THE PRACTICAL GEEK
Several weeks into 2013 is a good time to re-assess being a cord cutter in Canada, especially since recent brochures from both Telus and Shaw have landed in my mailbox.
Both are begging me to return to conventional TV, and both gave me pause.
For about a moment. Because despite the extra work involved, a review of my spending on TV in 2012 shows cutting the cord was the smarter financial choice.
Here's what it cost me in 2012 to watch TV as a highly personal case study.
My physical setup changed little and therefore cost little.
I have an Xbox 360, a PlayStation 3 and a Netgear Push2TV adapter.
The Xbox is two years old and came for "free" after switching over to Telus for my Internet. The PlayStation 3 is five years old.
Both devices have more than paid for themselves with frequent usage and are in excellent condition.
The Netgear, which I bought on sale from Dell for $80 early in the year, uses a technology called WiDi to mirror video and audio from WiDi-equipped laptops through to your TV.
(It's similar in function to Airplay mirroring video from iPads and the most recent Macs to the Apple TV.)
It's the only capital expense this year in my setup.
My content purchases were divided between subscription services and purchases for individual TV shows.
Note that online digital stores allow only for the purchase of TV shows - there are no rental options as there are for movies.
I spent $7.99 a month for Netflix for a total of $96. It remained the core of my cord cutting strategy in 2012 and a service I use almost every day.
For individual TV shows, I bought season three of "The Walking Dead" ($52), season five of "Breaking Bad" ($26), and season two of "Sherlock" ($20) from what's now known as the Xbox Video Store. I bought season five of "Mad Men" from iTunes ($32).
Buying a season at a time is cheaper than buying individual episodes and I had no problem buying whole seasons in advance because I am a fan of these shows.
All the episodes were in high definition - cheaper standard definition versions are available.
I spent another $60 getting an Xbox Live Gold membership, which is required to use apps like Netflix, Crackle and Rogers on the Xbox.
That's highway robbery and something Microsoft needs to change if it wants to remain competitive in pricing. It's an expense I will rethink this year.
My total TV spending for 2012 was roughly $286. Compare that to $50 to $100 a month I'd likely be spending with Telus or Shaw to receive a comparable level of choice to what I receive from online digital stores.
Cable TV would give me much more content at any one time, but the vast majority of that TV I don't want and would never watch.
What devices did I use the most?
In 2012, it was a wash between the Xbox and the PlayStation. I alternated between the PlayStation and Xbox for services like Netflix (and Crackle when I was curious or slumming).
On the Xbox, I sometimes used the Rogers app for CBC and CityTV programming and the Disney XD app to find suitable content for kids, although most of the Disney shows are terrible. Curiously, kids care little about quality.
I also used the Netgear Push2TV to watch iTunes video and streaming TV such as Canadian network sites like the Comedy Channel (for "The Daily Show" and "Colbert Report") and the U.S.-only Hulu service for a variety of shows like "Saturday Night Live", "The Office" and the unlamented "Terra Nova".
Getting Hulu to work required a VPN service, which I'll cover in a separate column.
I also rented perhaps a dozen movies from the Xbox and PlayStation video stores. The cost for high definition versions ranged from $5.99 to $7.99, and their cost was offset by gift cards from Christmas for these two stores.
Finally, I used an old-fashioned $15 antenna to watch the occasional news show and hockey on CBC, the only channel I receive reliably over the air in my part of Vancouver.
This was all free. When it came to major international news events like the earthquake in Japan and the American federal election, I turned to Al Jazeera, which is one of the few news networks to offer live English-language news broadcasting online. And it's free.
Barry Link is the editor of The Vancouver Courier.