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Cable TV & Alternatives

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Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > House & Garden > Cable TV & Alternatives


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2013 - 2014 Recommendations


Sports without Comcast-is such a thing possible?

July 2014

My husband and I enjoy watching basketball and tennis, which are becoming non-broadcast events. Many games are now on ESPN, but we refuse to pay Comcast's spiraling prices. (We did use a friend's Comcast sign-in for ESPN on-line, but she's moved out of the area.) Now we either view games on an illegal on-line sports site--erratic transmission; too much malware to watch out for--or go to a sports bar; the latter is difficult, though, when a European match begins at 4 a.m. our time. This summer has proved the proverbial last straw: Wimbledon can now only be seen on ESPN. Any ideas? Melanie


I can't answer for US-based sports, but I do have a solution for European sport. We have been watching the BBC's excellent coverage of the World Cup streaming online via a VPN service. There are many, though we use PureVPN. Once set up, you can access the Internet as if you were in another country, like the UK. Works great and a lot cheaper than cable! T
Dear sports enthusiast go online and find ESPN 3 and click on Streaming. (Not watch live- that is another service that requires some provider like comcast I think) But streaming is just over computer. Most of Wimbledon and all of the World Cup was on. I don't follow basketball and detest American football so don't know how much of that you can find. I love baseball on the radio - have it on outside when I garden - perfect summer afternoon! There are other strange and wonderful sports like cricket and ultimate frisbee on espn three. Enjoy. JnmiM

Cutting the cord with comcast--roku? apple tv?

July 2013

Hello- If you have cut the cord with Comcast and switched over to instant streaming, I'd love to hear how you did it. My questions are: Which internet provider did you choose? I live in Kensington and am starting to research my options. Did you sacrifice speed? What do you pay per month? My husband likes to watch some live sports. Does ESPN have a streaming channel? What are the live sports options? How can you watch current series? For example, can you watch Game of Thrones in real time, or do you have to wait for it to come out on Netflix? Generally, how much do subscriptions to channels cost? Thanks so much for your response!! I really appreciate it! It seems like there could be a tremendous savings here. sick of my cable bill


We gave up full-on Comcast with DVR & On Demand w/HBO & now use the Roku and stream Netflix, Hulu Plus, & sometimes do an Amazon Instant Video. We also have a DVD plan w/Netflix to get shows that they don't have on streaming. We watch our regular shows (Comedy Central, regular network, etc.) on Hulu Plus. We don't watch sports though, but there are channels that you can get to stream through Roku for sports.

We did have to give up HBO, because you can only get HBO through a cable service (which is really frustrating)! But you can watch shows through http://projectfree.tv/

We do still pay for Comcast high-speed because every other internet provider is much slower. If Comcast didn't have a monopoly on this, we'd go with another provider bec. I really loathe them (& their terrible customer service).

There are things you give up, but the fact that we pay SO much less every month is worth it. Cable-free


We cut the cord a few years ago and couldn't be happier! We have a roku.

Which internet provider did you choose?

- AT&T UVerse. I don't think there's a big difference in quality between them and Comcast, go with whomever gives you the best deal. We pay $40/month for just internet, we don't have phone or cable.

My husband likes to watch some live sports. Does ESPN have a streaming channel? What are the live sports options?

- No, ESPN does not. Hockey and baseball do have their own channels, but football does not. We bought a digital antenna and are able to pick up many games (same as if we had basic cable), but local ones are sometimes blacked out, so it's not equivalent to ESPN.

How can you watch current series? For example, can you watch Game of Thrones in real time, or do you have to wait for it to come out on Netflix?

- For many series, you can access right after they air either via Hulu Plus (we pay $8/month) or Amazon Prime ($120/year, but includes all sorts of other benefits such as free 2-day shipping). But this does not apply to HBO shows - those you have to wait for a year + for netflix/amazon prime streaming, OR get someone to give you their HBOGO information and stream via another media device (like a kindle fire - not sure if apple tv has an HBOGO channel, Roku does not).

Generally, how much do subscriptions to channels cost?

- We pay $40/mo for internet, but we'd pay that regardless. So actual cost of 'TV' is $8/mo for hulu plus, ~$10/mo for amazon prime. Amazon prime and netflix have a lot of overlap, so you'd likely choose one or the other. That's it. We probably end up buying 2 movies or so a month from Amazon for another $10. So that's a total of $30 a month.

We love the 'on demand' nature of our media consumption - in order to get the same level of on demand availability with cable is upwards of $120/mo or more. L.


Roku is far better there are more channels. Plus you can get live streams of CNN international, Al Jazerra, Russia Today, and other channels. Just google, ''Roku Secret Channels''. Roku and a Amazon Prime account and you're set. Amazon Prime Video is basically the same as Netflix, but for $79 a year.
We switched to Roku a couple years ago and ditched cable. I can't speak to all your questions (for instance, sports), but can tell you our experience. We use a combination of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime to get our programming and it is still cheaper than cable. In terms of how current you can be on a show, it depends. For Mad Men, we were able to buy the current season on Amazon and keep up. For other shows, like Game of Thrones, there is a lag. Note that you are never actually watching a show when it airs, but choosing when. For other network shows, it depends on the network - ABC is very generous in providing current episodes, while CBS doesn't do it at all. For broadcast TV in general, we purchased an antenna so we can receive channels.

Couple things about streaming on a box. One thing is that we find that at peak times, we will just lose the connection for periods of time (like 15-30 mins without being able to connect) and it has nothing to do with our general internet connection. I have not seen this publicized, but think it is a common problem - seems to happen on holiday weekend evenings, etc. I called my internet provider, ATT on this and they tried to upsell my on some additional tech support service. Honestly, I think they need to figure this out before streaming can truly replace cable. Second, devices like Roku don't provide access to all internet streaming, only certain channels. So right now, channels like ABC, HGTV and Youtube are not available even though they have internet streaming. I think this will change over time - PBS and PBS Kids just added a channel. Finally, it can be very frustrating figuring out what is on that you might watch - each network we belong to has very different content and it changes all the time depending on their agreements with studios/networks. You can find internet sites to keep you updated and also Roku now has a system-wide search for programming which helps.

Overall, for us it has worked because we can watch what we want when we want and there is a ton of stuff available. We don't care so much about whether everything we watch is completely current and we honestly don't watch broadcast events like sports. Good luck in your decision Roku Watcher


Hello, ''Roku Watcher'' here who just posted. So, fittingly I guess, after I posted this, we ended up with one of our typical connection problems. It is morning, and my daughter went downstairs to watch Netflix, only it wouldn't load on the Roku (while no internet problem on other devices). She ended up watching her on an iPad just fine, but it took 15 minutes of rebooting and reconnecting the Roku before we got back in to it.

By the way, we contacted both Roku and our internet provider about this at various times but neither was much help and have given up on it. As I mentioned, our ISP (ATT) just told us it was a problem with communications between devices and they could resolve it if we paid for an expensive monthly additional support service -- which we passed on. Would be interested if other BPN posters will report this too. Roku Watcher


We also cut the cable cord a couple of years ago and have been very happy with it. Like many of the other posters we watch our shows now with our Roku box-- mainly on Netflix streaming and a little Amazon Prime (just since we happen to have that, but otherwise it's pretty redundnat with Netflix) with some Netflix disks thrown in. We don't do Hulu, because we didn't want to pay for one more thing, but that does mean we are a season behind on all shows. But... I just wanted to add that we have NOT had the connectivity problems that some of the other posters mentioned. Perhaps the reason is that we have Comcast as our internet provider and not ATT Uverse, which the other posters mentioned? Not sure. Good luck! --so glad not to have to pay for cable anymore
I didn't see your original post and not sure if somebody already mentioned it, but we're super happy with newly released Google Chromecast. It's $35 and came with 3 months free Netflix membership. All you need to do is plug it on your HDTV, then you can 'cast' anything via wifi (Netflix, YouTube, anything from browser) from your iPhone, Android, iPad, or desktop PC. We've been cable free over year and used to have Google TV before. Not having cable service's totally worth it! Mariko

Want to get rid of Comcast

Jan 2013

I'm debating losing Comcast (costing me $160/mo) and just using services like Netflix. I almost never watch TV except for movies and kids shows. I need: 1. very solid internet access 2. don't currently have a landline but considering one 3. movies 4. good range of kids shows 5. animal documentaries

That's it. If you've done this, I could really use some detailed feedback on how you transitioned, costs, etc. Thanks .... Sarah


Yes! We use Sonic.net, a local company based in Santa Rosa that provides high-speed DSL and land lines for a single package (called Fusion) that's about $40 a month. We also use Netflix streaming for another $8, which has both a kids option and a general option. Love Sonic, and Netflix (plus a digital rabbit ear antenna for crystal clear HD broadcast tv) gets the job done. Sonic fan
I can't tell you about downgrading from cable, because the last time I has a TV was in college, but I can tell you that you can meet all of your requirements without cable. Depending on how much media you consume, it can be much cheaper.

We have Comcast internet-only for ~$70/mo (and you pay a bit more for internet-alone that you would for that portion in a combo package). I would love to get rid of Comcast, but they have a monopoly as the only internet-provider in our area.

We have Netflix (streaming only), and buy/rent specific titles from Amazon Instant Video. The streaming selection for Netflix has slimmed down a lot (lots of nature shows, but not much recent or popular movies/shows), but the main things we watch on netflix are kids shows and nature shows. We'll rent specific movies from Amazon Instant Video (many are included if you have an Amazon Prime membership for $80/yr). We also watch lots of shows for free on Hulu, PBSkids, PBS.org, National Geographic/kids, individual media company's sites (CBS.org for big bang theory, etc). We don't actually watch very much of anything most of the time, so our we only regularly spend $8/mo on Netflix. If you're really into a lot of TV and watch a lot of movies, it may not be worth it, but for us, the watching we do is worth just paying-as-you-go for specific movies or TV series (48-hr streaming rentals are usually $2-$4). I also appreciate limiting the amount of commercials the kids watch when they do watch shows. The best thing is that you can't just flip on the TV and watch whatever happens to draw you in, you have to specifically make the choice, which I think is healthier for us anyway. Cable but not media-free


My husband and I cut the cord over two years ago when money got tight. Now that we have much more flexibility in our budget, we wouldn't think of going back. We still have comcast for our internet and phone, but that is more out of laziness than anything else. We don't have an antenna, but I know you can get networks over the air with an antennae. We watch a lot of Netflix, which has a lot of children's programming, and some Hulu. Any gaps we fill in with movies from the library. If someone in you family is in San Francisco regularly, I would highly recommend getting a SF Library card. You can request movies, pick them up when they are available and keep them for 3 weeks, as opposed to Berkeley and Oakland where you are at the mercy of what's on the shelf. Cut the cord and you will find it quite liberating. Tracy
Just today I cancelled the last vestiges of our Comcast service (the $15/month basic cable for TV) because we aren't using it. I can answer # 1-2. SONIC.NET for both. They go through AT&T phone lines, so you may have some set-up time for that. (We already had AT&T landline service.) We've been very happy so far with our high-speed internet access and landline service from them. All of it for something like $60/month (maybe less??).

Since we got rid of even basic cable TV access, I'm also looking for the best way to get access to movies & TV shows: netflix? roku? other? I'll look forward to those answers.

sonic.net - they're great so far & came highly recommended on BPN and by some friends of ours.

Good luck! Happy to be .... Comcast-free!


We too had the 160/month Comcast bill. After putting some time looking into options, this is what I came up with: 1. Kept the Comcast internet AND basic cable - in our area we couldn't get a good local internet provider, so keeping the basic bundle made the most sense. This subscription is ~65/month. 2. Got a Roku to enable easier streaming of media through wi-fi (I already set up wi-fi in our house). Roku boxes range from 50-100 (one time cost). 3. Subscribed to Netflix and Hulu Plus. A subscription to a service is 8-9/month.

There are other, cheaper, combinations you can do based on your technical knowledge/tolerance for setting up every time you want to watch TV. I chose the one above based on ease and convenience. Hope that helps. grrljock


2010 - 2012 Recommendations


Alternative to Comcast

Feb 2011

I've had it with Comcast and am looking into alternatives. I've done a little research and thinking about getting an antenna to receive HD and then a device of some sort to stream Netflix. I think we will have to increase our internet speed too. I would love to hear from anyone who has tinkered with this-good or bad. I did not see any postings for tv/cable before 2002! so I hope someone else out there is knowledgable. Tired of paying for cable


We have a TV antenna (we have ours in our attic) for a good array of local broadcast stations, a ROKU box, Netflix, and Sonic.net internet and phone. See-- http://sonic.net/solutions/home/internet/fusion/

It costs us about $50/mo before taxes for the entire package. (The ROKU box was ~$80.) We are in love with our ROKU box and Netflix streaming and don't watch broadcast TV as much as we used to.

The phone that you get with Sonic is a land line and comes with all the bells and whistles---caller ID, voice mail, unlimited domestic long distance---and wonderful customer service. It was a definite upgrade from our AT&T service where I had long ago refused to pay separately for each of those services.

Good luck. (I'm always shocked to hear how much folks pay for Comcast.) Sally


I recently purchased an HDTV and a Wi-Fi Blue-Ray Disc player. I never bought into cable. I don't think it's worth it unless you like to watch sports. Whenever I've watched cable TV there seems to be more commercials than the actual program, so why should I pay for that? Instead, I just stick with broadcast tv and already had a subscription to Netflix. So with my new BD player I can stream movies,etc that Netflix carries. My particular BD player has the capability to stream UTube, MLB.com, Pandora, Internet TV, Picasa, and a couple of other movie/TV carriers. Of course, some of these require subscriptions, but I stick with Netflix.

I love the set-up! I barely watch broadcast TV anymore. I don't have to sit in front of a computer screen to watch movies streaming on Netflix. I can sit on my comfy sofa and watch on a 50' screen. I love old movies and documentaries and Netflix has plenty of those. If you are like me and don't need to see programs/movies immediately, most shows eventually are carried by Netflix. Or you can tune into HULU.com. Another nice thing about streaming on Netflix is that you get to choose what to watch every night! (No...I don't have any connection with Netflix.) If you decide to stream only, I think it's $7.99/month. I have the subscription which includes streaming and 3 DVDs at home for about $20/month. (Isn't that cheaper than cable?) Also, the entire set-up is not that complicated. I live in the El Cerrito Hills and get fine broadcast digital TV reception with just a rabbit ear antenna. This is the best thing I ever did! Love my BD Player


Cable tv or ????

Jan 2010

We watch very little tv, but love our On Demand esp for HBO movies/series, but our Comcast bill keeps going up and up. Do you have a tv service you love? Is there anything like On Demand except on Comcast? What about the services that package telephone, internet too? Thanks for sharing your good find! picky about our tv


We have Comcast strictly for internet. For TV, we installed an antenna in the attic and bought a digital tuner--so we get digital broadcast. How well that would work for you depends on your location, of course.

For on-demand, I use Netflix's Roku box. I had Netflix already (the price varies depending on the package, but I'm paying about $15/mo), and my husband bought the Roku box. Sorry, I don't recall what he paid, but after the first cost of the box, you can access a lot of material at no additional cost. They do offer some additional on-demand items on a pay-for-access basis.

So we have several hundred dollars invested in antenna, tuner, and Roku box, but our ongoing expenditure is only about $15/mo. Carrie


Netflix has a watch instantly feature that allows you to watch many tv shows and movies whenever you want. I watch from my computer, but I've seen that it can also be watched ''from Xbox 360, TiVo, select Blu-ray players, and more'' according to the website. I get the 3 DVD plan for just under $20 each month and it includes unlimited instant watching. There are other plans too, but some plans include limited instant watch time. I like that I can watch movies anywhere my laptop goes. I'm guessing that means you could also watch streaming movies on a friend's TV too as long as you remember your account password, though I haven't tried it yet. cable-free but entertained

2007 - 2009 Recommendations


2004 - 2006 Recommendations


2003 & Earlier


Dish Network or Direct TV

July 2002

Does anyone have Direct TV or Dish Network and could recommend or site some pros or cons to either? We currently have AT & T digital cable and we have problems with the picture all the time which they can't seem to resolve. Any input on alternatives would be great. thanks!


Hi, We've had DirecTV for a year and think it's a good system. We pay $40/month for all of the non-premium channels plus all of the local channels (which used to be the downfall for satellite providers). We've never had cable--we went straight from broadcast to DirecTV. You can also usually find a good deal on the initial receiver/dish combo by shopping around. I think that satellite does get more expensive if you're connecting to more than one TV. We only have one, so it's not an issue for us. Good luck! Michael
We put in DISH networks a little over a year ago, mostly because I was sick of dealing with the folks at AT&T and the lousy picture quality. I chose DISH because it was the one offering the free installation and equipment at the time, and we've actually liked it quite a bit. You can watch Law & Order pretty much continously, if you like, the picture quality is excellent, and the customer service has been quite surprisingly good. I like the PPV that you can order on demand, though I don't use it very frequently. Myriam
We were dissatisfied AT&T customers for a long time too. We have had Dish Network for almost a year and LOVE it! The picture quality is so amazing that it made it seem as if we had a new improved tv set. We chose Dish over Direct based on the progamming offered (we wanted 2 specific stations that Direct didn't offer) and Dish had a great promo at the time. We have had two issues while having the system but got through to a real live person immediately when calling and they were resolved easily and immediately. We don't watch much tv but still feel it is worth the $ since we have clear reception (vs. an antenna & no cable) and pay slightly less than we did for far less programming and poor service with AT&T. I highly recommend the Dish service. Nicole
I've had DirecTV for about three years now and have been quite pleased with it. No problems to speak of, great picture quality. And since all the local channels became available in December, you won't be missing anything, and it probably will be cheaper than digital cable too. Get one of the deals with free professional installation and it will all get set up for you too. Just be sure you have a place on your house where the dish can point to the south-east (the satellites are over Texas).

As an extra plug, I can't imagine having all those channels and kids without TiVo! TiVo finds all kinds of shows I want to see, even from obscure channels. And with having to get kids in bed, I can just wait until it's convenient for me to watch my favorite shows, instead of trying to make it when they're on. There is a nice TiVo/DirecTV combination box that you can get for pretty cheap as a new subscriber if you can find it. They're fairly rare, but try: http://www.orbitsat.com/tivo/Promo_Sony.asp?Referer=AVS_TiVo -Mike


When we moved into our house, a Dish Network antenna was already in place so we initially subscribed to their service. After about a year, we switched to AT&T digital cable. The main reason for our switch was that they had been unable to resolve their dispute with KRON 4, who at the time was the local NBC affiliate (and even though we had 50 channels, NBC was one of the few I actually watched), so they were not providing NBC. But I also found their menus difficult to use. I find the picture quality to be about the same for satellite and digital cable (both are better than non-digital cable). Also, it was a little easier to hook up more than one set with digital cable (I don't know if this is an issue for you). Stephanie
We recently switched from AT&T Digital to Direct TV and we are thrilled with Direct TV. With AT&T we always had reception problems, customer service was a nightmare and it was expensive. With Direct TV the picture is significantly better, they are very nice and helpful, we get more channels (especially kids programs) and it's actually a few dollars cheaper. You will need to buy the receivers and Satellite Dish, but we got a special with Best Buy for two receivers and a Dish and by the time we got all of our rebates, gift cards etc it only cost us about $49 and installation was free. Kristi
When we moved in to our last house, there was no cable option. So we signed up with direct tv. We loved the guide, (my husband's favorite channel), we got great reception, though once or twice in severe storms we lost picture, and we were generally happy. However, we found the customer service to spotty, so in a fit of defiance we switched to DISH Network, which we love even more. We pay $50/month for all the locals, 100 channels, and the ''store brand'' TIVO on 2 receivers (so we can watch different channels on different tv's). The customer service is fabulous, We just moved, and I called them days before we moved into the new house and they were there by the time I moved in. Also, apparently there is a new law which says that if they offer any local channels, they must offer them all, so they came and installed a second dish last week and now we get 20 extra locals (including KRON, KSTS, KTSF????). The TIVO (PVR) is amazing with a child and we can't imagine life without it with a 9 month old. However it is not smart like TIVO so we have to choose what to record. The picture is clear, we find the menus easy to use. ALl that being said, I believe the two (DIsh and DirectTV) are planning a merger -- assuming the SEC deems them not-a-monopoly, and that may affect lots of things. As others have said, do it when you get the best deal -- I think if a current dish customer refers you, you can get up to 4 receivers, free installation etc for free...If you have more questions, I would be happy to natter on some more. Good Luck! Shahana
Just to add that I too was completely dissatisfied with AT&T & switched to DirectTV and love it. We have the $39.99/mo which includes local channels, and we also opted to pay for HBO for $12/mo. And I also subscribe to the monthly magazine $39.99/mo which lists all the shows/times. I highly recommend DirectTV, and you can generally find great prices on the dish itself. We went to www.expertsatellite.com -- and only paid $19.95 s&h. Tasha
November 2001

I would like to get recommendations about which cable company people use. We have been to Bay Area for over four years and hadn't had a TV until recently. So we would like to get some idea as what kind of deals existing out there, price and service-wise, and also if possible, which is better, cable vs satellite? I didn't find anything on this topic on the parentsnet web site. Thank you.


I have AT&T. The previous ones I had merged into AT&T. I am paying about the same amount of money as before, but I have access to many more channels plus the DMX music channels which are really nice as they have no commercials. I know other people get the dish or other satellite-oriented services, but the cable has been the easiest since we stitched to the digital service. You need to first find out what is available in your area. Marianne
In terms of cable you are pretty much stuck with what is offered in your area. There are two providers of satellite, DirecTV and DISH Networks. In terms of programming they offer about the same thing, and one or the other of them is usually offering free installation and equipment. DISH was at the time we were so irritated at the poor quality of AT&T in Oakland that that is what we bought. You need to be able to see the Southern Sky from your house to have it work, which wasn't a problem. They came at the time they said they would, and we've been quite happy with it. The only catch is that they did not negotiate a contract with KRON Channel 4 (NBC) so we don't get it via satellite, but via antenna. Fortunately it comes in well enough via antenna. Pricewise it's about the same as cable, amazingly enough, but you get about 150 channels.
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