Setting Your HDTV Free - Cutting the Cable/Satellite Cord

My cable bill is $69 a month. That’s for AT&T U-Verse U200. I pay extra for HBO, $24 a month, and the privilege of HD for an additional $10. Many people I talk to think that’s pretty cheap, but $1,236 a year is a lot of money no matter how you look at it.

So the thought goes: how easy is it, today, to cut the cord?

I’m not talking about waiting for a show to be available on Netflix. Let’s be realistic. If you want to be that person who piously proclaims they don’t have cable, OK. Just know other people think you’re weird while they talk about and spoil shows you won’t be watching for a year.

With AppleTV, Roku, and the current crop of connected TV and Blu-ray players, if a person wants to remain relevant around the watercooler and save some money, is it doable?

There are a lot of options to do this, but I’m going to say up front that I don’t feel watching shows on your computer is a valid alternative. First of all, if you’re coming to, you’re looking for the best  TV you can buy. Why sacrifice all that for a tiny computer screen? If you want to hook your computer to your TV (certainly possible) or build/buy an HTPC, that’s great. In reality, most people aren’t or can’t do that. The fact is HTPCs have a cost and complexity most people shy away from.

So let’s keep it simple. With minimal fiscal and technological outlay, what can you get on your TV to replace cable/satellite but still watch all the shows you enjoy.

Roku XD with remoteI’m going to assume in the cost analysis you already have an Apple TV, and something that can get Hulu Plus, like a Roku, which also has Amazon Video on Demand. If you don’t, obviously you’ll have to add that to your personal calculations.

A little research on your part is also required to determine where your favorite shows are available. My mind reading skills are sub-par, so for this article I just used myself as a test subject. I did this as I know me pretty well, and I feel I watch a reasonable amount of TV. Less than some, more than others. I broke down my normal viewing week to see where my shows were available. Feel free to mock my viewing selections in your mind, but if you feel it necessary to do so in the comments, you’d better well list your favorite shows too so the rest of us can condescend.


Family Guy– Easy, Hulu Plus. At $7.99 a month Hulu Plus is available on a variety of products. Sadly, there are still commercials, but not as many as broadcast TV.

America’s Next Great Restaurant – Why does Lorena Garcia always stand with one leg in front of the other? Interestingly, this isn’t available on Hulu Plus despite being an NBC show. It’s available on, though, and seeing as it’s not terribly well shot, nor is there anything gained by watching it on the big screen, I’m going to go back on what I said above and just watch this one online. It’s not worth paying extra for (not that it’s available on iTunes or Amazon Video on Demand)

Robot ChickenI love this show, but I don’t think I’d pay $30 to watch the season via iTunes, the only place it’s available. I’d wait for the DVD/Blu-ray. So for that we should add Netflix to our list of cable replacements. Let’s go with the 1 Blu-ray at a time plan, which also includes unlimited streaming for $12.99 a month.

Walking Dead, Mad MenWalking Dead is easily worth $15.99 for its shortened season on iTunes. In fact, this is exactly what I did when this was airing as I didn’t have AMC HD and SD looks horrible on my screen. Via Amazon, it’s $2 cheaper. Mad Men is $34.99 on iTunes, $5 cheaper on Amazon.

Entourage, Boardwalk Empire, Game of ThronesThese HBO shows deserve to be on our big screen, so they’re worth paying for. Unfortunately, this is the first of our problems. They’re not. Because it’s HBO, and they make their money from cable/satellite providers, there really isn’t any way to buy these shows while they’re airing, or even shortly thereafter. You’ll have to wait their release on Blu-ray, which sort of goes against our goal here. We’ll mark them down as a casualty of our cord cutting.



Top Gear on AVoDTop GearThe best show on TV isn’t available in HD on U-Verse, so I rent each episode in HD via iTunes on the Apple TV. These become available the next day after airing, which isn’t a big deal to me. Each “series” or season is around 7 episodes, and if we’re lucky we get two each year. So I’ll estimate the total cost of this at $13.86. You can buy the episodes on Amazon for $13.99 for the season, or presumably $26.98 a year.

Castle, House, Lie To MeThese are available in HD on Hulu Plus. The picture quality is pretty much the same as over U-Verse. It might have been a touch softer, but the difference isn’t really noticeable.

How I Met Your MotherA bit of a stumble with this excellent show. Being on CBS, it’s not on Hulu. On iTunes it’s a staggering $52.99 for the season. The season pass on Amazon is for $2.84 per episode, which works out to $68.16 for the 24 episode season. That’s a lot of money for a single show, and likely double than the inevitable Blu-ray box set. I really like this show, though, and if you look at it as lowering you costs overall versus cable, it’s not quite as hard to swallow. Still, ouch.

Stargate: UniverseFor some reason I’m still watching this horribly written show. Wright and Cooper have clearly fallen down the Berman/Braga hole of creative incompetence. Too bad, too, as this show held a lot of promise. Once again the season pass is a lot: $53.99 on iTunes, and $2.84 per episode on Amazon (presumably $56.80 for the 20 episode season). Tough call on this one. I included it, though in hindsight given how bad it is and that it’s been cancelled, it’d probably say wait for the Blu-ray.



Glee – On Hulu, in HD, so this one’s easy.

Deadliest Catch – The new season just started airing, though no pricing is available yet. Season 6 is $12.99 on iTunes and $30.24 on Amazon, so I’ll use that pricing for now. This show is shot in HD, and isn’t available as such on either provider, so I’m going to count this one as a casualty as well.

Louie on AVoDLouie – Such stunning genius. Watch this show. Sadly, the first season was only 13 episodes and it’s $29.99 on iTunes and $30.99 on Amazon.

I’ll gladly give Louie C.K. my money, though, so this one is a no-brainer. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend it highly enough: Louie: Season One ($35.99)



Modern Family, Cougar TownHD on Hulu Plus

Mr. Sunshine – $26.91 on iTunes and $25.56 on Amazon for the nine episodes of Matthew Perry’s new show. I’ll include it, though if it’s not on Hulu next season, I would probably wait for a disc.

Breaking In – No pricing yet for this new show. I’d expect the same as Mr. Sunshine, as it’s only 7 episodes for this season, and I don’t think I love it enough to really pay for it.



30 Rock, Outsourced, Grey’s Anatomy – All on Hulu Plus in HD.

Community – Interestingly, like a few other titles on our list, Community is only available on, not streaming via Hulu Plus onto a TV. Big money again, $53.99 on iTunes, $68.16 on Amazon.



Camelot, Real Time with Bill Maher – Here we have the same problem we had on Sunday. Camelot is on Starz, Real Time is on HBO. There really isn’t any way to get these shows other than subscriptions. Camelot will be available on Blu-ray certainly, but not Bill.

There’s a few vital daily shows like The Daily Show and  Colbert Report, on Hulu Plus as well.



It took a bit of research to check what shows where available and where, but in the end I got some interesting results. If I were to “cut the cord” and ditch my U-Verse, I’d have to spend about  $517.47 to watch most of the shows I watch now. That’s a savings of $718.53 in a year, or about $60 a month. You could save even more if you choose SD, but why would you do that?

This, however, isn’t the full story. There are a number of shows that simply aren’t available unless you subscribe to cable/satellite. HBO and other pay channels have some of the best original programming going, and without paying you’ve got to wait for the disc. The issue with that is if your friends and family are watching, you’re unquestionably going to hear spoilers. I’ve never seen an episode of Sopranos or Dexter, but I can tell you how the former ends and all the twists of the latter. But there’s a bigger problem.

Sports. I’m not a big follower of the sports, but if you are, this could be an issue. You’re limited to what’s broadcast, and that itself is limited to blackouts and other things that I have no idea about. Being an expatriate of Boston who’s a fan of the Patriots, I barely get to watch 4-5 games a season anyway. YMMV.

Speaking of broadcast, that brings a whole other level into this. Most cities broadcast some excellent looking HD, far better looking video than any cable or satellite broadcast. All current TVs have built-in ATSC (HD) tuners, allowing you to get the networks for free with just a simple antenna. The problem, and this is a deal breaker in my book, is you have to watch commercials. No thanks.

TiVo PremiereSo you’ll need something like TiVo, at an initial cost, plus a monthly fee of $19.99 a month. So in the one year we’re discussing, that would be $325.61 or $490.63 depending on model. Plus there’s still the cost for the shows on “cable,” about $100 in the cheapest option. You wouldn’t need Hulu Plus, though. So in the first year, this is pretty much a wash, though over time it’s obviously a lot cheaper.

So the reality is, yes, you can save some money by ditching cable. But if you like TV and don’t want to wait for the Blu-rays to come out, it doesn’t save a ton of money. Even in the best-case scenario with my viewing habits, I’d only save $67 a month. That’s not going out to dinner or lunch a few times in a month.

There are many, many ways to save money, but ditching cable isn’t the best option if you love TV. Though I guess in hindsight, duh?

Yearly cost of U-Verse U-200 with HBO and HD: $1,236


Yearly cost of Hulu Plus: $95.88 ($7.99/month)
Yearly cost of Netflix: $155.88 ($12.99/month) – ranges from $95.88 – $395.88 depending on plan
iTunes Purchases $265.71
Amazon Video on Demand Purchases: $320.88
Total: $457.47 – $812.64

Over-the-Air/TiVo Option: $325.61 or $490.63 plus about $100 in non-OTA content.

Savings over U-Verse (my viewing): $437.35 – $764.54 or $645.37/$810.39 with TiVo

Unable to watch “live” – Entourage, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, Robot Chicken, Real Time, Deadliest Catch (in HD), Camelot, Real Time with Bill Maher, Sports


—Geoff Morrison – Follow me on Twitter @TechWriterGeoff

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