If you know me personally, I am someone who you would think “cut the cord” a long time ago however I’ve been a hold out waiting for something easy to manage.
Why? I’m in IT and can manage about anything you throw at me, so I could have built some Linux streaming boxes over the years and did research it quite a bit. What I do know over my years of experience is that it may make sense economically for me to operate it, anyone else in the house is going to require tech support. The last thing after a day at work I want to do is play tech support. Also if you are the tech support and nowhere near an Internet connection whoever is at home may have to wait for you to get in and look around if there are problems.
I’ve played the Xfinity game for years and always loved the X1 platform minus a few things like:
- Not being able to stream TV on a Linux box (I have other OSes, but it is a web interface, get with the times and go HTML5 – Flash is almost dead).
- The upcharges for adding a TV.
- All the miscellaneous fees added onto a bill.
- Not being able to drop the phone part since we haven’t used that number in years and it’s only telemarketers anymore, they refuse to offer a TV/Internet package. While 25 years with a phone number is a bit sentimental, everyone knows my cell number is where to reach me.
- The “surprise” every 2 years when the contract runs out and your bill jumps $40, so you call in, act like you’re going to drop the service, they finally find a somewhat close plan, though I won’t call it reasonable or a savings.
- Their phone support.
- Give me time, I know there’s more.
Here I was again, my contract ran out, the bill jumped to $240 with all their add ons from the last package, least they wanted to go was $210 taking off premiums and another 2 year agreement. I declined. I thought to myself, “ok, we need to see what we can do to start chipping down this bill and knocking out what I don’t need from Xfinity.” The first piece I thought about was my bedroom TV usually is just sitting on channel 5 for the news in the morning or evening. Why am I paying $10 a month for a box that’s getting a local channel. I bought a $25 indoor HD antenna to see what channels I could pick up without installing an outdoor antenna. This TV is on the 2nd story with the closest wall to the signal sources.
The antenna came in and I hooked it up. Set the TV to auto tune the channels and it picked up 59 channels. Free, no bandwidth used nor any longer a need for the cable receiver. Channel 5’s reception was as good or better than Xfinity’s. I disconnected the box and swung down to the local Xfinity store.
Any account changes over the phone is pointless I have found with Xfinity. The call center is limited to certain packages and do not seem to be allowed to make a la carte changes. Their job is to lock you into an expensive plan. If you are looking at plans, the local store always has better options. Since I had to drop the box off, I was going to see what I could do to strip the bill down to Internet, one receiver/DVR box and enough channels to keep the main ones I have shows on. Basically AMC, SYFY (ok, I’m a bit of a geek), and NBC Sports Chicago (so I won’t have to hang in a bar to watch my Blackhawks games).
Once the assistant agreed I was no longer on a contract and was a la carte, we took off the extra box, phone service, and was down to an extended basic package with Internet for $185 a month. Still pretty sad. I saw they had my 250 MB Internet service listed at $90 a month and knew it could get better. I confirmed again this wouldn’t lock me into a contract, and it wouldn’t. At least we stopped the hemorrhaging of the budget pig some.
Prime Day 2019 came and I had promised myself I wasn’t even going to look, however Amazon had FireTV Recast boxes for $100 off, 4K Firesticks for $25, and the FireTV Cube for $69. I had really promised I was staying away from Prime Day, but the answer to my Xfinity woes were right there, on sale.
I had no clue what a FireTV Recast box was yet, and started Googling how it worked. Did it work like a FireStick and attach to one of the TVs? What exactly did it do? So here’s what I learned about it:
- It is not a Firestick and does not connect to a TV, but works on your network with the Firesticks.
- It connects wirelessly or wired to your network. As an IT person, I would advise that if you can wire it to your network it will decrease contention on the wireless.
- You connect your digital antenna to this and the Firesticks connected to the TVs can stream local channels from it and you can record local channels to it.
- It comes as a 2 channel receiver with 500 GB of DVR storage, or a 4 channel receiver with 1 TB of storage. I thought 4 was important since I tend to have 3 shows at once recording (more on this later).
- You can add an external storage device to it to increase your DVR space.
- It is best to place this where you can get the best signal in the house, even if a TV isn’t close.
Ok, so this seemed like the answer to local channels since I knew I had a decent signal for stations 50 miles away, I wouldn’t be streaming and using data all day to watch local stations, all TVs in the house could use it, and the Internet could be down and we still have local stations (I like redundancy).
Next I had to figure out the Firesticks. I never used one, but I have friends that use them and they seemed like a functional way to make any HDMI TV “smart”. I read up what apps were available and with purchase during Prime Day they had $15 a month off Sling TV for 3 months when you buy your Firesticks through Amazon that day.
I checked out Sling TV’s lineups and found that their Blue plan with the additional $20 upgrade would cover everything I was looking for to drop Xfinity TV and allowed streaming to 3 devices at once (the Orange plan only allows one stream, Orange+Blue Plan is 4 streams). $30 a month for 3 months then $45 a month after. This package comes with 50 hours of cloud DVR.
Wait, I have a DVR, right? I mentioned we would talk about this later. This is where things get a little disjointed using a Firestick and Sling. You get everything you wanted to replace cable, but local channels you will record over on the “DVR” Recast screen/menu of the Firestick and any channels on Sling TV will be in the Sling cloud DVR and have to be accessed through the Sling App. I do not believe I can get to the Recast DVR recordings off my network, but the Sling cloud DVR I would be able to. I now realized I could have gotten away with a 2 channel FireTV Recast DVR after finding this out, but for $40 more I think I’d rather have the capacity to have 4 channels watched or recorded at once.
So I added the Recast box to my cart, then tried to purchase 4 Firesticks (I figured for $25 a piece every TV could have one since there’s no monthly fee to have one). Unfortunately there was a limit of 3 Firesticks for Prime Day (boo). I noticed a FireTV Cube was also on sale and figured that would cover the 4th TV.
The FireTV Cube is interesting that they basically are combining an Echo with the Firestick, so it has Alexa available (and listening – kind of creepy) in the room you put it in. I figured this would be a good for the rec room and the entertainment center. I added it into the cart and checked out.
By the next day, everything but the Cube showed up. I quickly unboxed it and hooked up the Recast box and went through the instructions to set it up. It was pretty easy connecting to the wireless and putting in your Amazon account information.
Next was the first Firestick. Same setup, get it on the wireless, Amazon account information, then select some apps you want to use on it. 5 minutes later I had my live TV local stream running across the house and Sling setup on the Firestick. I setup the other 2 Firesticks and gave one to my daughter for her room. She’s never had her own cable box or local channels, but has streamed for years with her TV setup.
Sling, Recast and the Firesticks were working so well, I pulled the Xfinity DVR box out and returned to the store. I was already impressed with what $338 worth of devices I would never have to pay a monthly fee for would do.
Entering the store, I put the box on the counter and asked what it would take to get just Internet on my account. He took the box, took off the TV charges and then said my 250 MB Internet plan was $90 a month, but if I locked into a year contract they could take $20 off that. Xfinity really is the only game in town for Internet. There are a few DSL providers left, but the speed is terrible. I was at the price point I was OK with for Xfinity so I locked into the “plan” for a year. If I need to upgrade bandwidth I have that option later.
- I was paying $185 + $10 (for the second box) with Xfinity = $195 a month.
- Xfinity Internet for $70 and Sling for $45 and I had reduced my bill to $115 a month. $80 from the $195 and I have 2 more TVs on now (Xfinity’s best deal was $210 before I started chipping away).
- At $80+ a month in savings, my investment pays for itself in about 4 months and then it is money back in my pocket.
I did not include my Amazon Prime membership or my Netflix account costs because I already had these fees prior to switching this up, so it was a zero sum difference (is that an oxymoron?). There are several systems you can do this with between Apple TV, Tivo, and several others. This seemed economical to me to try and an overall cohesive system.
The next day the Cube came in. I hooked it up to the entertainment center, however it came with a little bit of disappointment. The FireCube does not have the functionality to access the “DVR” part that the FIresticks can, which means no local station/Recast DVR access for the Cube. I’m not sure what engineer was short sighted about this, but really would it be that hard to add the function? The Cube will probably be traded with my daughter’s Firestick since she never has much interest in local channels or local news. It is neat that you can walk in the room and say “Alexa, turn on the TV” and the Cube turns on the TV, soundbar, AV receiver, etc. She also will turn it off when I yell down the stairs because my daughter left the TV on….again.
Overall I’m pleased with the system minus the Cube and at times I think the picture quality is better than what I had with Xfinity. It does have a bit of “disjointedness” in the menus learning to know where to find a show (why can’t the live channel lineup show both local channels and the Sling stations?), but once you get past the learning curve you have a fully functional system that doesn’t require much “tech support.” Who can complain about $80 more a month in your back pocket and not the cable pigs? In the future I will probably add a motorized antenna so I can switch between transmitting areas and pick up a further distance, but it really was not needed in my case to make the cut.
If you are getting close to the end of your contract, you should look into these streaming options. The technology is here now if you have the bandwidth.
***Update – Aug 29, 2019 – I noticed the other night after an upgrade that the Cube now can utilize the Recast DVR and access local stations. This is a perfect system.