21st Century Television (Part One)

This entry was published at least two years ago (originally posted on September 30, 2010). Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed (in general, assume a more open and liberal current viewpoint). A fuller disclaimer is available.

A few days ago, I was finally able to follow through on something that Prairie and I had been discussing of and on for a few weeks — I called Comcast and disconnected our cable account. As we live in the Kent valley and are too blocked by mountains to get effective digital broadcast reception, this effectively bans broadcast television.

We’ve been working our way towards this for some time now, for two major reasons: one, sitting around and watching too much TV just isn’t healthy, and two, though there are a few shows that we enjoy watching, the commercials were just driving us up the wall. We had started by developing a number of “rules” — all in place before disconnecting the cable, but still in place — governing our TV consumption:

  1. No reruns. Not even if we haven’t seen that particular episode before. If it’s not a first-broadcast show, we’re not watching it. It’ll be out on DVD or made available for online streaming eventually, and we’ll watch it then, at our convenience, without commercials.

  2. The TV does not get turned on before 7:30 or 8 p.m. On any given “normal” night (that is, those that don’t have me at school until late in the evening) we tend to eat dinner at right around 6 p.m. In the “old days,” it wasn’t uncommon for us to grab our food, plop down in front of the TV, and zone out until 10 or 11 when we went to bed. Now, we’re eating at the table, finishing dinner, doing the dishes, and spending an hour or so playing games (our current obsessions are Set and Monopoly Deal) before the TV even gets turned on.

  3. The TV does not get turned on unless we exercise. We have a non-motorized treadmill and a reclining stationary exercise bike in the living room, and we have to put in at least half an hour each on either the treadmill or the bike if we want to watch TV.

  4. We watch only what we’re actually interested in. No more just turning the TV on just to see what’s on, or to flip channels, or for background noise (admittedly, not something we were in the habit of anyway), or anything similar. Unless we know we want to see something, we’re not bothering.

All of this was a great start, but over the course of the summer, one more piece of the puzzle fell into place when I added a Roku player to our entertainment system. I rambled on about our love affair with this little box a few months ago, but here’s the Reader’s Digest Condensed Cliff’s Notes Executive Summary: inexpensive, dead-simple, on-demand access to Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, and a whole lot more.

Thanks to the Roku and Netflix’s library of streaming titles (plus the DVDs we get through the mail), there was never a question of whether there was something we were interested in watching — just a question of what we felt like that night. After a few weeks, it became clear that the only reason we were holding on to our cable subscription was because there were still shows that we wanted to keep up with. We toyed with the idea of ditching cable, as we knew that more and more TV was being offered online either through legal channels such as Hulu and Amazon VoD or through the quasi-legal Bittorrent network, but watching shows on my computer in my office just wasn’t as comfortable or convenient as sitting in the living room in front of the TV.

A few weeks ago, however, I discovered Roksbox, an add-on channel for the Roku that allows me to stream media from my computer to the Roku in the living room. Bingo! That was the last piece we needed.

So, cable and broadcast TV are no more for us. Instead, we have our personal DVD library, DVDs we order from Netflix, the entire Netflix on-demand library, and, for the current-run TV shows we want to keep up with, I simply download them and toss them into the Roksbox library for us to watch commerical-free at our leisure.

It’s a great setup. We’re spending less time watching TV, and when we do watch something, it’s hassle-free, commerical-free, and at our convenience. As far as we’re concerned, this is definitely the way to go.

So that’s the general, non-techie overview. In part two of this, I’ll get into the geeky fiddly bits of how I’ve automated the process of finding, downloading, and prepping the TV shows we pay attention to.

2 thoughts on “21st Century Television (Part One)”

  1. I don’t watch a lot of sports, but when it’s swimming or big events like summer and winter Olympics I really want them live. At least here in Sweden the streaming of live sport TV on the web and to iPhone apps has evolved a lot lately (like the latest winter Olympics), but still there are sport events I wouldn’t want to miss on the TV.

  2. I did this once before rather successfully and want to do it again. My wife’s addiction to HGTV and Food Network are really the only hold up. Maybe it’s time to get the Roku and see if it’s enough to convince her.

    I really like your rules. Obviously with a kid it would be a little different, but it’s something to start with.

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