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Unplugged: Giving Up Broadcast TV
In this installment of his Emerging Media column, Damien Stolarz tries to get off the broadcast TV grid entirely, and finds it's not so easy.
Fri., Jan. 25, by Damien Stolarz

This column first appeared in the December/January issue of Streaming Media magazine. Click here for your free subscription.

Several months ago, I decided to unplug from the cable company. I’m not talking about switching to satellite or anything like that—I’m talking about fully disconnecting from broadcast television.

A few years ago I put a Mac mini on our TV and put about 500GB of DVDs on the home server. Since then, we’ve been using the delightfully simple Apple Front Row interface with the nice six-button Apple Remote that comes with every Mac.

But even with all that content, my wife begged me not to unplug. Not because she watches that many shows—in fact, our Time Warner DVR was mostly filled with Nick Jr. and Food Network shows. Since most of the shows we watch were on heavy rotation, we had literally hundreds of episodes. But she just didn’t want to give up the option of browsing through the channels to see what was on.

I argued thusly: We were paying more than $60 a month for basic cable, money that could be better spent buying DVDs or other content or subscribing to Netflix and watching all the episodes for a lower monthly rate.

There were other factors in my urge to unplug. I had finally "upgraded" (?) our family from our beautiful 36" CRT monitor to a 50" high-definition rear-projection TV. And oh, what a sad upgrade that was. For one, the CRT had done such a beautiful job (with its slow refreshing phosphors) of making even highly compressed cartoons look fantastic. Watching the high-definition TV was just like seeing TV on a PC for the first time—grainy, pixelated, and jagged.

I tried watching other content. But all of the channels suddenly looked worse, washed out compared to the ultra-bright CRT; compression artifacts on almost every channel grated at my soul. And I don’t even want to talk about having to constantly hit the "aspect" button to try to make the video look right.

It was like a horrible karmic nightmare where I was being punished for all the low-resolution video I streamed online in the ’90s. My television looked like full-screen internet video, only without the buffering.