watch everything I enjoy with a combination of Hulu and Newzbin (new HD movies many times a week and all the TV shows I want). And using Netlimiter to monitor usage on all 3 computers in my apartment, we never go past the 200 GB cap.

  9. CaptainSemantics says:

    This is why we’re getting a Mac Mini for the living room this Christmas. It’ll hop on our wireless, and we’ll just hook it up to the 32″ TV! And it’s cute and tiny! yay!

    • kaceetheconsumer says:

      That’s what we’ve got, hooked up to a myth box as a back end that does the recording (from cable, mind you).

      You should be aware that we’ve had some problems with program management on the mini. In particular, my husband can’t get the myth front end to work on it, so we’re stuck with Plex, which is craptastic. No support for closed captioning (and I have a hearing problem) with no intent to ever include it. Lame options for sorting shows. Crashes several times a week (and okay just needs to restart the program, but that’s easier said than done when you’re recovering from foot surgery and the computer is across the room). Plex sucks, sucks, sucks, and then blows, blows, blows, and none of it is any fun.

      So keep that in mind when choosing the mini. The computer itself is fine but the software availability isn’t great.

  10. Scuba Steve says:

    To be honest if you’re spending 100 bucks a month you could get a nice netflicks subscription and occasionally buy a full season of your favorite show on Blu-ray or DVD (where available)

  11. Scuba Steve says:

    To be honest if you’re spending 100 bucks a month you could get a nice netflix subscription and occasionally buy a full season of your favorite show on Blu-ray or DVD (where available)

  12. padarjohn says:

    There are few HD options. And if you can find HD content, the network bandwidth required is more than most DSL connections. And most cable Internet operators are implementing bandwidth (download) caps, which will limit how much you can actually stream off the ‘Net.

    • lukesdad says:

      It’s true, HD options are harder to come by online — especially when your internet connection can’t keep up. If your connection is up to speed (I think 5 or 6Mbps will generally do it) I know at least NBC & ABC have online HD content. And the 480p on Hulu is still pretty good.

      Paired with an over-the-air antenna, I’ve used this method to be cable-free for the past 6 months and counting.

  13. spevman says:


  14. OKH says:

    ESPN360 is a fine way to stream live sports.

    • Battlehork says:

      ESPN360 is really nice if your ISP carries it. They have some pretty obscure stuff that they almost never have on actual cable channels too (NCAA soccer, Winter League Baseball from Central/South America for example)

      If you live out of market from your favorite MLB, NHL or NBA team, they all have live streaming subscriptions you can try. I’ve used the MLB and NHL ones. MLB’s was fantastic, the NHL’s less so.

  15. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Mr. Pi cannot live in a world without cable or satellite television. We clock probably 15 to 18 hours of television a week, but this doesn’t even include sports. Not only does Mr. Pi watch sports, he watches multiple sports at the same time, flipping back and forth depending on the game. He watches pro and college basketball, pro baseball, pro and college football, pro hockey, and he’s been known to watch golf. Apparently, a lot of this requires ESPN.

    What makes cable worth it for us, though, is that if we watched every show online and setting aside what streams for free, we would still be paying $30 a month for TV on iTunes. Also, we wouldn’t get to watch anything from Discover, History, or Food Network. Those networks don’t always stream full episodes. Sometimes I just turn on whatever is on Discovery and watch that for hours – as long as there’s a good block of documentaries on, I’ll watch. That would all go away.

    • AnthonyC says:


      Discovery, History, and Food are the only cable channels I actually watch. Everything else is streamed.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        I watch a lot of Discovery, Nickelodeon (I don’t have kids; I just like the shows) and Discovery Health. Also TVLand.

        What bugs me is ESPN took skating off completely and now it’s ONLY available online, on Ice Network, and you have to pay to watch it. I haven’t seen the Grand Prix in forever. I won’t know who anyone is at the Winter Olympics or Nationals, unless the skater I do know who made it to Nationals in Novice places and moves on.

    • Shadowfire says:

      Exactly. Discovery and History can’t pull their heads out of their asses, apparently, and haven’t made their shows available online, except for years old episodes of Mythbusters on Netflix. Sad.

      TruTV is the same way, or my wife would be fine dropping cable. She won’t survive without Forensic Files, though.

    • drjayphd says:

      And here I was, all set to ask if I was actually Mr. Pi and didn’t know it… then you mentioned golf. No way in hell that’d be me. ;)

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      exactly! i’m not happy without the food network and discovery. if my provider offered a package of just BBCamerica, Food Network and Discovery a la carte, [for less than i pay now] i’d get it in a heartbeat

    • Jim says:

      The only thing I miss from the cable days (2 years clean) is Discovery. If I could stream Deadliest Catch, or even buy it on iTunes, I’d be perfectly content.

  16. Wachusett says:

    I tried to get us off cable, and ran into the “no live sports” issue. Here in New England, you need NESN if you’d like to watch the Red Sox.

    NESN would be much better off if they could stream their programming to me over the internet. I’d be happy to give them some of the money that I’m currently passing to the Oxygen Channel, etc.

    • selianth says:

      There’s a lot of us New Englanders around here, apparently. I couldn’t give up my cable due to the Red Sox. I love having the games to put on in the background on summer evenings.

      (Wachusett, had to reply to you simply cause of the name.. we must live in the same area. Our kegerator currently has Wachusett Country on tap.)

    • fantomesq says: offers subscriptions… that’ll get you baseball.

  17. PsiCop says:

    As noted, sports programming is largely outside of this. I like to watch the Red Sox (which is exclusively on NESN here in CT), and all the sports of my alma mater, UConn, which are carried on various outlets, including the occasional local broadcast station, but also the many ESPNs, with many women’s basketball games on local public broadcasting. Yeah, I get ESPN360 as as Charter cable customer, but while some UConn football and basketball games are carried on that, not all are, and the Red Sox of course are never there, not even the half-dozen or so games each year which are carried by ESPN.

    • Blueskylaw says:

      I was at the very last football game played at Memorial Stadium at UConn. This is where the game ball was parachuted in by skydivers.

      I think if I dug around I would still be able to find the ticket.

      • PsiCop says:

        Way cool. To think what Memorial Stadium was like, when I attended in the mid-80s, and then look at Rentschler Field, all I can say is, wow.

    • drjayphd says:

      I can think of neither a more random pairing nor a more mutually beneficial one than CPTV and UConn’s women’s basketball. Wonder how much they’ve raked in on pledge drives just during their games.

      • PsiCop says:

        Yep, CPTV must have taken in quite a haul. As recently as the early 90s their major “pledging” draws were the cooking shows. Now that those have pretty much migrated to Food Network and FLN, they no longer have much of that to offer. I heard a while back that their biggest draw was UConn WBB. They still get some tens of thousands of $$$ for each game. In the past couple of years they’ve been plugging Wayne Dyer pretty hard, running day-long marathons of his drivel with pledge breaks interspersed. I wonder if all his “positive thinking” sheep are now paying the bills?

  18. JDC says:

    Outside of using local HD atennas for sports games broadcast on networks and using ESPN360, the “go to a bar” idea isn’t very good for many people – bars just don’t let you sit there for free you know.

    A majority of my tv watching is sports – and I didn’t spend money on a nice tv to have so-so picture quality which is more easily ignored for say, catching up on a sitcom.

    If tv shows are going through internet and no longer through cable or directv, I’m sure many internet providers will jack up the prices accordingly.

    I’m not saying cable is for everyone, but for a sports junkie on my level it is something I value enough to pay for.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      So true. We hate sports bars. It costs money because you have to order food, order drinks…and you have to be out of the house, so you can’t sit in your pajamas.

      Going to sports bars is only an option if you don’t mind sports bars.

  19. Colonel Jack O'neill says:

    You don’t have the Discovery channel, TLC, DIY, History, Science channel, and those kinds of channel online, they may have a couple shows online, but not a lot.
    And they don’t have old shows online, like I can go on USA and watch an episode of House from the first season, can’t do that online.
    Most of the time, I go and watch my regular shows when it first runs on TV, like Fringe, SGU(which kind of sucks) I go and watch those on TV when it first comes on, not online.
    And the most important thing, they don’t have the YES network online.

  20. NotYou007 says:

    Screw this noise. I enjoy cable way to much and it is not that expensive. BTW, you don’t have to pay 140 a month for good cable TV service. I don’t.

  21. Battlehork says:

    True FTA KU-band satellite is another often unexplored option. All sorts of unusual programming out there too. A basic receiver and antenna package is under $200. Heck, a lot of people have fun just seeing what all they are able to pick up!

  22. PanCake BuTT says:

    I am not a huge TV person, though I did grow by the tube. I don’t have cable because it’s gotten too expensive, & most of the TV shows I like are online.

    With that being said, I do like to watch TV from time to time. So I’ve been looking into routing my mom’s cable TV signal to my place via a Slingbox, Hava(box), even Sony has a similar device.

    I am also considering using a software and TV tuner card for my moms PC. She doesn’t watch too much TV, and has scheduled shows she likes. Down side to this is that whatever she is watching I would have to watch, no biggie though in my book.

  23. melissam2828 says:

    My sister and I went cable free back in March. At first we bought the Apple TV, but soon realized that if since we still subscribe to internet through Time Warner, we still get channels even though we canceled it. The cable is not hooked directly to the TV and we get all the network channels in HD plus NY1 (HD), MY9 (HD) and Food Network, TBS, and loads of public access channels.
    If we want to watch something through the computer, we just hook up our macbook pro and using a $29.95 adapter and a couple cables (amazon – $20), we are able to watch anything on our HDTV that we have on our computer, including Netflix Instant, hulu, etc.
    The only drawback is that if I miss a show, I have to wait until the next day to watch it, which really hasn’t been an issue.

  24. falc says:

    I’ve been pretty happy with my setup. I dropped DIGITAL cable from Comcast and just got Basic cable for only $13 per month. its only about 30 channels but i get all network channels and i get several High Def Channels (NBC & CBS come in 1080i and Fox and ABC are 720p). So that with a cable internet it runs us about $57 per month. On top of that we have 2 Roku Boxes with Netflix, Amazon, Rev3, TWiT, etc. and an AppleTV where i put most of my daughter’s films that she watches over and over…

    It took a while for the wife to come around but after i showed her how to purchase individual shows on Amazon thru Roku or iTunes she was happy…

  25. Chmeeee says:

    I recently decided to go this route, installing an antenna for the networks in HD, setting up Netflix streaming on my XBox, and buying an AppleTV for Boxee. After doing all that work, I called Comcast to cancel my super-ultra-DVR-awesome cable package, knowing that it would increase my internet price by $10/mo (standalone is higher).

    As it turns out, it’s actually $0.05 cheaper per month to keep basic cable, which is $9.95/month, allowing me to keep the multi-service discount on the internet. I plugged the cable directly into my plasma, and low and behold, I have all the major networks in HD plus 50+ cable channels. Comedy Central, Disney, TNT, TBS, etc etc. For those talking about sports, yes I also get NESN for New England stuff and ESPN/ESPN2 for other stuff, just not HD. What was I ever paying that other $90 for? DVR, a few more HD channels… Wow.

  26. Joedragon says:

    cable / sat tv is cheaper then going to the bar all the time to see games.

  27. henrygates3 says:

    I’ve been cable free for a while now. There’s nothing really on TV that I’m interested in though. I can just watch on the Internet anyway. I’ve seen the latest television, cable, etc and I’m hardly impressed with the new technology. More often than not the image looks like a compressed MPEG video. I was at Costco just the other day and they had a 65in HDTV with a BluRay player and some animated movie about a dog, and the image was awful. Any fast movement and I could actually see the blocky image artifacts. Who would buy this stuff? They’ve taken a step in the wrong direction IMO.

  28. Boberto says:

    Our set up:
    mac mini

    The eyetv acts as a digital tuner and TiVo device. Worth every penny.
    No cable/sat bill ever.

  29. flugennock says:

    Cable-free? Is that all? Hell, why not just go whole-hog and go TV-free?

    I haven’t watched any TV on anything remotely resembling a regular basis for nigh on fifteen years. All I watch is movies — old ones — on Turner Classic Channel, and maybe once in a while take a peek at Keith Olbermann’s program.

    C’mon, take a look at what’s on TV these days, both over-the-air and cable: ever-more-crass “reality” shows, ever-more-bland sitcoms, about a dozen different permutations of Law And Order. The news is all lies, even worse than print newspapers. Why do people even bother anymore?

    Hell, I don’t even own a TV set anymore, myself; the only TV sets in our house are in the bedroom (hooked up to the satellite box) and in the kitchen, and they’re being watched by my wife about 99% of the time. As I said, nearly fifteen years without watching TV, and I don’t miss it a bit. Try it sometime, gang. Rent an old movie on DVD. Listen to some old record albums. Read a friggin’ book, f’cripesake. You’ll love it.

    As far as sports goes, that second ESPN option sounds excellent. I can’t think of anything more fun and sociable than hitting a local bar with a couple of my buds to watch a game, the way my dad used to do about fifty-five, sixty years ago.

    • Bix says:

      So you’re suggesting that people who don’t like TV skip all TV? Weren’t they doing that already? Do you think someone’s going to have an epiphany and decide they don’t like anything after reading your post?

    • drjayphd says:

      So, you don’t own a TV… but you have multiple TVs in your house/apartment/whatever. You just don’t WATCH them.


    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      What are you, 80? Some of us actually enjoy television – and do plenty of other things. Did it ever occur to you that some of us watch TV as a hobby when we’re not busy reading books, hiking up mountains, or listening to Bach?

  30. Noadi says:

    Since I couldn’t care less about watching sports this basically what I plan to do. I’ve got cable until I move in the next couple months and then I’m dumping it forever. It just isn’t worth the money for the 5-6 hours I watch every week.

  31. JamieSueAustin says:

    Evil sports keep cable alive at my house. I have no love of them and if it wasn’t for Mr. Austin there’d be no cable.

  32. MSUHitman says:

    I’ve been doing this for a year and the thing that sucks being in St. Louis is you miss 90% of the Cardinals games, as they’re on Fox Sports Midwest. The Sunday games are on the NBC affiliate so I do have access to those. Also if the Cardinals make the playoffs, I can’t watch them until the World Series as the NL playoffs are on TBS (unless I go to a friend’s house or sports-themed restaurant.)

  33. NotYou007 says:

    If I make a comment maybe I will be able to read the comments

  34. ryanmol2 says:

    well my husband and i just plugged his sony TV into the cable jack (comcast) and it searched and found a LOT of channels… including STARZ EDGE… my older TV is hooked up and gets just the basic channels but still! it has saved us so much this year

  35. gnimsh says:

    The best way to watch sports without cable is Basically people stream channels from their TV tuners online and you can click the links and watch them there. Very neat stuff.

  36. razremytuxbuddy says:

    My home has been cable-free for 9 years now. I have explored Hulu a bit, but otherwise, I just occasionally rent DVDs. Admittedly, it’s because there is no sports-a-holic in my house that this works for me. The games that I want to watch are almost always on the local broadcast stations. If not, I head to a sports bar, which adds a whole extra element of fun to the viewing experience.

    I will be checking out some of the other services people have listed here. Consumerist is how I learned about Hulu.

  37. vesper says:

    Isn’t Hulu charging beginning in 2010? And I doubt any cable company is going to buy Netflix; too big and they’ve got the corner market. I don’t have cable anymore as of this Spring and life is great; been watching “The Rockford Files” on Netflix for the past month and an assortment of movies and because time is limited anyway, why pay the big cable bill? And I am going to look up the “Mac Mini” thing. This is the first time that I have heard of it and it sounds cool.

  38. vesper says:

    Oh and don’t forget if you want to watch anything overseas because it is a great way to practice your foreign language skills.

  39. QLR says:

    I wanted to go cableless, but I am only able to pick up 1 over the air channel with my indoor antenna. Rooftop antennae arent an option since I am in am apartment building. I want to look at my local news (and they dont stream) and some local sports. I mostly look at the local channels anyway, so I sucked it up and I have the basic cable package with Comcast. I like soap operas but I am not paying $60+ just to have SoapNet, so I just watch some of the soaps on the internet along with some other shows. With my basic package, I get the local channels in HD as well, along with TVland, TruTV, HLN, ABCFamily, and ION in analog or non-SD digital. Works for me just fine.

  40. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    $140/month for cable? Where are you tuning in from, Jupiter? I pay a subsidized amount through my HOA but even without the subsidy, I’d be paying about $110 for cable AND internet AND phone, and that cable includes things like Starz, Showtime and however many HBOs there are these days – I think they’re up to 12.

    This option doesn’t account for things like PBS and local networks (which I see some people need to be able to watch local sports).

    If you’re really paying $140+/month for cable, you should break out a book on negotiating skills and call up your provider ASAP – you’re getting robbed.

  41. Schemer says:

    Watching shows/movies on my computer would be great if I could leave my 20-month-old unsupervised in the living room and kitchen all day long while I am in the back bedroom on the computer. Not to mention, we live in BFE where there are not a lot of other outside forms of entertainment to spend additional money on every month and those that we do have would require us getting a babysitter, which is just more money, blah, blah, blah. Therefore, DirecTV and TiVo are our besties and we have no intentions of doing away with them anytime soon.

  42. 3rdUserName says:

    LOL, that dummy tossed out his AppleTV when they could have put Boxee on that and saved the $ they spent on the mac mini..

  43. lovelygirl says:

    I found out that a friend of mine pays much less for Verizon FiOS, and they get more channels than I do with Time Warner, PLUS DVR. But apparently my building has some sort of agreement with Time Warner. I don’t understand how that works exactly… could someone please explain to me?? Is there any way to get around this so we can use Verizon??

    I live in a downtown Manhattan co-op apartment building, if it makes a difference.