The Myth of Hardware

One of the biggest beefs I had when I was a cable subscriber was with the quality and cost of hardware provided.

Let's talk about quality first.

The two big cable providers here in the GTA would have you believe that their technology is modern cutting edge technology. Right now Rogers has something called the NextBox 3.0 PVR while Bell has the Whole Home PVR.

Rogers claims on it's website that the NextBox 3.0 PVR can record over 120 hours of HD programming and that it can record up to 8 shows at once.

Bell claims on it's website that the Whole Home PVR can record up to 300 hours in HD and that it can record 4 shows at the same time.

Sounds great right?

If you take a closer look at the world of cable it's not. For me the gold standard in hardware has always been the TiVo. You've probably heard of TiVo before, it's mentioned in American movies and TV shows all the time. You can see it in action by clicking here and read a full CNEt review.


 

The cheapest TiVo you can buy now will record 75 hours of HD programming and can record 4 shows at the same time. It's hard to explain just how amazing the TiVo is. You really have to use it. I bought one almost 10 years ago before HD really took off. It did a lot of little things right even then. I would have loved to keep using it but it wouldn't record HD shows and the process to use it was fairly complicated here in Canada.

Unfortunately TiVo never really took off here in Canada and not because they weren't desired. You can buy a TiVo here but you'd be hard pressed to find one in stores. This is mostly because the US cable providers use something called cable card technology which allows users to use a wide variety of hardware that you don't neccisarily have to buy or rent from a cable provider. This was a response by the US cable companies to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and essentially allows that allows US consumers to view and record digital cable television channels on digital video recorders, personal computers and television sets without the use of other equipment.

For some reason Rogers and Bell have never supported this technology and if you bought a TiVo and tried to use it here you wouldn't be able to obtain a cable card from either of those providers through purchase or rental. It's never been clear why the CRTC has not forced the Canadian cable companies to adapt to this technology but one thing is clear it ceratinly limits consumers choices in Canada when it comes to hardware.

This lack of choice also comes with a hefty price tag.

Rogers NextBox 3.0 will cost you over $500 to buy (per box) or you can rent it for $25.00 a month (per box) That means to rent one box for a year would cost you $300 for just one TV.

Bell on the other hand will let you purchase their Whole Home PVR for $499 or you can rent it for $15.00 a month or $180 for the year.

And here is where we get to my main problem with hardware. Buying any kind of hardware is a fools bet. Buying a box or boxes from any cable company is the biggest waste of your money mostly because it's clear that like most hardware it can get outdated quickly. We all do it and yes sometimes you have to bite the bullet and buy hardware but you have to be smart about it. I always ask myself two questions before I buy hardware. How much is it and what's the life cycle of this product?

It's important to ask these two questions because if I'm going to lay out $500 for a product that say only does one thing and it will only be relevent to use for about a year or so before another version comes out and you can bet that many of these companies won't buy back the hardware.

The current crop of cable TV technology is over priced and under whelming. If you are currently using a PVR then cord cutting is for you. Why?

Consider this, the average cord cutting device is about $100 to purchase. It supports a wide variety of services that is constantly being updated and if you have multiple TV's in your house you can purchase 5 of these devices for the same cost of one cable box. There is also a huge selection of devices.

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On top of that with all of the streaming services these devices allow you to access you are using cloud based technology. This means that there is no need for you to set timers or deal with conflicts to record your shows. They get recorded and made available automatically and not just the shows you like.

On top of that these services are available on multiple devices. Computers, gaming consoles, tablets and Smart TV’s. So in some cases you might not even need to buy multiple set top boxes for your TV.

It's just another reason why cutting the cable cord is the smart choice.