Wanna Watch TV? Don’t Cut The Cord, Get Cable

Google TV is a mess. Apple TV is a joke. Using a Roku is about as exciting as cleaning my gutters. I like the Boxee Box, but my wife doesn’t understand why; she doesn’t get it and that says something. Downloading torrents or NZBs is time consuming and only a small portion of the population actually has the know-how and hardware to do it. Sorry. Cord cutting is a lost cause.

Listen, I’m all for canceling Comcast and joining the ranks of the cord cutters. I hate Comcast so much. If Comcast had a large, fluffy mascot, I would punch it in the face. That’s saying something if you know me. But the fact remains that there is simply no way to replicate Comcast’s or any other cable provider’s service right now. If you want to watch TV, you have to pay for it — but you can still complain along the way.

Cable is damn expensive and so through various media streamers, game systems, and services, I’ve tried just about everything to replace it, but nothing gives you the same experience and service as *shock* cable — or satellite — TV.

The first major media streamer for a lot of consumers was the original Xbox. XBMC converted the computer-turned-gaming system into an a full feature media box. It’s still one of the best out there, with Boxee and Plex owing most of their success to the community-developed media center.

But like a lot of other media streamers, getting content on to the box is the biggest issue. Where does it come from? Is it legal? How quickly can you get new content? There are so many questions that it’s daunting for many novice users. We’ve done a couple of guides on it, but it clearly takes the aptitude of a geek to efficiently download and then watch content from the Internet.

This is what the new crop of media streamers are trying to address. They’re attempting to bring the videos that are free on the Internet to living rooms. It’s a noble goal. Big media puts a good chunk of their content online as a half-assed counter to piracy, and so these enterprising folks built set-top boxes that can access the content and put it easily on your HDTV.

Well, alright. But even if the media fat cats hadn’t turned off the feed to these boxes, they’re still not ready to replace cable. The interfaces are clumsy and the content online is sparse anyway. The thing I like most about cable TV is that when I turn it on, the content is there. I don’t need to scroll through screen after screen after screen, trying to figure out what episode to watch.

All these new media streamers have various fatal flaws. Google TV is laggy and only a small amount of free online programming can be watched through the device. Apple TV’s available content is laughable outside of Netflix. Have you ever really used a Roku streamer? They look great on paper, but are, well, lame in practice. The Boxee Box is an awesome local media streamer, but big media could shut off access to Fancast at anytime, leaving the device with half of its original feature set.

Really, honestly, the majority of media streamers are just another Netflix device. They’re all Netflix streamers with additional features because that’s about all they do right. That’s fine for some people. Some people don’t want or need live TV and so Netflix can easily fill that void, but please don’t cancel your cable and expect to replace it with one of these boxes.

I can see the comments now. “I’m perfectly happy with my combination of over-the-air programming, Netflix, and HTPC fed with torrents automatically through RSS.” Or how your Kindle is enough entertainment for you. Sigh. That’s not really the point. How’s the average consumer supposed to avoid big cable bills?

The cord cutting movement — is it really large enough for the movement label? — is great for the industry though. I pray that more and more reports surface showing consumers are going to try it without cable TV for a while. I’ve tried it. It’s not for me or my family, but the more people that cut the cord, the better it will be for those of us still with Comcast and the like.

The whole industry needs major disruption. It’s a mess and consumers are the victims. And you can cut the cord now, but for the next six months or a year, launch jitters and licensing spats are going to make all these media boxes a mixed and difficult experience. So stick with your current 200-channel setup and three-year-old TiVo. Don’t worry, we’ll let you know when it’s safe to leave that expensive, ancient, and — let’s face it — effective cable TV connection behind.