Step 1: Start with a High Definition Television (HDTV)

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Start with a High Definition Television (HDTV)

Start with a High Definition Television (HDTV)

On February 17, I started a series for “cord cutters”, with a Blog entitled 6 Steps to Cutting the Cord of Cable.  In that, I presented a summary of what would need to be done in order to dump cable or satellite TV in favor of using a combination of Over The Air (OTA) for local stations and Streaming content from the Internet.

In today’s blog, I elaborate on Step 1: Start with a High Definition Television (HDTV).

It’s hard to believe that just 10 years ago, I updated my TV to a Sony WEGA model that had a flat display (it was still a CRT), 480p (progressive scan), and could handle a 16:9 aspect ratio by putting black bars at the top and bottom. I was able to get very nice pictures with a progressive scan DVD player and later with a digital tuner box if connected into the component (RGB) jacks.

Today, LCD, plasma and LED screens are common.  They provide flat screen viewing, high definition resolution at 720p and 1080p with HDMI inputs.  The network-enabled versions can handle streaming content right there in the TV, without the need for an external box (to be covered in Step 4).  With sizes ranging from 20″ to 72″ diagonal screen measurement, they cover the whole range of table top and wall-mounted options.

While you can certainly make this whole setup work with 480 lines of resolution on a 4:3 standard definition TV, I don’t recommend it.  You’ll be missing out on the joy of crisp images and modern connectivity.  Some may tell you that you need to have 1080 lines, but my experience is that 720 is fine up to 45″ diagonal.

Then there are the technology options… should you get LCD, Plasma or LED?  These represent different methods of making the color picture elements (pixels) on the screen.  I’ve never been so techno-elitest that I can’t be happy with LCD, which has been around the longest and can be more affordable in the smaller sizes.  Plasma tends to have brighter colors and blacker blacks, and may be the best value today.  LED is the newest and usually costs more, but I’m not convinced the price differential is worth it.  The best advice I can give you here is to not spend as much time worrying about this as many people do.  In the end, you’ll care more about things like viewing angle, i.e. how far to the side can you still see the picture clearly?

If you are buying new, it’s worth considering getting an Internet-ready TV that can stream Netflix and other services directly into your TV.  I don’t own any of these, but it does cut down on the number of boxes and remote controls and that’s good for my parents, who have learned to use Netflix on their TV.  Sometimes simplicity rules.

In the end, you should expect to spend anywhere from $200 to $2000 on a TV.  You can overpay for a brand (Sony, Samsung), or go cheap on an off-brand (Insignia, Sceptre) that you might dislike once you begin to use it.  Middle of the road brands (Panasonic, LG, Vizio) are generally good safe value brands.  Just check the buyer comments and ratings before choosing a model.

For the record, I have two Samsung TVs, which I bought on sale in 2007, mounted on the walls and have never had a problem with either of them.  I also have an Optoma HD20 projector in the bonus room, now The Movie Room, which is mounted upside down on the ceiling.  I built a screen for the wall and installed a home theater sound system.  Pictures are up in my Facebook photo album for those of you who have access to my photo albums.

My plan is to use the existing TVs that I own now — I won’t be buying any new TVs.  But you might have to, so do a little homework and let me know if you have any questions.

For more on TV Dimensions, click here.

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6 Steps to Cutting the Cord of Cable

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A Modern Home Network Can Enable Streaming Content Without Paying Monthly Cable or Satellite TV Bills

A Modern Home Network Can Enable Streaming Content Without Paying Monthly Cable or Satellite TV Bills

In these days of on-demand streaming services and high-speed Internet access, do you wonder why you pay so much for hundreds of channels that you don’t watch?  Do you wonder why you can’t just choose a la carte the channels you watch most?

I did.  So I began the quest of planning out what it would take to make the big switch and “cut the cord.”  I’m starting from having Time Warner’s Signature Service, which includes Ultra Broadband Internet (50/5 Mbps), Unlimited VoIP Telephone within the Continental U.S., and HD TV with 2 DVRs that can share shows.

Your process will vary depending on your starting point and where you want to end up, but here are the steps that will approximate a replacement to cable TV.  Over the next several days, I’ll elaborate on each of these steps, but for now, I’ll stick to a single paragraph and you can use this as a summary.

1) Start with a High Definition Television (HDTV)
Most new TVs have a built-in digital tuner and HDMI input.  Let’s call this step “table stakes”.  If you’ve never replaced your old “glass” TV, stop reading now and go get yourself something like this Vizio from Walmart for under $200.  You can spend up to $2000 on a TV, but this post will be much better if we assume this is in place before we go any further.

2) Get an Antenna for Over The Air TV – $20 to $100
There are lots of options for digital antennas, and more than half of them are mediocre at best. My favorite style antennas are the multiple bow tie that can be used for 95% of the HD stations.  There are others that can work and I’ll go into details in a future post.

3) Get an Optional Digital Video Recorder – $200 to $400 plus guide service fees
TiVo was the first big dog to this party, to the point that, back in 2003, the word “tivo” was being used a verb, meaning “to record television show on a hard drive in digital form for later viewing.”  There are newcomers to this market now that have reinvented this market and are worth considering.  This will also be part of a future post.

4) Get a Media Streaming Device – $35 to $200
There are three primary competitors for this, Apple TV, Roku and ChromeCast, although there are lots of options.  They help put your content on your TV.  Many BluRay players and game systems come with network apps that provide interfaces to many content providers, which leads to the last two steps…

5) Get a WiFi N Router – $40 to $60
Many of us have had G-speed routers (802.11g), which supports 54Mbps shared bandwidth, but if you want to have multiple wireless streaming devices in your home network, it’s really better to be running at N-speed (802.11n).  Doing so will ensure you minimize any video streaming jitter and buffering.  Of course, you can avoid this need if you run Cat5 ethernet cables to your devices, but many devices today are WiFi only.

6) Create Logins and Subscribe to Streaming Services – $10 to $50 per month
Streaming services give you content on demand, which means you can start it, pause it and finish it anytime that is convenient to you.  The easiest way to introduce this topic is by example, so here are some that you probably have heard of: Netflix, Hulu+, Amazon Prime and vudu.  There are many others, specializing in niche content, such as Mexican soccer, NBA, old westerns, YouTube videos and independent films.  Some are free, some require subscriptions that are usually less than $10/month.

Those are the five steps that you need to evaluate in order to cut yourself loose from Time Warner Cable TV, DirecTV, Dish Network or AT&T Uverse and replace them with Internet-based content.  In each of five future posts, I will dedicate to the above five steps.

Take your time to plan your attack.  Read my future posts for ideas on the steps and map out your transition along with me.