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

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.

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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 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.

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73 comments
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  • Sports

    This works very well if you are not into live sports or are just a casual fan. But more and more important sporting events are on basic cable, and without that you need to buy into some very expensive streaming services which are sport if not team specific. Sometimes even that is not an option.
    Michael Kelly
    • I'm listening to a major league baseball game right now

      if I remember correctly, the subscription for the whole season is less than $20. There's an Android app for it.
      John L. Ries
      • So

        So you only need a $100 cellular service and $20 more to save a $40 on cable.
        Buster Friendly
        • If you have the cellular service anyway...

          ...then why not?

          I resisted carrying a cell phone for several years until my wife finally insisted. So, for me, at least, it's a necessity.
          John L. Ries
    • Excellent point

      This is an often overlooked point. In Canada they blackout games that are broadcast on national TV. This means that unless you alter your DNS or view the games illegally the online service only actually lets you view the games that are NOT broadcast on national television. Hockey in Canada is pretty big and lots of games are on national television, so lots of games are blacked out from the online service, which forces many people to get cable.
      SovereignTechnology
      • One of the advantages of living in a small city

        All of the big time sports venues are hundreds of miles away, so I don't need to worry about blackouts.
        John L. Ries
    • 100%

      If you want to watch NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS, Formula 1, NASCAR, TUDOR, etc. you are out of luck. NFL gives you 1 game a week live, which is on NBC Sunday night. MLB has their stuff locked down.

      Want to use a "free" service? Bring the anti-Virus and ad-blockers and hope they show your event in HD.

      I barely watch any "Broadcast" shows anymore. I watch a ton of sports on a myriad of channels. Subscribing to all that without cable is a pain, especially when you have to worry about random streaming issues, outages, inconsistent "free" services, etc.

      I respect cutting costs, I just don't ever seeing it happening on my end until content is delivered reliably, universally, and cheap enough. That's why Steam works so well, but EA and Ubisoft decided to muddy the water and take away choice.
      Turismo
  • On the verge

    ... for quite a while now. But I've cut back Comcast to the minimum TV service and am almost ready to ditch that. I couldn't care less about "sports" on TV and resent the high cost of cable due to the extorted sports subsidies we all pay.

    I only wish I had a good broadband alternative. Sadly the FCC and the courts are unlikely to take on the necessary trust busting in the U.S.

    Roku makes some nice products, and coupled with a home NAS supporting streaming and tools like PlayOn/Playlater you can easily take advantage of many free and pay services for TV shows and movies.
    dilettante
  • Just High Speed Internet

    I found that I was only watching CNBC, and only for American Greed. When they stopped airing new episodes, I stopped watching TV altogether. My cable company didn't want to let me cancel TV service, but in the end they offered me a great deal on high speed cable Internet by itself. This is essential for my work and lifestyle, but it also restructures my leisure activities, where I read news articles instead of watch the idiot box. I currently pay $45 a month, which I can afford.
    Brian Croner
  • Cut the cord

    I dropped cable TV a couple years ago.

    If only there were some competition in the internet provider space, I could get rid of the cable company entirely.
    :x
  • Cut the cord last year

    It was a steady slide for me I had cable with premium channels with internet but it was almost $120 a moth I cut down to extended basic that was until Comcast cut back extended basic to pimp digital cable. Then basic cable.
    In addition as prices went up the quality of the channels went down, I got tired of (NOT) reality TV with redneck building guns with fake explosions, and pickers and buyers snipping at each other. I also changed my viewing habits wanting to watch tv only at my time and niche genre like Anime.
    I eventually cut cable TV for internet only, Netflix. I can't get crunchy roll on my blu-ray player and I was not impressed with Hulu Plus but in operation and restricting some shows i.e. One Piece showing only sub but not dubs on Hello Plus
    Richardbz
    • So now

      So now you can watch the same old TV series over and over? Netflix is rather limited.
      Buster Friendly
      • re: "So now you can watch the same old TV series over and over?"

        you just watch them with a 1-2 year delay
        vpupkin
      • Re: So Now

        If you want to watch current TV shows as soon as the DAY after they air, you can become a Rabbit TV user for just $10 /year. Rabbit TV offers the most current shows on television, as well as episodes from classic TV shows. Described as "The Worlds Largest Entertainment Guide," offering all free, ppv, and live media.
        Rabbit TV
        • Re: So Now

          You don't have to throw away $10 a year on Rabbit tv to get what is already there free!
          Jester99
  • HTPC

    The other thing to consider is a home theater PC. Many of the networks have some content on line. We did that for quite a while until lightning struck our little box.

    We also used it to plug in a USB tuner and used Windows Media Center as a DVR. Not the best software, but at free, the price was right.
    osborn4
    • Re: HTPC

      This was the route we went as well. We're in far northwest suburban Detroit (about halfway to Flint), and we downgraded from Comcast Blast (30 Mbps internet) + Digital Economy (about $105/mo) to Blast only ($76.95/mo). The savings wasn't much, but the Digital Economy cable service provided virtually nothing that wasn't broadcast, and a second receiver and HD cost extra.

      For our DVR, I looked into a TiVo, but we ended up going with a HTPC with a USB TV Tuner, running Windows 7 with Windows Media Center, since we wanted full control of our system. We haven't given up any functionality relative to our Comcast DVR (it downloads the TV guide and lets you schedule recording of an entire series). I was turned off of the TiVo due to the subscription fee - in all seriousness, if you've paid for the DVR and tuner hardware and are recording OTA TV, what service is subscription providing?
      strickerj
      • Re: HTPC

        Forgot to mention (the reason for mentioning my location), we had to set up an outdoor antenna, which was relatively cheap but not terribly easy, due to the trees in our yard and our distance from the stations, but for the most part it works pretty well (except in bad weather).
        strickerj
  • My Internet and mobile company

    Provides my cable as well, so I wouldn't see any great reduction in cost by losing cable. That said, it isn't worth much.

    Ten years ago, Discovery channel was glorious science pretty much all day.... Now it is just doofuses fighting with robots. Basically Duck Dynasty with pocket protectors.
    Mac_PC_FenceSitter
    • What show is that?

      Fighting with robots? What show is that? The last I remember is Robot Wars that ended a decade ago.
      Buster Friendly