Home > Canada, Cutting Cable, TV and Movies > Cutting The Cable In Canada–Apple iTunes (Part 3)

Cutting The Cable In Canada–Apple iTunes (Part 3)

This is part three of a blog series on cutting the cable in Canada

Every time the topic of online media comes up amongst certain friends and colleagues, the answer I always get back is “iTunes”.  As much as the closed ecosystem of Apple grates on me, in the end if it does what I need then I don’t really care.

I’ve always said that if I can take the money I pay for TV content today, give it to Apple, and they give me all of the same content wherever and whenever I want then sign me up.  Today I tested that theory.

My Cable TV bill: $56.99 before taxes

How much of the content I want is available on iTunes Canada: 78%

How much the content they do have would cost per month: $116.21

image

Ouch! More than double the cost to get three-quarters of the content, and that’s before spending money on new AppleTV devices that I would need to enable this content in a family-friendly way.

Sorry Apple, you’re not in the running for this potential cable-cutter.

Let me summarize where we are so far in the series:

 

Cable TV

Antenna

BitTorrent

Fibe TV
(Toronto)

iTunes

Family Accepted

Star

Star

Star

Star

Star

Creators Paid

Star

Star

Steaming mad

Star

Star

HD Quality

Star

Star

Star

Star

Star

Cost Neutral

Star

Star

Star

Star

Steaming mad

What I Want

Star

Steaming mad

Star

Star

Steaming mad

When I Want

Star

Star

Star

Star

Star

Where I Want

Steaming mad

Star

Star

Star

Star

Rent vs Own

Star

Star

Star

Star

Steaming mad

More Info

Part 1

Part 1

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

 

Stick with me as I test out more internet-based TV and Movie services in the coming days!

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  1. kinch
    February 22, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    Cool articles, Pete. I’m definitely no iTunes fan and am not in the least surprised at the numbers, but isn’t iTunes more like a purchase then a rent? I mean you can delete it but doesn’t buying it from iTunes allow you to keep it forever? Or does the DRM timeout?

    In theory I suppose the same is true for a PVR though it is different in that there is so little control involved … I’m sure I could figure out how to save the content to an external device but I suspect I’d have to break some laws/contractual agreements to do so.

    I am not hopeful for you to be honest, I can’t see why Bell would sell a service that was cheaper than a competing service they sell. They still do ExpressVu right? Which was priced to be competitive with cable and I fully expect Fibe TV to try to do the same, eventually … I think those low prices are the equivalent of a loss-leader (except there isn’t much of a loss really). I think the content market is locked up in Canada and you need to fix that before you are going to see a major difference in price. Let’s see how much FibeTV is once it is available in your area.

    Hope I’m wrong.

    • February 22, 2011 at 4:05 pm

      Kinch: From what I’ve gathered online, Bell plans to replace their Expressvu service with Fibe TV service.

  2. Glenn Moore
    February 22, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    I would tend to agree with you that a full iTunes solution would be cost prohibitive. Even with their ‘season passes’, iTunes is just not all that cheap.

    From a purely technical side though, I don’t think any solution could match iTunes in portability “when I want” and “where I want’. Costing and closed ecosystem aside, Apple has it all figured out. If the content is available in iTunes, it can be *easily* transferred to an iPad, iPod, etc for completely mobile applications (ie. plane, hammock), etc). The new apple TV 2G I just got is only $99 and simply hooks up to a TV using an HDMI cable. So cheap, you could upgrade each TV in your home with one and then have full access to your iTunes library from any of them – wirelessly. If you or your friend have content on an iPhone or iPad, it can easily be streamed (via Airplay) to your Apple TV. I believe some TV manufactures are even going to begin producing TVs with Airplay installed within them.

    I am also finding the ATV G2 incredible for travel. I unfortunately travel a lot >200 nights per year in a hotel room. I take the tiny ATV in my suitcase (solid state) and hook it up to the hotel TV (most of which now have an HDMI input). I can then watch Netflix movies and TV (yes I know content is limited), and if I have TV shows or movies on my iPhone, I just stream it wirelessly to the ATV too. Need be, I can also rent movies off iTunes which *significantly* beats the price of $13.95 most hotels now charge for movies.

    I don’t know if you are considering hybrid solutions, but you can somewhat combine the iTunes solution with OTA. Like you, I have an OTA antenna and gave up on Microsoft Media Center years ago over frustration of non-Canadian support. I use a product called Snapstream (Beyond-TV). After recording all my favorite shows, the software nightly runs batch jobs that re-encodes it from .TS into H.264 iTunes compliant MP4s. It then can automatically update my iTunes library with these additional shows. The only drawback is that it is not real-time (as the show records). It takes an hour or so during the middle of the night to re-encode into H.264. However, once in iTunes, it is then easy to move to my iPad or iPhone to take on the road.

    All this teckie stuff though does not bode well with a WAF. Hence I still have Rogers cable with their insanely stupid PVR so that the family can tape shows like a VCR and I don’t need to provide much support. If I was a single guy though, I would be more than happy with a hybrid solution with OTA -> iTunes + purchased content off iTunes (for the additional specialty shows); especially with my ‘roadwarrior’ lifestyle.

    Glenn

  3. Randall
    February 22, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    Glenn,

    Thanks for the idea. I had planned to go all internet, but you make a compelling case for a hybrid internet/OTA solution. For one thing, although there’s no content I can’t live without, football comes close, so OTA would be a big plus there. Again, thanks.

  4. Glenn Moore
    February 23, 2011 at 12:41 am

    Randall,

    Pleased you are interested in the hybrid OTR -> iTunes idea. Here are some details on how it works for me. Perhaps this can help you explore more, and perhaps you can improve on it.

    1. I use Beyond TV as my PVR software on a small Vista machine (http://www.snapstream.com/products/beyondtv/). I am not saying it is the absolute best PVR but it works for me. Unfortunately the developer no longer updates the product, but the feature set is pretty good and the reliability is solid. I do like that you can control the entire operation remotely though a built-in web server feature that seems to be better and more robust than any other PVR software out there.

    2. I had to pay extra for the H.264 option but I see it is now bundled.

    3. Although it has “iTunes integration”, I actually do not use this feature as it creates an RRS feed that iTunes sees as a podcast feed. I do not like how podcasts show up on my apple TV. I like my shows under the ‘TV shows” and the movies under the “Movies” section of my Apple TV (ATV) or iPad or iPhone; not under the podcast section.

    4. When Beyond TV records a show, you get the HD Transport Stream file. However Beyond TV has a powerful engine to allow you to schedule (I like nightly) a transcoding into H.264 or DivX. Since I like everything on iTunes, I chose the H.264 with settings compatible with my iPad (which will also play nicely on my ATV).
    http://forums.snapstream.com/vb/showthread.php?t=50934&highlight=ipad+settings

    5. Once the MP4 files are created (during the overnight transcoding jobs), I need to add it to iTunes. I found a great freeware program that runs on windows machines that does this. It is called “iTunes Library Updater”
    http://itlu.ownz.ch/wordpress/
    It is old, but works well. It has a GUI interface, but you can use it to generate a command line. This works great with a scheduled batch job. Running the job, this updater searches for new MP4 files (created nightly) and adds them to my iTunes library. Beyond TV does a pretty good job of updating the metadata for the newly created MP4 files such that the title and/or description of the show turns up well in iTunes and therefore on all the apple devices.

    6. One thing to consider is that although this is a nightly job to create iTunes files, my small vista machine which runs Beyond TV is connected directly to a TV as well. Hence at least on that TV I can use the Beyond TV ‘ten foot interface’ to watch live TV, delayed TV, and shows recorded but not yet transcoded yet. Hence if a sporting event is on that is live, I can still watch it. I do have to wait overnight before a MP4 file is created that can be shared around to my other apple products.

    Hope this all helps. If you try it out and find improvements, pls let me know. I am always looking for efficiencies … 😉

    • Randall
      February 23, 2011 at 10:38 pm

      Glenn,

      Thanks again! I did check out the Beyond TV site after seeing it referenced in your first post. My first step is going to be getting OTA setup as at this point I have no antennas or anything! I’m hoping I can find indoor antennas that will work sufficiently as I don’t relish the idea of having to mount one on the roof. : )

      I must admit I do love the old school simplicity of not needing an extra box from the cable or satellite companies and of no frills content delivery.

      I will most certainly let you know if I discover anything that might be an improvement; however, your setup sounds pretty sweet as is. : )

      Cheers,

      Randall

  5. February 23, 2011 at 7:58 am

    Glenn: Thanks for the contribution! I plan to cover hybrid solutions near the end of the series once I’ve reviewed all of the individual options.

    Randall: Without giving away the ending too much, for the needs you mentioned I’d consider looking at a Boxee/OTA hybrid. Give Boxee a download to try it out, and if you like it be aware that there is also a small set-top-box called a boxee box that just plugs in to your TV and should keep things relatively wife-friendly.

    • Randall
      February 23, 2011 at 11:01 pm

      Thanks. I appreciate the suggestion. I do it so happens have Boxee installed on the PC in our bedroom. It’s okay. We do use it some and it’s a big plus being able to control it completely with a remote, but I’m sort of a weirdo when it comes to my interface requirements. I don’t like the menu that pops up overlaid on top of the home screen or that slide out menu, and it doesn’t have some stuff I want, such as access to digital books (I suppose I could use the file browser for that, but that seems awkward). Also, I’ve had trouble with the Boxee Netflix app. It shows duplicates for some reason, and worst of all, we’ve run into too many instances where we got a “sorry, content no longer is available” message after finally finding something we wanted to watch. I don’t have to worry about WAF overly much, but that kind of thing irritates the heck out of us all. So after trying Boxee, XBMC, WMC, and several others I have finally decided I prefer it old school–Windows explorer file management and various separate programs for specific uses, such as WMP for music playback and MPC-HC for video playback. Granted, it doesn’t have the wow factor of Boxee or XBMC and it’s not quite as ideal for remote control management, but it works exactly the way I want it to, and with a combination of custom icons and programs like window blinds, I’ve gotten it to look fairly presentable.

  6. Jack
    February 24, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    I have a question,
    How are you able to spend 116.21 a month for content on iTunes. That’s roughly purchasing 4ish Season Passes per month. How many shows are you following? If you are spending 116 a month that must mean you are purchasing close to 36 shows a year.

    The reason I ask is because I personally purchase my content from iTunes, and although it may cost a lot initially, I figure it levels out as the year goes on.
    Here is my reasoning:

    Lets say I follow 6 TV shows. If I were to purchase SD level content based on a season pass, I would be spending roughly 210 (6 * 35) for these shows. I figure that these season passes would last generally 7 months (24 episodes/4 + 1 month hiatus). Let’s say after that I purchase 6 more season passes, that would be 420 a year.

    Now, I realize this would be different if I were to purchase the HD content, but I still do not think it equates to 1394.52 a year.

    • Nicholas Oddson
      February 24, 2011 at 8:30 pm

      I’d also be interested in seeing the math there because it seemed an excessive monthly charge on iTunes that I was surprised with.

      • February 25, 2011 at 9:09 am

        Nick & Jack:

        Remember that this is TV content for four people with different tastes, not one person. It’s also quite possible that I watch too much TV, but that’s the reality. While changing habits is certainly one of the things that many cable-cutters may consider, those are not the ground rules for this particular exercise.
        I had considered sharing detail, but chose instead to err on the side of readability for this series. Nick, happy to share my math with you next time I see you in person. There is a spreadsheet that I’m comparing all of the alternatives against.

  7. Nicholas Oddson
    February 24, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    One other thing that I happen to look at is aTV Flash (http://firecore.com/atvflash) for non-destructively hacking an AppleTV unit that provides more extended media features such as play any format (no more transcoding!), Boxee and XBMC software. Not exactly 100% on the up and up, but very useful.

  8. Glenn Moore
    February 25, 2011 at 8:48 am

    This thread on iTunes is becoming more and more interesting….

    @Jack – you raise a good point and now have me thinking. I am guessing that with the OTR hybrid solution that I use, I probably get 70% of what I watch over OTR (free). If I supplement the rest with season passes (probably 1/2 dozen shows at $25/pass) then I am only paying $150 per year. Hmmm…. Again as I have said the only issue is that I cannot watch live TV (unless I hook the recording computer right up to the main TV). After an overnight transcoding, I do have each recoded show in H.264 which is extremely portable. In fact I probably have a bunch of self-made season passes right now like the “Big Bang Theory” which has recorded each new episode and had archived them on my hard drive in h.264 mode.

    @Peter – One thing to consider with iTunes (which I use), is to create a US store account. There is greater content on the US store and there is no ip check to see if you are in Canada or not. I have a US store account and I purchase movies and TV directly from that. You cannot pay with a CDN credit card, but I have family and friends often pick my up an itunes gift card for $50 when they are in the US which reloads my account. I would imagine these new pre-paid credit cards can be used as well.

    @Nicholas – I have hacked my silver ATV to do exactly what you say (I have an old ATV and I have one of the new 2G ATVs). You needn’t go to aTV flash. All the tools you need are free. Go to (http://code.google.com/p/atvusb-creator/) to create a patchstick for the old silver ATV. It is really easy to do. It will allow you to put on Boxee and/or XBMC. I prefer XBMC as the menuing system is much nicer (Boxee was built out of XBMC, but in my opinion, it is not as good as XBMC). I tend to use it to link up to my large collection of DIVX and XVID movies I have got from (ahem..cough cough… various means). The family loves XBMC and uses it extensively. For the new 2G ATV, it is a little harder as you have to ‘Jailbreak’ the ATV since the new 2G uses the new iOS operating system (same as the iphones, etc). You can find some directions on this here (http://wiki.xbmc.org/index.php?title=Install_XBMC_on_ATV2) but I have tried the new XBMC on it and it is still a little flakey. Anyhow, ATV flash is probably a good product, but you are paying for convenience. You can do the same thing with freeware tools as I have done. Boxee and XBMC are rock solid on my old silver ATV. They still seem to be a bit flakey on the new ATVs.

    @Peter – I was excited about the new Boxee box when it came out even though it had a high price tag for a single purpose appliance (you can buy a great little atom computer that will run boxee and do much much more for only $100 more). I had some quite teckie friends buy a boxee box one and each friend has ended up taking it back to the store. According to them the box is terrible for dropping wifi signals, overheating, etc. Neither was pleased with it.

  1. February 23, 2011 at 7:53 am
  2. February 24, 2011 at 9:46 am
  3. March 4, 2011 at 4:54 pm
  4. January 4, 2012 at 10:00 pm

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