Today is my seventh Nomadiversary – seven years since I cut the cord and left traditional fixed-location life behind.
Over the years, I’ve often been asked “Why?” – what inspired me to hit the road to head out to see the world with only a ridiculously small Tab Clamshell and a little Jeep Liberty to call home.
Why leave behind an awesome San Francisco penthouse apartment with a million dollar panoramic view?
Up until now, I’ve been reluctant, and even slightly embarrassed, to admit the real reason…
I’d run out of things to watch.
You see – I had long been a media junky. I had a killer surround sound audio system, a thumping subwoofer, and a 34″ widescreen Panasonic HDTV – one of the largest and heaviest CRT’s ever produced.
I was one of the very first to have a TiVo, and was also an early Dish network subscriber.
I even had a laser disc player!
But – this was the days before widespread HDTV broadcast, or Blu-Ray. There wasn’t anything on TV that would do my beautiful television justice, and I was running out of exciting movies in my Netflix queue.
If anything, the super-sharp HD screen just made most shows look worse.
So instead of enjoyably watching TV, I’d stare out my window watching the fog spill over Twin Peaks. Sure – that was natural HD, but it was the same show every day.
Traffic, city lights, fog… Repeat.
I was getting bored.
Changing the channel had lost its appeal, but changing locations opened up entire new avenues of adventure!
I thought for certain I’d soon be tuning into Alaska, and Baja, and far-away exotic countries! The world would be mine!
And it was…
The one thing I hadn’t realized though was that changing locations might not be quiet as easy as changing stations. Seven years have passed, and I still haven’t made it to Alaska. Or into Mexico. Or across any oceans.
And meanwhile… TV has blossomed!
Channels are in HD now, and there are so many more of them to choose from!!! And there is even video on demand – you don’t even need to wait for a show to come on any more!
For family health reasons and to be near loved ones, we’ve stopped for a while to live in a trailer park near the beach in Florida. And one afternoon two weeks ago, it dawned on us that for the first time in seven years cable TV is an option!
Having become hooked on the first two seasons of “Game of Thrones” on Blu-Ray, we’ve been fretting over having to wait another year to watch season three – so when we saw the cables dangling overhead we jumped at the chance to sign up for Bright House Cable, and HBO!
Now, not only do we get 26 channels of HBO, plus HBO on Demand… We have so many other channels to surf as well! So much glorious content to consume – we will never be bored again!!!
The local Bright House channel lineup is actually 17 pages, and the channels range from 1 (TV Japan) to 1991 (TV Japan HD), with so many other options in between that it is hard to even get an accurate count!
I decided to surf through from one end to another, and it actually took me 41 minutes and 29 seconds (really!) to flip through and see everything that is on, not stopping once to actually watch anything.
Of course – it takes anywhere between 3-7 seconds just to change a channel, so most of the time spent “surfing” is actually staring at a black screen. And it seems that most of the “channels” are actually ones that we don’t subscribe to – with a screen prompting to call to activate, or to click to spend $$$ to add the appropriate “pack” or pay-per-view experience.
There is no way to opt-out of seeing all these unsubscribed channels, and I imagine the cat falling asleep on the remote could turn into quite an expensive adventure if she ends up clicking on one of the $25/mo Asian channels!
Some of the channels that we DO subscribe to also don’t come in – occasionally popping up a “Currently Unavailable” alert. The cable installer said we had a “perfect signal”, so I can only assume that a flock of space birds is interfering with the channel’s satellite.
But still – of the channels that do come in… A lot of them are in English! And a slight majority of them are not shopping networks, or Jesus, or music jukeboxes, or one of a gazillion sports channels!
There is so much to watch – it is like a treasure hunt to find it! If you think of it like an Easter Egg hunt, you can probably avoid throwing your remote across the room in frustration.
Wait… This isn’t glorious. This is torture!
Of course – rather than surf, you can use the on-screen guide – which helpfully shows you just one hour’s worth of programming on five channels at a time – using only a tiny fraction of the screen. It is like trying to read a newspaper through a hole the size of a penny.
And of course, you can’t filter out the channels you don’t get, the languages you don’t speak, or the type of programming you have no interest in.
You can’t even disable the non-HD channels, even the ones that have HD versions. I imagine this is just in case you ever feel like the picture is too sharp and clear, and you want to watch the low-res version of a show instead…
There is some basic browsing and searching menus, but the user interface would have felt primitive to interact with back in the 90’s. In fact – I think that might be when the cable box software was written. At least being so old, that should mean that they’ve shaken all the bugs out – right?
Well – our first cable box installed by Bright House had a habit of locking up every night. So they sent an installer back out to replace it, but the second one he brought was actually DOA.
He didn’t have a third in his truck, so he “upgraded” us to the more advanced “Whole House DVR” model, which featured the exact same ancient and slow low-res UI, but a slightly bigger hard drive for recording programs.
Recording programs on the DVR is nice – we’ve been using it to watch the new season of The Voice, and love being able to fast forward through commercials.
But… Programming the DVR is a royal pain, since the program guide only looks forward two days ahead. If you want to schedule a recording further out, tough. (CORRECTION: The guide goes out a week, but it takes a while to download it all and when I first tested I could only scroll out two days. But the UI is so poor that it hardly matters in the end…)
And if you set up a “series recording” to record all episodes, the DVR might choose to record the SD version instead of HD. You know, just in case you might prefer a low-res and fuzzy picture… (It mostly gets it right, but with one series recording I tested the low-res version did get picked. Why even show the non-HD options?!!?)
Because the DVR programming limitations, we accidentally missed out on recording a show Cherie enjoys following last week – Grey’s Anatomy. But no worries – Bright House has an awesome “Look Back” feature that lets you catch up on a lot of Prime Time shows from the past week that you might have missed, on demand.
Sure once you start playing an episode you can’t pause, rewind, or fast-forward it – but at least we had Grey’s Anatomy in HD with only a little bit of futzing with the non-intuitive UI.
Until… Three quarters of the way into the show, the cable box decided to spontaneously reboot – a process which takes over five minutes. Gotta love that old rock-solid software these boxes are running.
And of course, starting the episode again via “Look Back” would have required Cherie to watch the entire thing through from the beginning since fast-forward is blocked.
Did they even do any usability testing!?!?
BTW – watching Grey’s Anatomy or The Voice on our iPad via the nework’s native iPad apps have only a few minutes of un-skipable commercials that you have to sit through, and you can fast-forward the episode. But via the cable box, nearly 20 minutes of commercials were mandated.
Yet these app’s are free, and we are paying handsomely for cable TV?!?
Despite all the frustrations and limitations, there actually is some good stuff to be found surfing around on Bright House. I found some shows that featured some exotic remote places, in HD! I bet if I look long enough I can find something filmed in Alaska, or Baja! And maybe I’ll end up learning a new language in the process as I surf past so many Spanish stations!
I can hardly believe it – the experience of cable TV today is actually worse than it was seven years ago when I hit the road!!! It is so bad, I can hardly fathom how so many people actually continue to put up with it.
Technology has leapfrogged these ancient cable boxes, allowing most our desired content to be streamed – if only we had a consistent source of sufficient bandwidth to power it all.
HBO’s “HBO Go” app and streaming experience is incredible – if only they would sell it directly instead of cable companies forcing their hand to only offering the feature to cable subscribers. We’d pay for this in a heartbeat if we could, especially if it integrated with our Apple TV box.
It is not the price of cable TV packages that is the problem. I would happily pay MORE for a service that gave me a few dozen channels that I actually cared about, a great UI, fabulous search and discovery, easy access to on-demand shows, and DVR recording without ridiculous playback restrictions.
And most importantly, a service which kept the rest of the crap HIDDEN and out of site.
500 channels is not 10x better than 50 channels, it is 10x worse!
I should be able to flip through all the channels I care about in time to return to catch a show I spotted – impossible if it takes 41 minutes to get back around!
No wonder so many people are hoping for Apple to step in and do to television what they did to phones – the current situation is a horrible plodding mess.
It is a real shame too – we are actually currently in a golden age of television content.
Shows like Game of Thrones, Mad Men, True Blood, Dexter – these are some of the best things ever made for television.
Even network shows like The Voice, Grey’s Anatomy, and Big Bang Theory are our guilty pleasures.
There is a lot of incredibly great stuff out there. If only it didn’t come wrapped in such a crappy package.
There are other ways to get HBO shows, and even if we do have to wait another year for the next season of Game of Thrones to hit Blu-Ray – well, waiting is better than dealing with such a craptastic experience as this taste of cable has given us.
I think I need to grab some scissors and cut this damn cord again, ASAP!
An honest cable ad: <direct link>
Good bye Bright House – we’ll keep your zippy semi-reliable cable internet while we’re here (it drops for a minute or two every hour or two – making streaming video feel a bit glitchy), but we’re going to be passing on the TV ‘experience’ you provide.
These nomads are too spoiled by knowing what life is like ‘out there’ – we aren’t ready to return to the couch just yet, no matter how many channels of pretty HD you tempt us with.
Here’s to starting my 8th year on the road!
- Sixth Nomadiversary – Reminiscing about all the changes over the years.
- Fifth Nomadiversary – Giving up nomadism and buying a condo (not!) in the Virgin Islands.
- Fourth Nomadiversary – Discovering the secret prize that comes inside every box of wine.
- Third Nomadiversary – Camped on a beach near Malibu, watching dolphins frolic.
- Second Nomadiversary – Working with Cherie to custom design our Oliver, moving up from a trailer ideal for one to one made for two.
- First Nomadiversary – Preparing to set out with Cherie, reminiscing about my first very eventful year on the road.