Thursday, August 26, 2010

(Almost) Free TV

I feel stupid.

I feel like I should be doing one of those commercials.... "I can't believe I was spending so much for car insurance."  Only instead of car insurance, it's satellite television.  For years now, we have paid - way too much - for the privilege of watching TV, first through Directv, and for the past three years, through Dish Network.  We didn't have the most basic package, but we didn't have HBO, Showtime, etc either.  We still paid $90+ a month.  Almost $100/month.  For television!!  It was our last really superfluous bill, and we've toyed with dropping it for awhile now, always coming up with some reason not to.  The last time it came up though, we were determined to do it, which required some research and planning to make sure that everyone was happy and comfortable with the decision.

And yes, we could have just dropped it, gotten rid of the TVs and stopped watching altogether.  Of course that's always an option.  But, well, we like our TV.  It's a funny thing.  So many people (not all, but a lot) who choose not to watch it come off very self-righteous about it.  Instead of watching TV, they're spending their time reading, crafting, playing board games, solving the world's energy crisis [insert any other "worthwhile"-sounding pursuit here]  But it's not either/or!  I LOVE to read, do crafts, and play games.  But I also, unabashedly I might add, love my TV, and wanted to find a way to watch it without spending $100 a month.

The first step for us was to switch from Blockbuster to Netflix.  I feel like we were the very last Netflix hold-outs, but I was stubbornly clinging to Blockbuster because 1) I liked that we could exchange our mailed movies in-store, and 2) I liked that the boys got a free game rental every month.  As it turns out, neither of those things compare to the wonder that is Netflix streaming.  TV shows, movies, documentaries.... all streamed to your house 24 hours a day, all included for the same monthly fee (which starts at $9 for one movie out at a time)  You can watch live streaming on your PC, or if you have a Wii or PS3 you can request a (free) DVD to stream through those as well.

Step two was Playon.  Playon is $39.99/year for the first year, and $19.99/yr after that, and makes it so you can watch from free websites such as Hulu or right on your TV, through your game system.  Where Netflix is great for catching up on past seasons or older series, Hulu is the perfect solution for watching current favorites.   They don't have everything, but they do have most shows, and most everything else can be found somewhere, whether it's from Amazon's Video on Demand, on DVD a few months later, or..

on good, old fashioned live TV, which was Step three:  hooking up to our local channels with an antenna.   We'd never tried it before because we've always had satellite, but lo and behold we get several local channels over the air - for free - and they come in beautifully.

We absolutely could have stopped there, and the total cost would have been for the Playon, which breaks down to $3 and some change per month for the first year, and $1.60/mo every year after that, and the Netflix subscription (which starts at $9, but we decided to get the $18 plan which I'll explain in a minute)  That's $21 a month, instead of the $114 we were paying before!!  ($96 for Dish, $18 for Blockbuster)

But because we have four kids and five TVs and wanted everyone to be comfortable (and did I mention how much we like our TV?) we did make some initial investments.  We bought two Roku boxes (about $70 each), which allow you to stream Netflix right to the TV without having to go through a game system or a computer.   Extremely user friendly and easy to use.  We also bought a newer TV for our bedroom, because we wanted to hook it to my laptop and watch Netflix and Hulu that way, and the one caveat to that is that you need a TV that has the proper outputs and inputs.  Finally, we had to buy some new cable to get it all hooked up.  And we opted for the $18/mo, 3-out-at-a-time plan with Netflix, because you can simultaneously stream to as many devices as movies on your plan.

We have been testing it all out over the past few weeks, and have so far been extremely happy with our decision.  We've really been enjoying discovering new things to watch on Netflix, and are able to watch nearly anything we want the day after it airs on Hulu.  In a couple of months, it will have all paid for itself, we will still be enjoying our TV, and we will be saving over $90 a month. 

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