Earlier this month, I began experimenting with cutting the cord, starting by evaluating over-the-air options. Early indications had me optimistic that between a solid indoor antenna, an HDHomeRun Connect tuner, and Live TV and DVR functionality from Plex, I'd at least have my problems solved when it comes to the major networks. Sadly, that's turned out not to be true.
Plex + HDHomeRun: Not Ready for Prime Time
As I mentioned before, the HDHomeRun is great, and the antenna does pull in many channels, but its not nearly as reliable as I had hoped, with my local NBC and CBS affiliates being far too spotty. In addition, Plex's DVR and Live TV functionality is extremely unreliable, with recordings going hours over time, hanging completely, or causing my Plex Media Server to crash. I could certainly continue down the rabbit hole by investing in a more powerful outdoor antenna, but they're costly, and there's still the matter of Plex's buggy support for DVR and Live TV. At this point, I don't recommend this path for most people.
Evaluating Streaming Services
With OTA off the table, it was time to start investigating streaming services that offer live TV functionality and cloud DVR. My priorities were:
- Local affiliates for the major networks: NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox.
- Full access to ESPN and its associated networks, including access to WatchESPN.
- Access to Disney networks for the kids.
- More cost effective than DirecTV, my current service provider.
First, I took a look at Sling TV, which provides a highly-recommended a-la-carte service that meets many of my criteria. Many, but not all, unfortunately, as Sling hasn't managed to strike a deal with every local affiliate in my area.
Next, I signed up for PlayStation Vue, which on the surface, ticked all of the boxes. However, my free trial of the service was a total disaster. It took days for my account to activate, and my attempts to contact support resulted in announced hold times measured in hours. When I finally was able to get things working, the quality was pretty low, and the app experience left a lot to be desired. Once my trial was up, moved on.
A New Contender Emerges
Enter Hulu with Live TV, a new offering now in beta from one of the oldest and most respected names in streaming entertainment. Hulu with Live TV met all of my requirements on paper, so I decided to dive right in and put it to the test.
At this point, I'd love to tell you that Hulu is a perfect solution. The truth is, it isn't. That said, it meets all of my requirements, and its shortcomings are tolerable enough that I've officially cut the cord, and cancelled my DirecTV service. Overall, Hulu is great, with an extensive streaming catalog that is, in essence, like a massive "on-demand" library from a traditional provider. The client app is available on every platform that I use, and works well enough.
My wishlist for Hulu, however, is long:
- Client apps, as far as I can tell, don't support anything but stereo sound. Why no 5.1 audio, Hulu?
- The DVR functionality is odd, and takes some getting used to. In addition, if you want to fast forward through the commercials of your recordings, you have to pay extra. This very nearly caused me to cancel and continue my search, but even with the additional charge, the service is a massive cost savings over traditional cable.
- Weird content restrictions, especially with sports. Want to watch the NFL game that's on your local CBS affiliate? Well, I hope you want to watch it on your TV, because you're not allowed to watch the game on your phone, tablet, or computer. I know that, strictly speaking, this isn't Hulu's fault, but its still annoying as hell.
- The client app, while very consistent from platform to platform, is a bit difficult to navigate.
The good news is that most of these problems are fixable with software updates, and even with these shortcomings, its still "good enough."
I'm going to keep my eye on Plex and its DVR functionality. If it ever manages to stabilize, I'll spend the time and money to set up a more powerful antenna, so I'll have the highest possible quality option for things like NFL and NCAA football games on the major broadcast networks. This would also give me a chance to re-evaluate Sling, and cut my costs even further. But, for now, I'm going to enjoy being free of AT&T/DirecTV.