Can I cut the cable now!?

Nearly a year ago, I offered tips for cutting the cable bill. In that article, I extolled the virtues of free TV ala Hulu; TV network sites; such media center applications as XBMC, Plex, and Boxee; and mentioned Netflix’s Watch Instantly as a then-limited streaming video service worth keeping an eye on.

There have been some recent changes to streaming video that compel me to ask again: Is it finally time to disconnect the cable?

Yes…

The first change is Hulu Plus—Hulu’s $10-a-month subscription-based TV streaming service (still in limited beta release and not available outside the U.S.). While Hulu Plus demands that you watch as many commercials as you do using the free version of Hulu, it provides full seasons of some popular and current shows and streams a portion of its content in 720p HD.

Netflix’s Watch Instantly service has also changed. When I looked at Watch Instantly’s offerings last year, they were pretty grim—B movies and ancient TV series abounded. In the last several months, Netflix has signed deals that bring better and more current content to the Watch Instantly side of its business. And Netflix continues to pursue such deals in the hope that it can buck up its online content to keep and attract customers. For example, Netflix has made arrangements with the independent film production company Relativity Media to stream its content a few months after DVD versions are released (during the so-called “pay TV window”).

And then there’s the iPad. Both Hulu Plus and Netflix offer free iPad apps for streaming each service’s content wirelessly. And, with a fast broadband connection, that content looks pretty good. Plus, it’s affordable. For just under $20 a month, you have access to a decent library of movies and older and current TV series. Compare that to what you now pay for cable or satellite TV, and you may wonder just how much you’ll miss your current TV connection.

Finally, there’s always the iTunes Store. Although talk of an Apple subscription service remains just that, you can still purchase and download TV shows a la carte or as complete seasons (saving some money in the process) to watch on computers or a bevy of Apple devices.

…But

There are, of course, plenty of disincentives for dropping your TV plan. Sports and other live events being paramount in a lot of peoples’ minds. If you plant yourself on the couch at 8 AM on Saturday to catch the first college game and don’t shift your keister until after Sunday’s 11 PM sports wrap-up, your current TV connection is irreplaceable. However, if you’re choosy about your sport, you have options. NBA Live and MLB.TV stream basketball and baseball games, respectively. (Each requires a subscription and they don’t stream games that are blacked out in your area.) And there are also apps that stream these sports to your iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.

And then there are the media companies that make it more expensive to leave than to stay. It’s not uncommon for people to have an outfit such as Comcast deliver not only their TV broadcasts, but also their Internet service (and sometimes phone service too) as part of a package. Drop the TV service and suddenly your bill goes up rather than down (or, at the very least, doesn’t drop very much).

And what would some people (me included) do without their precious DVRs? There’s real benefit in being able to easily record TV shows for later viewing—and when finally getting around to viewing, pressing a button to zip through commercials.

As I was a year ago, I’m tempted. But whether out of habit, laziness, or the unwillingness to give up a favorite HBO or Showtime program, my TV remains tethered.

How about you? Ready to cut the cord?

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