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Tech Daddy

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In my first article I mentioned that I'm always looking for ways to integrate technology into my family and the way we live.  I discussed how editing and managing home video was a major deciding factor on buying our first Mac.  In this month's Tech Daddy I'll give you some insight into how I've cut the cable and phone bill while still getting all the TV and communications we need.

By the summer of 2009, we had the iMac and each of us had either an iPhone or an iPod.  All of which can play video as well as music.  At that time we consumed TV like most people, using a HDTV/PVR box from the cable company.  We almost never watched live TV but rather recorded everything and watched what we wanted when we had time.  

Over this summer, as the economy was taking a downturn, we were closely looking at every item in our monthly budget.  Since we had TV, Internet and telephone from our cable company, that bill was one of the biggest budget items after our mortgage, approaching the $200 per month range.  $100 of that was just for the TV.  Reviewing the cable company's options there was very little we could do to significantly lower our bill without making a drastic change.    

About this time two other things were happening, the US was converting all of their local TV broadcasters from Analog to Digital.  Broadcasting HDTV over the air for free.  Also Apple's iTunes store was rapidly adding TV shows as well as movies and music to their digital download store.

I proposed that we cancel cable TV and buy ANOTHER product from Apple, called the Apple TV.  This is a tiny box that plugs into your Hi Def TV and connects to your home network.  It connects to your computer running iTunes and displays any video or audio you have in iTunes on your TV.  It also connects to the iTunes store to buy TV shows and rent or buy movies.  Anything you buy or rent on the Apple TV is viewable on the computer running iTunes and any iPods or iPhones plugged into that computer as well.

Rather than paying a cable or satellite provider approximately $1200 per year we now buy our shows from the iTunes store and get live TV the old fashioned way, with a rooftop antenna.  (To learn more about my conversion to over the air HDTV, see my blog entry at http://blackfish95.vox.com)  
(We also cancelled our home phone line and rely solely on our cell phones, saving another $50 per month.  I will talk more about this in a future article.) 

For my family, buying shows on iTunes works out to be cheaper than paying the cable company for 12 months of TV.  As part of my research, I looked at the 4 or 5 primetime shows that we like to watch, plus a few for the kids, added up all the iTunes store's ‘season pass' pricing and found that it was approximately ½ the cost of cable for the year.

Besides saving money, convenience is a major factor.  We are now watching what we want, when we want, how we want.  If the kids have nothing to watch, we just buy them a few shows or a season as needed.  From there they can watch on the big TV using the Apple TV or on the iMac.  If my daughter wants to watch one show while my boy wants another, there's no fighting. It all just works.  They can also load up shows on each of their iPods for their entertainment on long car rides or the airplane.  No need for an in car DVD player.  Bonnie and I can also watch on our iPhones.  

As we have been busy, we haven't purchased as many shows as planned so we're spending a fraction of what I budgeted for.  That's the idea of on demand TV.  No commercials to skip over, no missed recordings by a PVR glitch and you don't pay for what you won't use. 

As for what's available, that is changing all the time.  All the prime time network shows are on the Canadian iTunes store, most of them are in High Definition too!  More and more kids shows and specialty network shows are coming online all the time.  iTunes even has the odd sale where you can save a dollar or so per show, you don't get that with cable.  

Another benefit I believe is that we are just watching less ‘mindless' TV.  No channel surfing, no putting on the kids channel while they just vegetate in front of it for hours.  And if there's nothing on live TV, that's OK, we didn't pay for it anyways.
In addition to TV shows, iTunes gives us access to buying or renting movies in HD or standard def, endless hours of podcasts, music and audio books.  In fact audio books are our preferred entertainment while driving or on long flights.  An audio book allows to you rest your eyes and be taken away by the story or multitask on chores or driving while enjoying a great book.
(See www.audible.com for a great way to get your audio books)

Another reason I'm happy to not invest our entire entertainment budget in cable TV is there are so many other activities each of us do now.  I'd much rather play a great video game or spend time on the computer than watch most of the TV available these days. I'd rather our kids spend more time playing, doing homework or using a variety of entertainment sources rather than just the TV.

If you are looking at your monthly budget and find that the cable or satellite bill is higher than you like, I think you'll find as I did that the only way to really significantly reduce these costs is to cancel cable/satellite completely (keep internet access of course).  It's not for everybody, but it really works for us. And remember, it's not a permanent decision. You can always go back, but you might find you don't miss it. We don't.

If you have any questions about iTunes, Apple TV or hooking your new HDTV up to a low cost roof mount antenna for free and very high quality HDTV broadcasts, please let me know in the comments or on twitter. (http://twitter.com/Blackfish)

Jay Rymal has been in the computer industry since 1986.  Working in sales, marketing and technical roles at various computer retail, manufacturers and distributors.  He has run his own on-site computer help service in the Oakville area helping people use technology.  Jay likes to spend his offline hours in the summer racing sailboats with friends on Lake Ontario. He has been known to play the odd video game as well.

 Feel free to send comments or questions to jayrymal@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Blackfish