Last April I wrote about taking the first steps to ‘Cutting the Cord’ on traditional media contracts. Since then much has changed, both in my consumption habits, but also in the industry in general.
My current set-up also reflects this shift, and while many aspects probably deserve their own detailed posts, here’s a quick overview of what’s happened in the last 12 months.
For the first time ever, Virgin Media offered me a broadband contract without the unnecessary landline as part of deal (not surprising as the younger generation don’t even know what one is), which meant my original goal of downscaling their ‘bundle’ package was a lot easier.
While the renewal process is a separate story in itself, I was able to not only save a huge amount on my base price, but also keep that offer for the entire length of my new contract (previously ‘deals’ would often involve credit added to your bill and a discount for a limited number of months only). It’s good to see them trying to suit modern needs.
As part of a bigger Wi-Fi revamp, I also finally put their awful Super Hub into modem mode – a router in no way suited to modern multi-device homes, let alone smart homes – and added my own Wi-Fi mesh, which has made a huge difference, albeit at some expense.
The biggest change in viewing habits has come via an Apple TV 4K. I’d setup Plex (see below) and a NAS to replicate the live TV and recording facility of a traditional set-top box (we previously had the Virgin Media V6), but, in all honesty, have only used it a handful of times.
The Apple TV has been revolutionary, and like Apple’s old motto – it just works. Mostly this is in the form of an aggregator of apps, and ours is nearly solely used in the Apple TV app where programmes can be added to an ‘Up Next’ queue. This is effectively a modern version of series-linking, and includes nearly every UK streaming app.
Watching a show is as simple as clicking the thumbnail, and it plays directly from the provider’s app. Once watched, it gets replaced with the next in the series, and so on.
The Apple TV also has an App Store and many other features, including YouTube, TNT Sports via discovery+, and Netflix (which annoyingly, due to a frustrating company decision, doesn’t directly integrate with the platform’s Up Next recommendations). As a result the Apple TV has become virtually the only place we watch content on our TV.
Like many others, subscriptions are a bit of a merry-go-round in our household. With many new Apple hardware purchases you get at least 3 months free Apple TV+, and we’ve used similar offers through other products to get Disney+, ITVX’s ad-free version, and Amazon Prime. Netflix was shared through an external family account, but will soon be stopping with their password crackdown. We also pay for Channel 4 premium, as it’s easily our most-watched app, and well worth £40/year to not sit through any ads.
Aside from subscriptions, I’ve been a long-term user of Plex, primarily for hosting personal digital copies of DVDs and Blu-rays on a media server. With the new setup I also purchased a lifetime Plex Pass, one perk of which allows access to their Live TV and DVR service. It works relatively smoothly, and recordings sit perfectly in your current library. Watching is easy via the Plex app on Apple TV, and even integrates with the Apple TV app’s ‘Up Next’ system.
That said, with the sheer amount of content now available via streaming – over the last year BBC iPlayer, ITVX, and Channel 4 alone have added a huge amount of both new and archive content, plus the international paid services – our Plex server has been quite unloved.
Overall, I’m exceptionally pleased with our new ISP contract and TV setup, which works incredibly well. And while there’s some room for future advancements on the Apple TV – notably a true children’s profile system that integrates with safe content from the app providers – using it is such a smooth experience that we’ve not missed the traditional channel-based approach from the large service providers at all.