Video Rebel, Part 1: Cable TV, you're fired! Netflix, you too

Fast forward to the future: What will life be like without cable TV, Blu-ray discs and DVDs, or any other spinning, removable disc-style means of entertainment delivery? What if you downloaded all the titles you watched, and got everything else you wanted free from the broadcast airwaves?

What do you say we find out? Starting now, I’ve canceled my cable-TV subscription and put my Netflix account on hold. For the next three months, my only electronic entertainment will consist of whatever I can download or whichever broadcasts are available over the air.

I’ll offer you weekly dispatches on my progress, filling you in on the sacrifices I’m making and showing you the benefits I’m receiving from living in the download and broadcast worlds, circa 2008. Why am I doing this? The awful truth (and how it affects you) after the Continue jump.

Comcast Ripoff
It all started when I heard about Comcast squeezing the quality of its HDTV channels. Of course, Comcast would say its quality wasn't reduced, but only slightly and imperceptibly downgraded when the company chose to perform the equivalent of stuffing a basketball into a garden hose, compressing every three HDTV channels into the space formerly occupied by just two. Balderdash. The awful results are obvious.

Next, I noticed that my local provider here in Milwaukee, Time Warner Cable, was not only obviously over-compressing the live signal of the CBS Final Four basketball games to us here at our Midwest Test Facility, but we were suffering from frequent dropouts of the signal altogether during all the games. This wasn’t experienced by viewers elsewhere in the U.S., nor was it seen by viewers receiving the broadcasts over the air.

Finally, the idea of dumping Netflix was solidified when first, HD DVD died an untimely death, and then the company's CEO, Reed Hastings, announced there would be an additional charge if you’re renting Blu-ray discs.

It’s only going to get worse. Cable providers will continue to compress their HDTV offerings, cynically thinking dumb consumers won't notice the difference, and now that HD DVD is dead, the companies behind Blu-ray will try to squeeze every extra penny they think they're entitled to.

You’re Fired
Well, greedmeisters, you can’t fool all the people all the time. You’re done. I canceled my Time Warner DigiPic 2000 package the next day, hooking up my TiVo for solely antenna reception and saving $45 per month. While we’re at it, let’s dump Netflix. Or at least put it on hiatus — anyone can put their Netflix account on hold for up to three months. Hey, let's take it a step further and dump all spinning, removable disks. The only stuff I'll watch from here on out must be:
  • 1. Downloaded
  • 2. Streamed
  • 3. Broadcast
Back to the Digi-Future
Believe it or not, that still leaves me with lots to choose from, including off-air recordings, Xbox Live, Vudu and even via BitTorrent (for educational purposes only). Come back each week to find out what it's like to rough it, entertainment style. Is it too early to try such a thing? Ride along with me, my antenna, and my 15-megabit Internet connection to discover whole new worlds of entertainment.

Tomorrow: In Video Rebel Part 2, I sink my eyes into fee-free (but legal) downloaded and streamed HD. Will it be tasty?

Video Rebel, Part 2: Free HD download guide
Video Rebel, Part 3: Kill your cable, get HD for free over the air
Video Rebel, Part 4: How to turn an old PC into a home theater monster
Video Rebel, Part 5: Download mania! Netflix, Apple TV, Xbox, Amazon Unbox and Vudu compared
Video Rebel, Part 6: BitTorrent and the dark side of downloading