Quirks, Savings, and Conclusions

We debrief our cord cutting journey!

Welcome back to the third and final chapter in our recent cord cutting saga, in which the crew here at the PC Perspective office take a fresh look at dumping traditional cable and satellite sources for online and over-the-air content. We previously planned our cord cutting adventure with a look at the devices, software, and services that will replace our cable and satellite subscriptions, and then put that plan to action by deploying an NVIDIA SHIELD TV, Plex, and an HDTV tuner with antenna.

Now, several weeks into this experiment, we wanted to take a step back to evaluate how the process went in practice, including a look at some of the challenges we failed to initially anticipate, projections of the increased Internet bandwidth usage that accompanies cord cutting (especially important for the many of you with home broadband usage caps), and finally a calculation of the initial and ongoing costs associated with cord cutting in order to determine if this whole process actually saves us any money.

Quirks and Challenges

We’ll first start by discussing some of the issues or challenges we discovered. As we mentioned during Podcast #477, our experience with using Plex for live TV was less than perfect. Getting everything hooked up with our tuner, antenna, and the Plex software was easy enough, but the process of browsing and streaming the live TV signal wasn’t great.

First, Plex doesn’t use a traditional grid-style programming guide, instead relying on its standard “poster” style layout. Browsing and searching for shows is doable for sure, and there’s something to be said for keeping a consistent interface between live TV and your stored content, but it is a noticeable change for those transitioning to Plex Live TV from a traditional cable or satellite box.

This unusual interface could be forgiven, however, if the actual live streaming actually worked reliably. Instead, we experienced regular issues while streaming live channels, both on our local network and remotely. The live stream would frequently freeze or stutter and, two or three times a day, would simply crash. These issues were not related to the tuner itself or our antenna placement; the signal and experience while using other live TV apps, such as the native HDHomeRun application, were flawless. The issues were also not limited to a specific server; they appeared not only on our primary test server at the office, but also on the personal Plex servers at our homes.

The strange and potentially good news is that theses issues only affected live TV. Plex’s built-in DVR functionality worked great, with recorded shows displaying none of the stuttering or dropped video that we saw in the live streams. So, if your interest is primarily over-the-air content, but not necessarily live content, setting up Plex to record all of your shows seems to work just fine at present. However, considering the technical problems and unusual interface, it’s currently difficult to recommend Plex as a live TV solution.

Fortunately, there are several other options for receiving live TV, especially if you’re using the NVIDIA Shield TV as we are. First, if you’ve already invested in an OTA antenna and tuner, you can keep your current setup and just use one of the other live TV apps available on the SHIELD platform. HDHomeRun has its own app, and there’s also Google’s own Live Channels app. If you have enough available tuners, you can also use these apps in conjunction with Plex, relying on the apps for live streaming and Plex for DVR.

Another option is to use a subscription streaming service that provides access to local channels, such as YouTube TV. Just be sure to check that the service offers the channels you want before abandoning the antenna route.

The second challenge we noticed during this experiment is that, for those long accustomed to it, giving up cable or satellite can be difficult for some family members. Certain family members may not realize until the cord has been cut that they’re missing out on cable-only events like Monday Night Football or those dreadful made-for-TV Lifetime movies.

In our case, one big problem was children’s programming. With young children in the homes of more than one PCPer staffer, content such as Disney Jr. and Nickelodeon is essential. Some of the shows on these networks can be streamed for free from each service’s app, or ripped from DVDs and Blu-rays, but the bulk of it requires a paid service of some kind. Thankfully, many subscription streaming services like PlayStation Vue, DirecTV NOW, and Sling TV now qualify, so you not only get access to the live channel feed as part of your subscription, you also can access the full catalog of on-demand content in each channel’s app.

As we’ll look at later, one of the big reasons to pursue cord cutting is to save money, so having to fall back to a paid subscription streaming service seems a bit counterproductive. The reality, unfortunately, is that some content is still locked behind traditional media paywalls, and if that content is important to you or your family, you may not have a choice.

But the bright side is that trading traditional cable and satellite for one of the subscription streaming services may still yield some advantages. For example, many of the streaming packages are cheaper than their traditional counterparts, and because the content is served over the Internet, you have many more options from which to choose (well, for now anyway). There are also no contracts, installation fees, or leased equipment to deal with, meaning that you can switch from service to service each month to find the one that meets your needs the best, without needing to schedule technician visits or return cable boxes.

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