Let's talk about hardware and why cable boxes are dumb.

One of the biggest beefs I had when I was a cable subscriber was with the quality and cost of the hardware provided. Cable boxes always seemed so bulky and poorly designed to me.

Let's talk about quality first.

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

Rogers claims on it's website that the NextBox 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 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 $599 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 only does one thing and it will only be relevant 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 cable boxes are locked to one system. If you have a Rogers box you can't use it with another provider. That's why the TiVo box and others like in the US use the cable card technology so you can use a box with any provider, you just get a card from your cable provider. Much like you can do with an unlocked cell phone.

Take a look on Kijiji or any other classified website and you'll see a lot of ads for people who have switched providers or cut the cord and are selling their cable boxes here in Canada.

The current crop of cable TV technology is over priced and under whelming. Many of the issues are best summed up in this article:

Cable-Box Rentals: A Needless $19-Billion Industry

If you are currently using a PVR then cord cutting is for you. Why?

Consider this, the average cord cutting device is about $200 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 several of these devices or you can move the small portable devices from TV to TV.  There is also a huge variety 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 any conflicts to record your shows. They get recorded and made available automatically and not just the shows you like. Every show ever is recorded.

All of 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.

 AppleTV compared to the Rogers Next Box

AppleTV compared to the Rogers Next Box

 

There is also the advantage of being able to travel with these devices. Over the last few years whenever I've been on an extended vacation I bring my Apple TV along with my tablet with me. Staying at any Air B&B with internet means I can plug my Apple TV in and still catch up on all of my content when I want. 

Can you do that with anything from Rogers or Bell?

It's just another reason why cutting the cable cord is the smart choice. The cable box will soon be extinct and once it's gone you will wonder why we ever even needed it.