- Click here to skip my Doofenshmirtz-level backstory and right to the review
Let’s be clear: there is no better feeling than the day you break up with your Internet/TV/Phone provider and cut the cord. Every cord cutter knows what their breaking point was. Mine came when I called Verizon this summer to try and get a better price than the $120+ I was paying for (to be honest, decently fast and pretty reliable) FiOS Internet along with an assortment of cable channels we almost never used. But I started to wonder more and more as the bills came rolling in: is that reliability worth such a mark-up, when Verizon was recently offering Internet-only plans for $40 for new customers (and only new customers)? I decided no.
If only I’d threatened to cancel in just the right way…
Anyway, after making my complaints known, and listening to FiOS customer service hemming and hawing, the best Big Red could do for me was $95/month, still including local channels by the way. Somehow having TV in the bundle actually lowers the price (probably due to some stupid government subsidy). Regardless, still too rich for my blood. Then, I was told when canceling my service on the 2nd call that they could have gotten my cost down as low as $65, if I had figured out how to threaten them in just the right way the first time I called, whatever that means. That was the last straw, goodbye Verizon.
Being fortunate enough to live in one of the few areas in America with somewhat of a choice of broadband provider, I signed up with Charter I mean Spectrum for plain and simple Internet. At the best of times, the broadband tests say our speed gets up into maybe the 80 Mbit/s range, and for a much more manageable $40 a month. So I’m willing to forgive a momentary loss of service now and again if my cable modem hasn’t been rebooted recently enough, and it’s suddenly overwhelmed by a tidal wave of kids streaming YouTube and online gaming.
We still watch traditional TV occasionally in my house, so we had to find something to satiate that need. We tried Playstation Vue and found it ok, but pricey to get all the channels we wanted. We tried Hulu and I balked at the commercial infestation that comes with their basic $40 TV package, unless you shell out even more money. We more or less had settled on Sling, which had both a mix of channels we liked and features we were used to from years of TiVo: a cloud DVR and ability to pause live TV. Or so we thought. All for about $40, still under Verizon’s ‘best’ deal we could figure out how to get at least.
Sling DVR: Nothing is more frustrating than being told you can’t use a feature you’re paying extra to have.
But have you used the DVR/live TV pause feature on Sling? Want to pause that NFL Network show you’re watching? Nah. Cartoon Network show? Nope. MSNBC?! That’s right, you can’t pause the news in Sling TV land. If you’ve ever used TiVo or any decent DVR before, you are probably accustomed to watching live TV a certain way and it goes something like: find something you want to watch, select that channel, pause at the first commercial break to let the recording buffer fill up, come back in a few minutes, skip over the commercials, and repeat. Kiss that modus operandi goodbye, dear cord cutter. Nothing is more frustrating than being told you can’t use a feature you’re paying extra to have. And just forget about skipping commercials on the majority of shows you record for later.
I really don’t know how it’s possible that Sling managed to negotiate such a bad deal with the channel providers when it came to pausing or commercial skipping, but boy did they do just that. Needless to say we were still on the hunt for an alternative, and despite some promising recent developments in YouTube TV land, a lack of full Viacom and Turner channels meant it was still out of the running for us.
Enter Spectrum TV Stream and TV Choice Packages
Recently, Spectrum introduced a “TV Stream” package which consists of 25 channels for about 25 bucks, on the idea that if you’re going to pay for a slim TV bundle with only a few channels, you may as well pay them for it. It works on Rokus and most other devices you probaably have and seems to look a lot like an independent streaming offering. But like so many other other streaming services, they pick the channels, and if you don’t like what they’re offering and want more ‘tiers’, the price is going to jump right back up into the same $40+ range you can get almost anywhere else.
However, Spectrum also has a very quietly advertised package called TV Choice (confused yet on this naming?) and this is where things get good. As cord cutters, what you always tell others (and yourself) is “I only watch like 5 channels!” Well, time to put your monty where your mouth is. This plan you a whopping 10 channels, from almost any channel package (Turner, Viacom, Scripps, whatever), plus you get your local channels and things like PBS and MeTV as a bonus. It’s the most diverse set of channel options I know of. This worked out great for me because there’s always one channel from group A that we couldn’t get in one of the Sling or other companies’ slim bundles, and many channels we didn’t watch.
The effort of picking just 10 though seems easy until you try to do it. Giving up something like all Disney channels because you want Nick and Cartoon Network for your kids, leaving you with just 8 other channels for everything else you watch is just something it takes time to make your peace with. But the control offered is unprecedented for a cord cutter, and I love it.
One things Spectrum has done a really great job on is the Watch Spectrum app. In my time using it the past week, I have never had a hiccup on mobile, the roku app, Samsung TV app, it all works flawlessly and all at the same time. The guide shows you only the channels you’ve actually subscribed to, though the on-demand does show you shows for channels you don’t get.
Now for the downsides. First, there’s NO DVR option at all, unless you decide to grab a CableCard for your TiVO or other device, or one of their own pricey mammajammers. I made the mistake of ordering the CableCard at the same time, and thus did not get any channels via the Watch Spectrum app within the promised 2 hours of ordering. When you do this, the order gets configured to wait for the CableCard setup to activate. After 2 calls to support I was finally able to get the service turned on without waiting for the CableCard activation. My advice: even if you want to eventually get a CableCard (which costs a very reasonable $2 per month versus Verizon’s $5) just leave it off the order until after you try out the service. Given how terrible every streaming service’s cloud DVR has been, I’m happy to have to set up my own box, as I’ve been a TiVo devotee for years.
Secondly, and something you might not be used to if you’ve long since cut the cord, but now that you’re dealing with cable again, they hit you with those weird broadcast fee and whatever other nonsense that may have made you quit in the first place. So it ends up closer to $25 a month for the basic TV Choice plan. More fine print: after two years this goes up another $10 or so, meaning you’re getting back to around the $35 mark. I sincerely hope by then that the streaming services get more granular with the options they offer, or at least substantially up their DVR game. But for me, this Spectrum package worth it just for the full control you get over the channels you want, and only those channels.
Finally, and perhaps most frustratingly, you may not even be eligbile for the service. If you already have TV and Internet service with Spectrum you may not ‘qualify’ for the offer, i.e. why should they offer something when you’re already paying for more. But, maybe that’s just the right way to threaten to cancel your service: ‘give me TV Choice or I’m out of here’. It’s worth it.