Cutting the cord: Why I kicked my cable TV company to the curb

Summary:I decided I was sick of spending crazy amounts of money for video content I could get for free, or for far less using various streaming services.

Crystal-clear broadcast television is actually very easy to get in most markets. You can buy any number of small, unobtrusive indoor UHF/VHF antennae that connect to your TV or DVR device via coaxial cable for about $60.

These give you approximately 35 to 50 mile reception from the broadcast source.

The two I had the most success with were the Winegard Flatwave Amped (which is as thin as a placemat and can be hung behind a picture frame, and includes a signal amplifier) and Channel Master's SMARTenna, which can work with or without preamplification and can be mounted indoors or outdoors.

Both of these (as well as others) require some experimentation with positioning, so you'll have to do a couple of channel scans and test out placement before you get the ideal reception with channels/networks you want.

In the case of both of these antennas, the higher I mounted them, the better.

In my case, the town that I reside in is between two large broadcast markets, Miami/Dade to the south, and Palm Beach County to the northeast.

If I aimed the antenna towards one rather than the other, I got some channels in, but I lost a few I wanted, such as the local ABC affiliates, which are farther away than the other network sources.

The best combination in my case was directing it between the two broadcast areas. Checking out antennaweb.org will show you what you can receive in your particular market.

Florida is basically flat as a pancake, so when it isn't raining cats and dogs during the summer, my signal is pretty strong and I don't need to put my antennas outside. But there are also small, outdoor antennae (like the Channel Master SMARTenna) that you can also mount and position accordingly, even on a mast if you need the height. 

Here's my Bill of Materials for equipment costs:

Item Price
TiVo Roamio HD $170.00
802.11ac Wi-Fi router $225.00
Linksys WUMC710 802.11ac media bridges $90.00
Indoor HDTV antenna $60.00
Equipment cost $545.00

I chose this setup because I wanted to ensure the highest possible throughput to my WiFi router located centrally in a guest bedroom (where the broadband coax drop and cable modem is) from the streaming devices in my living room and my master bedroom.

My home layout is such that hard-wiring with Cat-5 Ethernet would be difficult and expensive, as would a comparable MoCA setup using coax. Ethernet over Powerline in my residence has also proven to be unreliable.

However, if you can do this in your home easily, Cat-5 and/or MoCA with a few inexpensive 1000BaseT desktop switches would be the most reliable option, connectivity-wise.

As far as DVR goes, I chose the basic TiVo Roamio because of its integrated Netflix, Hulu+ and Amazon Instant Video rental capability (although no Prime content on it yet) and its excellent search functions and superior user inferface.

TiVo also sells an extender device, the Mini, which runs about $90 and allows you to view live TV as well as your recorded shows in another room, similar to what a Slingbox does.

"If you decide to cut the cord like I did, there's no question that your viewing habits will have to change. You will also have to get used to the idea of some of your content not being available until after your Cable TV-viewing friends have seen it long before you have."

TiVo does come at a recurring cost though, to the tune of $15 per month for the first DVR, or $180.00 per year.

Each Mini is $4.99 a month extra. If you choose to go that route, make sure you have Cat-5 or MoCA, because the setup doesn't work using 802.11ac media bridges and the Mini devices have no Wi-Fi built-in. I learned that lesson the hard way.

The upper-end TiVo Roamios can act as a MoCA host, if you want to just connect two rooms.

So if you factor in that I'm paying about $651 a year for all of my streaming/rental services, that's $831.00 per year. But that's still roughly half of what I was paying for Cable TV with U-Verse.

You could, by the way, do DVR without recurring costs.

Channel Master's DVR+, which I have been testing for the last few weeks, is a great product. I'm strongly considering buying one for my master bedroom, along with another indoor antenna.

However, the user interface isn't as fancy as the TiVo Roamio, and it only has two OTA tuners as opposed to the basic Roamio's four. Their search parameters and show "season pass" also aren't as sophisticated.

Their remote control isn't as slick as the TiVo's either, and right now the device only supports Vudu for movie streaming, although future software updates being promised from the company allude to more on the way.

That being said, the product does work very well for what it does, and it has a free 14-day program guide that it gets from Rovi.

The Channel Master DVR+ comes as a basic model for $249 with 16GB of internal storage, and allows you to bring your own USB 3.0 external hard disk, as well as your own Ethernet connection for the program guide data (the company also sells a USB WiFi dongle for $40). Channel Master also has a 1TB model for $399.99.

If you decide to cut the cord like I did, there's no question that your viewing habits will have to change. You will also have to get used to the idea of some of your content not being available until after your Cable TV-viewing friends have seen it long before you have.

It will probably also require jumping between different devices to see the things you want.

But is it worth the effort? Heck yeah.

Have you also become a cord cutter? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Broadband, After Hours, Innovation

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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