Cut the cable

I hate subscriptions and contracts.  I really hate contracts that seem to reward new customers while leaving the old customers behind.  We’ve used several major satellite and cable TV providers over the years, and frankly it got tiresome to have to call every six months to renegotiate the bill.  Why can’t it be simple?  As in, reward loyal customers with a low rate that doesn’t have to be argued about every few months.  Unfortunately that’s not how it works, so we cut the cable.  Saved a pretty penny in the long run too.

Why to cut the cable

Okay, so why consider cutting the cable?  We’re talking loss of live TV (bye-bye This is Us), football games, basketball, etc.  Or are we?

Consider this.  On average the monthly US cable bill is between $50 to $100.  Most subscribers report a bill averaging $86 with a DVR is rented from the service provider for cable and $72 for satellite (Statista).  This does not include any streaming services like Paramount Plus, Disney+, Hulu, etc.  So, for one year of service you’re looking at on average $800-$1100.

This is not to say that you won’t give up something by cutting the cable. You will be missing some programs, and you may not catch every game. You will still get most of what you want to watch, and personally I really haven’t missed anything yet. For me the cost savings and the convenience made up for any programming I might have missed.

Cost savings

So let’s look at the cost savings when you cut the cable.  For grins, fill out the form below to get an idea of potential savings. It’ll also give you an idea of what you’re spending on those monthly streaming subscriptions.

For me it wasn’t a hard choice.  My bill, once negotiated, was around $64 a month.  The problem was, if I didn’t call every 6 months or so my bill doubled.  Even at $64/month, I save almost $4,000 over 5 years if I cut the cable. 

Convenience

I hate contracts.  Like loathe them entirely.  One really compelling reason to not have cable service and stream: no contract.  No termination fees.  No rental fees.  And no sudden bill changes.

For the most part you can pick and choose your streaming channels and get the same shows you love from cable.  As an added benefit if you don’t like the channel, just cancel the service.  Likewise, for the most part these channels are very affordable; many can be subscribed to for $5 a month.  In other words, pay for what you want versus having 200 channels, 190 of which you don’t actually watch.

Another consideration: how many streaming channels overlap with your paid cable subscription? For example, I pay for Paramount Plus since I’m a bit of a Trek fan. Since I can only watch Star Trek: Picard on Paramount Plus and pay for the channel; as a bonus I get to watch all the Trek shows I want, at any time. That being said, I also get the normal CBS programming that would already be included in the cable/satellite subscription. This includes live TV. Why pay for the same content twice?

Finally, unless you’re watching something live, you can stream any of your favorite shows on-demand. While my satellite provider had a fairly hefty on-demand service, it didn’t compare to the shows and movies available through dedicated streaming providers.

Let’s go for it, cut the cable

cut the cable old school

Alright, so what do you need to cut the cable but still watch your favorite shows?

First, you need an over the air (OTA) antenna.  This isn’t the old rabbit ear antenna your grandparents used.  All channels are digital now, so you can still enjoy HD footage without paying a dime or holding your tongue right while balancing on one foot with one arm wrapped in foil and the other clutching the antenna.  A decent OTA antenna is going to get you all the major local networks (Fox, CBS, NBC, PBS, etc.) plus the usual generic locals.

Second, you should have a decent steaming box or smart TV.  My personal choice is Amazon Fire TVs or Roku players, but other options exist.  However, Fire TVs and Roku streaming devices give you a broad choice of options for streaming channels and retain OTA functionality.

And that’s it for basic hardware.  But I can’t leave it at that…let’s go overboard and get fancy.

Reinvest those savings and maximize your lineup

I can’t just leave it at “go get a decent antenna and plug it in”. Let’s get into what type of antenna to get, how to distribute it to all TVs, and how to maximize your streaming lineup and make it easy for everyone to use.

Get a decent OTA Antenna

First up, get a decent OTA antenna. Don’t get the $10 antenna from Wal-Mart. A few considerations:

  • Like Wi-Fi, OTA signal strength is lessened when it passes through objects. That means don’t put the antenna indoors by the main TV and expect to get great reception. Place your antenna outdoors in an elevated area free of obstructions. Tip: my DTV satellite dish mount was a perfect swap for my OTA antenna. Go ahead and repurpose that mount if you have one.
  • Look for an antenna with UHF and VHF reception to maximize your channel listing.
  • Either purchase an antenna with a preamplifier or get a preamplifier separately if you have a long cable run (over 100′).

Two of the more popular sites available are Antennas Direct and Antop. I actually went with an Antop “Big Boy” omnidirectional antenna. Before you buy, however, do a channel scan for your address to figure out the channels you can actually receive and directionality.

signal analysis

There are several places you can go to determine your channels, but TV Fool has a good tool that gives you both the directionality and the signal strength of available channels. When all is said and done, I actually get 38 channels, of which probably a half dozen show in full HD.

Something else to keep in mind: channels change occasionally as TV stations migrate to a different frequency or new towers are built. You’ll want to rescan your channels occasionally to make sure you’re still tuning in to the best frequency for that channel and getting the most channels.

Distribute your OTA channels to all TVs

Centralized Distribution (structured media wiring)

There are actually a couple of options here on getting that signal to all your TVs. If you don’t mind not have a TV guide, you can simply run the incoming coax cable to a distribution box. I actually changed out my original coax wiring for most of my TVs and brought all the cable runs to one central spot in my basement back when I went with satellite. When I cut the cable, this made it super easy to switch out the satellite dish for the OTA antenna, I only had to make a new coax cable for any TV I wanted directly connected. Once connected, under your TV settings complete a channel scan to pull in all available channels.

If you do go the route of centralized distribution, make sure to use a splitter with an amplifier. You can get one from Antennas Direct or Amazon, but you want to make sure that signal doesn’t get degraded by getting split too many times.

Network OTA Tuner

The other option…get a network tuner. Several options are available, but I’ve had good experience with the HD Homerun devices. These are very easy to setup and use. Simply plug the tuner in to the incoming coax cable from the antenna and connect it to your home LAN. Once powered on, follow the setup instructions to complete the channel scan and load the guide. A distinct advantage to getting a network tuner is that you only have to scan your channels once instead of having to scan channels on each TV.

I’ve actually done both: I have a centralized distribution and a HD HomeRun device. On the off chance I have a TV that doesn’t have a streaming box, I can connect it directly to the cable run. For all my smart TVs and streaming boxes, I can add the Plex app (more on that in a minute) or HD HomeRun has an app. Both pull in a local TV guide that works just like a regular cable/satellite service.

tv guide

One final option for Xbox users is a simple USB tuner. Huappage makes one specifically for Xbox, and at least on Xbox One you can pull in and watch local channels with a guide.

Don’t miss out on DVR

So, what about those shows that you still want to DVR? Either you absolutely can’t wait one day for them to come out on the streaming channel, or they don’t come out at all. What then? You can still DVR your shows. There are two options: if you’ve got one, use the HD HomeRun device and activate the DVR service. Alternatively, set up a Plex server on a NAS or computer (but make sure you’ve got plenty of storage space).

If you go with HD HomeRun, its a very simple setup process. Simply attach a external storage device to the USB port on the back of the tuner (I personally recommend a SSD, not HDD) and go to the website to activate the DVR service. It is a $35 annual fee, but frankly that’s pretty reasonable.

A third option is TiVo. You can purchase their OTA DVR; it comes with 500GB storage space and advanced features (voice remote, commercial skipping, episode consolidation). The drawback is that it is expensive and has a monthly or annual subscription fee. You can go all-in and buy a lifetime service. The only drawback here is that it is attached to one TV. With the HD HomeRun installed on your streaming box or Plex, you access your guide and DVR on all devices.

If going all-in with Plex…

I went with Plex. Here’s why:

  • I can rip in my personal movies that are not already digitized into my library to make them accessible anywhere
  • My local channels can be watched wherever I’m at, home or not
  • Plex consolidates both my movies, TV shows, and music into one location that can be accessed anywhere, from any device.
  • With Plex Pass you also get access to more streaming shows and channels

The catch with Plex…its resource-intensive. You need a pretty robust machine to run it and stream, so plan on either dedicating a computer as a Plex server, or buy an NAS to serve as the media server. However, once set up, you can install the Plex app on any device (for the most part…I’m looking at you Xfinity Flex). If interested, see this article on setting up Plex. See this article on setting up the DVR service.

Upgrade your network

One minor item to consider: streaming occupies network bandwidth. In other words, don’t expect to stream from 4 devices at the same time unless you have a solid home network. Wifi 6 routers have improved substantially on home network streaming, but you still need to make sure your network can handle the additional traffic. Consider replacing old equipment and check your service provider site to make sure you are getting the most out of your internet service. Likewise, if you can hardwire it in, do it. Wired is almost always better.

Wrapping up

Ready to cut the cable? We did, and haven’t had any regrets. With the number of streaming channels available and the possibility to still get local channels, there’s no reason to stick with subscription cable and the overpriced service providers. Questions? Drop a comment.

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