Dump your Cable or Satellite bill with free HDTV

Dump your Cable or Satellite bill with free HDTV

Summary: For those of us who only need local HDTV, now is the time to switch to OTA (Over the Air) HD broadcasts and dump the expensive Cable or Satellite services. Even if you don't plan to dump Cable or Satellite, why pay an extra $10 a month for local HD programming? The equipment is now cheaper than ever with these Black Friday deals so get your shopping carts ready. Not only is the TV service free but it looks better than ever.

TOPICS: Hardware

It's that time of year again when we kick off the Christmas shopping season with the biggest sale of the year after Thanksgiving called the Black Friday sales.  If you're going to buy things for this holiday season, this would be a very good day to find some awesome discounts if you're willing to get up at 3 AM in the morning on a Friday morning.  Just be careful and aware of your personal safety since there are a few bad apples roaming around.  There are also news stories of people getting trampled at stores like Wal-Mart every year.

Last week I ended my Dish TV service because I got sick and tired of paying the high monthly bill when my family rarely watches TV.  Since my DLP HDTV has an ATSC HDTV tuner built in, I am getting all the major networks and all the local channels in glorious digital 480i, 720p, and 1080i for free.  This means you get everything from Monday Night Football [UPDATE 1:10PM - someone pointed out to me that this ended this year and MNF moved to ESPN but you can still get college and Sunday football and other sports in free HD], the Opera, the Ballet, Desperate House Wives, and many other programs in perfect high definition.  Some of my friends have noticed what I'm doing and asked me how they can get the same thing for their homes and what kind of TV do they need to buy.

All I did was get a $40 outdoor antenna from Radio Shack and a $10 mounting kit.  Radio Shack also has a pretty useful amplified coax splitter if you have more than one HDTV or an HD tuner in your PC in addition to an HDTV.  I also tried this internal antenna from SnapStream Media and it works pretty well for an internal antenna if it's placed high enough or in a good position.  You may have to adjust the positioning to get certain channels so it's not as effective as an external antenna.  I also tested the DVICO FusionHDTV 5 RT Lite on a PC to record over the air HDTV/SDTV broadcasts and it gave me a perfect digital rip on the hard drive.  I got some cheap RG-6 100' cables from my local Fry's Electronics since it cost a lot more at Radio Shack.  If you don't live near one, just search for RG-6 on the Internet and there are plenty of bulk distributors that are inexpensive.  [UPDATE 1:10PM - Someone reminded me that there is no such thing as an HD antenna and that any existing outdoor antenna and cabling you may already have will work just fine.]  As for the HDTV you'll need, this is where the Black Friday specials come in.

Most older HDTVs that were sold before 2006 didn't come with ATSC tuners and you were stuck with what was called an "HD ready" TV.  That means you couldn't actually watch HD programs until you purchased premium HD service from your cable or dish provider or you purchased a separate ATSC HD tuner which could easily cost you more than $200 and some times much higher.  The good news is that even the cheap smaller TVs have digital tuners built in because the US Congress has mandated an end to analog TV broadcasts around the end of this decade.  Here are some great deals on TVs with built in ATSC digital tuners.

  • Wal-Mart has this non-HD 27" TV for $180 with a standard definition digital tuner.  It doesn't display high definition but you can at least get clear digital broadcasts wherever you can get at least half a signal.  The analog signal might be all distorted with snow artifacts but the digital signal comes in perfectly.
  • Best Buy has this 51" 1080i 51" Hitachi projection HDTV for $700 with an HD tuner built in.  For a 1080i HDTV of this size with an HD tuner built in, this is probably the lowest price I've seen.
  • If you want a higher quality LCD model with 1366x768 resolution that is clear enough to double as a massive computer monitor, Best Buy has this 32" Westinghouse LCD HDTV with HD tuner for $480.  The normal price is $800.  Even though it only rated as a 720p TV, it will still down sample the 1080i streams and the 1366x768 resolution LCD means it's clearer than the larger DLP screens that are actually unsuitable for computer use.  Even though the resolution is relatively low by computer LCD standards, it's high enough and people who have a harder time reading smaller text will love the massive text and icons on this type of display.  Anyone living in a smaller condo or apartment or is a college student could use this as their primary computer display and use it as an HDTV while the computer is off.  It also makes for one hell of a gaming monitor.
  • Circuit City has a similar deal on a 32" Olevia 232v LCD HDTV with HD Tuner for $500.  If you don't live near a Best Buy or they're sold out, try Circuit City if you're looking for a deal like this.  If that doesn't work, Wal-Mart has this 32" LCD HDTV with HD tuner for $600 which is still a fairly good deal.
  • [Update 2:30 AM - Home Depot will have a 32" LCD HDTV with Tuner for $478 and Fry's had this 37" 1080P 1920x1024 LCD HDTV with Tuner for $1000 which would make an awesome computer monitor as well]

Now all these deals (except the non-HD 27" model) have HDMI digital input ports so you can get a DVI to HDMI cable to use these HDTVs as a computer display for a media PC.  The 51" DLP or any DLP or LCOS projection HDTV in my experience can't be used for office computing since the text doesn't look very clear and can hurt your eyes but you can use it to play video games or play smooth upscaled video from your PC.  The 32" LCD models can be used for any computer application so long as your video card supports 1366x768 resolution and has a DVI or HDMI port.

For those of us who only need local HDTV, now is the time to switch to OTA (Over the Air) HD broadcasts and dump the expensive Cable or Satellite services.  Even if you don't plan to dump Cable or Satellite, why pay an extra $10 a month for local HD programming?  The equipment is now cheaper than ever with these Black Friday deals so get your shopping carts ready.  Not only is the TV service free but it looks better than ever.

 [poll id=6]

Topic: Hardware

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  • HDTV Not yet for me

    Although it does help to see that the cost of the service is better than cable, I don't yet have a reason to drop my cable service. Plus I am almost certain that I can't find any network in this broadcast area.
    • I said the same thing...

      BUT.... I went ahead and took the plunge a couple of months ago when I bought a Mitsubishi 62" 1080i DLP for under 2000 bucks at Fry's. (damn sweet deal)

      I wasn't going to get digital service (my tv also has the ATSC HDTV built-in tuner), but then I found out something.

      With basic cable (15 bucks a month) my TV doesn't need a cable box to tune into the Free HDTV channels, as they are also mandated by Congress to be made available in addition since they are also broadcast channels. Time Warner just doesn't tell anybody that they are included at no extra charge in the upper end of the spectrum.

      So, there I am.... watching a football game in glorious HD. I then later watched the World Series in HD. Sold.

      If you're a sports fan... it is definately WORTH it.

      Now... as for whether I get a HD-DVD or Blue-Ray.... but that's another discussion. I think I'll get a PS3 and a HD-DVD. My wife won't even know that we have both. =)
      • Exactly, I even got a 1080p 72" from Fry's for $2000

        I noticed all the free HD channels and I started wondering why I was paying $65/month for Dish. My kids really don't get to watch that much TV because they spend time reading and doing other things. The free OTA crystal clear HD broadcasts allowed me to end my Dish service.
        • You were paying too much for your DiSH service

          DiSH has multiple levels of service and it's add $5.00 for most levels to get the local channels on top of package;

          the packages start at $19.99 (for the 35 channel Family pack) and then moves to 29.99 (for the America top 60 which is misnamed as it is actually more than 60 channels) and then moves to 39.99 (For America top 120 which is really closer to 200 channels), 49.99 for Americas top 180 (Closer to 240 channels it has The Movie channel + Encore channels) and 84.99 for the everything pack- All the premium channels.

          Okay those are the nonHD channels. Something to keep in mind though is that HD actually makes re-runs designed for standard TV look like poo- you know your old re-runs of Friends and Seinfeld, what a lot of cable stations are airing.

          Now if you move into the DiSH HD packages what they actually selling you at the $49.99 level is America's top 60 plus 26 (15 Voom HD + 11 Misc Network HD) HD Channels. The Silver 59.99 (What you most likely had) is Americas top 120 + the 26 HD Channels, The Gold package is America's top 180 + 27 HD channels and it's -no shock here 69.99. The $99.99 package goes for a whopping $99.99 and includes HD premium channels.

          Okay, where people go wrong is they are not aware of their local offerings. Go to http://tvlistings5.zap2it.com and type your Zip code in.

          Where I live There are 4 HD PBS Channels and;

          Fox in HD
          NBC in HD
          WB/UPN (It's combined) in HD
          Independent/UPN (UPN shows not airing on the other channel + reruns of African American Sit-coms + Trash shows like Jerry Springer reruns and Cheaters) in HD
          CBS in HD
          ABC in HD
          NBC Weather Plus in HD
          The Tube (A Music channel) in HD

          In non HD (UHF Band)

          The Catholic Channel
          Independent (Family/Religous)
          MTV2 (It is broadcast in the high UHF Band)
          Home Shopping Network

          Non HD Network - all listed network channels minus the Tube, NBC Weather Plus, and only 1 PBS.

          Where I live Cable/Sat isn't really that great of a deal due to the broadcast offerings (The only reason to subscribe is you want Battlestar Gallatica on SCIFI, TLC/Discovery Channel Shows, or the Adult Swim shows on CN) in fact if someone would offer a package with just those channels I would buy just that- hence why they don't offer ala cart as most people would do the same.

          The thing is most people will only watch what is on the 19.99 or 29.99 offerings plus they may want a premium Movie package on top of that. The thing with movies though is Red Box is at two of the three local (within 5 miles) McDonalds. $20.00 is 20 movies!! For under $15 a month you can watch a movie every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This is the problem with Cable/Sat. It is cheaper, in many cases, to rent movies every night of the week most people want to watch them than subscribe. There is a better selection of movies, the movies are newer, and if you don't watch you don't pay.

          As far as the non-movie content... Outside of the premium channels and a handful of select channels, it is the same content as broadcast.

          Where it makes sense to have cable/sat is when you can only get 1 or two broadcast channels and the closest rental store is 20 miles away. There are many places in the US where this is the case.
          Edward Meyers

        I live in Florida, and here you need Cable to get just about anything! About a Year ago I purchased a Sony 32 inch LCD TV for the Bedroom. I figured why spend another $300.00 for 1080p with a 32" TV?
        Honestly, I saw no difference in the Displays, which were both Tuned perfectly. Above 32" I would have gone for a 1080p, but below, I feel it's enough. I also have a Tivo which tells you what each Station is Broadcasting in. Most are Broadcasting in 720p anyway in my area!
        But what Bandrange are these Stations you mentioned located?
    • HDTV

      I have a 2004 Hatichi sp.. with a 57" screen it has built in HDTV and I hooked it up to a 90 mile ODA. Now I get 16 channels and 4 of them or more are HD
      I paid a lot extra for the Dish box with HD and only got 5 HD channels maybe more now. The same thing with cable.. The HD OTA is Great..

      Honestly, I really see very little if any difference between HDTV and the old Analog Picture Tube. (A Good one anyway, IE: Sony etc.) I sold TV's back 20 Yrs. ago, when Salesmen knew their Products, unlike Todays Clerks that are paid an Hourly Wage.
      Is it like Stereo, where the Audio Range actually exceeded the Ear's ability to hear the Ranges provided? Is TV the same, is it Better than your Eyes can actually see, assuming you have 20/20 vision? The pictures in the Stores are better than you will ever get when you get it home. But in the Store, they have a Loop Disc playing constantly on a very ornate item. Nothing moves. I feel we should bring back Analog TV's and their Low Prices!
  • MNF is ....

    .... only on ESPN (started this year). So you won't be able to
    watch that via OTA as you suggested. However, you would be
    able to watch Sunday Night Football on NBC as well as most NFL
    and the big NCAA games.

    I have a Terk TV5 indoor antenna hooked up to my set. It works
    well for most stations in my area and is amplified. If your TV
    has PIP or POP functionality (which most do) than an antenna
    plus cable/satellite comes in very handy when you have two
    sporting events going on at the same time that you want to
  • Totally impractical & misleading

    Yet another misleading headline...

    For those of us who do watch more than the ABC/CBS/NBC stations (the vast majority of people), this does us no good. Discovery, Weather Channel, CNN, etc. are not available over the airwaves. And if you are only watching the ABC/CBS/NBC 3 to begin with, then what were you doing with a cable or satellite setup in the first place?
    • Not totally

      It's not "Totally impractical & misleading". Some of us are TOTALLY content with off-the-air programming. (Two most over-used words in today's lexicon: "totally" and "like". Another gear-slip intelligence again heard from.)
    • In deference to professordnm's prejudice...

      ...against the word "totally", you're [u]absolutely[/u] right.

      For me, this article lost all meaning as soon as I reached the sentence which read "[i]Last week I ended my Dish TV service because I got sick and tired of paying the high monthly bill [b]when my family rarely watches TV[/b]."[/i] Yes, I'm sure that would do it.

      Here's another savings tip in the spirit of this article: Since [i]my[/i] family hardly ever needs to use the phone while we're out, [i]you[/i] can save hundreds of dollars every year by canceling your cellular phone service and using the land lines in your home and office. Just add a wallet mounted calling card, available from your provider, and you'll even be able to access the public phones found at many locations across the nation without needing exact change.

      In fact, I save tens of thousands of dollars every year by not getting goods or services that I don't use. Drop me an email, and I'll share my secrets with you.
      • I think you completely missed my point

        We don't watch that much TV but it is nice to be able to watch something once in a while like the major sporting events or performances in HD. You can't even compare TV to the cell phone unless you're addicted to TV.
        • I don't think HD is worth it for just OTA HD

          It makes little sense to me to invest in over-the-air reception for HDTV unless your main reason for the HDTV is to watch high definition DVDs and no one in your family watches Disney, HGTV, ESPN, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc.

          If your real reason for an HDTV is to watch high-definition videos, wouldn't a decent flat screen monitor provide the necessary resolution?

          Richard in Allentown, PA
          • No, the newer TVs look better

            regular large screen TVs can barely handle 640x480 and look ugly. First generation HD ready TVs only handled 800x600 resolution and lacked a tuner. Now these $500 32" LCD HDTVs have tuners built in and a crystal clear 1366x768 resolution which can double as a computer monitor.

            Furthermore, regular widescreen anamorphic DVDs when played with an upconverting DVD player look awesome on my 72" DLP 1080i (upconverted to 1080p) HDTV so it's not just OTA HD that looks good.

            I get about 8 HD channels over the air which is enough for the little amount of TV my family watches. TV is addictive so I don't want that many channels and I don't want to record shows. My older daughter who is 5 spends time reading books and doing other fun things which I view as a lot more healthy. She watches some TV and some DVDs and plays on the computer but I limit that time.
          • Free HDTV...maybe...

            Having built a Windows Media Center box, and installing ATI's HDTV card in it for over the air HDTV, I found that if one lives a substantial distance form a broadcast tower as I do, (I live 60 miles out from New York City on Long Island) getting a RELIABLE HDTV signal is extremely difficult. Even the "closer" (30 miles) Connecticut TV stations are shaky at best. And forget it if there is any precipitation.

            And oh by the way?I also purchased a dedicated HDTV outdoor antenna from Radio Shack at a cost of around $100.00, and mounted it on my existing 20 foot high antenna mast on my roof. It made no difference whatsoever. I have the antennas as a backup when the cable goes out?which it does once & a while.

            It is true that there a lot of free HDTV channels available, but unless you are within a reasonable distance from the broadcast towers, forget it.
          • Fair enough

            All I'm saying is that for people who live close enough and only watch a moderate amount of TV, OTA HD is the perfect solution.
  • Free HDTV

    Yes, we get great HDTV over the airwaves. What we need now is a low cost way of recording HD broadcasts so we can time shift programs just like we could do with a VCR on analog TV. Any suggestions?
    • Quick suggestion

      I brought a $80 USB stick for my laptop. It comes with a DVR that you can program to record shows. It comes with a little antenna that is good if you are not to far away from the broadcast antenna, or you can attach a rabbit ears our outside antenna. Manufacturer is Happuage. I am sure because of the ports on the stick that they will have other things that can be done with, like hook to a full tv.
    • Here's one "cheap" alternative

      For around $50 (on sale on the Net) you can get a KWorld (PCI Card) HDTV decoder for you computer. Add the paid version of the BeyondTV software and the possibilities are limitless with plug-ins to even manage and watch hard drive based DVD's.

      I use this to compliment my Dish HDTV DVR which only allows recording one over the air HDTV channel at a time. For example, if you wanted to watch one football game on CBS using the over the air tuner in the Dish DVR and record the other on FOX.

      This cheap KWorld HDTV tuner works great with Beyond TV which is offering a free remote with their software that is better than the one provided with tuner card. You need at least 1000 MB's of RAM though if you wish to multi-task.
    • Timeshift and Placeshift

      Check out SageTV (www.sagetv.com) along with either a Hauppauge or Avermedia capture card, or two. Also Hauppauge MediaMVP. With my HTPC (Home Theater Personal Computer), I can record up to 3 different shows at the same time, while watching different shows (either recorded or live), on any PC or TV in my home. With Placeshifter, I can watch any recorded (or timeshifted) show on my laptop from anyplace in the country where I have a highspeed connection. There are versions avaliable for both Windows and Linux. The whole setup was less than $1000. It's a whole new entertainment world out there.