In September 2015, I joined the masses who cut the cord, saying good bye to cable TV. There were numerous factors that led me to this, not the least of which is the constant annual battle to get a fair price for TV service, always being locked into a contract.
So now I’m watching OTA (over-the-air) free TV with a digital antenna. Actually, in the United States, digital is the only way to watch OTA TV any more; I’m only using the word “digital” to point out the fact that it’s a very good quality signal. When figuring out what antenna to buy, I quickly found that finding the perfect antenna is an inexact science. It required much trial and error (and some expense) for me. The first antenna I tried wasn’t the best; I found that when watching Packer games, the digital signal would sometimes pixelate. Not good. Then I tried another and mounted it in the highest point in my attic (a tip I found on many forums). Still not perfect. Additional trial and error led me to my current solution, which I love. And as a result, I now enjoy over 20 digital channels in Brown County, WI.
My antenna is the RCA ANT800F. I bought a tripod and mounted it on my roof. I’m in Brown County, WI, so I aimed the antenna at Scray Hill (in Ledgeview), the highest point in the county, where all the TV stations have antennas. I ran a standard coax cable from the antenna into my attic, down to my basement, and into a splitter. From the splitter, a cable goes out through the walls to several TVs in my house.
Here are a few photos that show the equipment I bought, along with how it looks on my house:
The strange thing about antennas is that I have friends who live close by who can’t get all the channels that I get. I don’t know for sure what antenna they’re using though. All I can suggest is that you to keep trying until you find a good solution. If you live in Brown County, WI, maybe my setup will work for you.
Also note that I bought a good quality shielded coax cable. I’ve had experiences in the past where I ran a coax cable down a chimney shaft or along a water pipe, and the adjacent metal caused interference issues. I didn’t want any such issues here, so I didn’t skimp on the cable.
If you haven’t watched OTA lately, perhaps you’ll be surprised at how many free channels are available. We have the standard five local network affiliates (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS). But we also have many additional channels that we never had when I was a kid. Most of these additional channels play reruns. My favorite is Antenna TV, which shows re-runs of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. (Note that the name of this network, Antenna TV, is kind of confusing, since that’s what we also call just watching TV via antenna; but that’s the actual name of the channel, “Antenna TV”.)
For more details on what’s available here in northeast Wisconsin, check out the great list of free TV channels maintained by Suess Electronics.
In addition to the free digital antenna TV, I subscribe to a few services:
- Sling – Over 20 channels (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, AMC, Comedy Central, A&E, History, HGTV, Disney, CNN, TBS, TNT, etc). Sling also has a channel called AXS TV, which I had never heard of. If you’re into music, they have great live concerts.
- Netflix – Great movies.
- Hulu – TV reruns.
- MLB.TV – All MLB games, all season (unless locally blacked out). We watch many Angels games.
To make all these services work well on my TVs, I have a Roku device on each TV in the house. A Roku device plugs into the HDMI port on the back of your TV, and basically makes it a smart TV. No need to spend extra money for a smart TV, Roku will get you there. There is no monthly fee for a Roku device, only the one-time purchase. On the Roku, you simply install the apps you want, like one for each of the services I mentioned above. The actual apps are most always free, but the services may not be. For example, the services I mentioned above have fees. But I also have apps like PBS (shows like Downton Abbey and great documentaries like Vietnam War) and QVC, both of which are indeed free. There are many additional apps. Be sure to also check out the Roku page on the Sling web site, as they sometimes offer a free Roku device when you prepay Sling TV for 2 or 3 months.
I also want to comment further about Sling TV, the first one I listed above. Sling works well not only on the Roku device as I mentioned, but it also works great on your laptop or smart phone. For example, I was recently at a local high school football game and I watched ESPN on my phone during halftime. I also bring my laptop with me when I travel, so at any hotel or coffee shop in the country, I just open up my laptop and launch the Sling app. Also, while I don’t make a habit out of watching TV at work, I have Sling installed on my work computer, so if I hear of a breaking news story, I fire up Sling and watch CNN live. If you’re looking to have TV service at your office, without running any wires or cables, consider Sling, which is entirely over the internet. Now, Sling has a few levels of service. I have their orange service, which only allows me to watch one stream at a time. So if my wife is watching at home, then I can’t watch remotely. But they have other levels which allow 3 or 4 simultaneous streams.
I also want to point out that many of the channels available on Sling have “on demand” options in addition to live. So, if I don’t want to watch what’s currently on the channel live, I can browse through the a list of past shows to watch. As an example, as I write this, AXS TV (which I mentioned above) has live recorded concerts available for the following bands: Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, BB King, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Blondie, Bret Michaels, Elton John, Chicago, Hall & Oates, Def Leppard, Depeche Mode, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Eric Clapton, Foreigner, Kenny Logins, KC and the Sunshine Band (geez, remember them?), Lynyrd Skynyrd, Matchbox Twenty, Blues Traveler, Counting Crows, Alan Jackson, The Monkees, Paul McCartney, Peter Frampton, Ringo Starr, Robert Plant, George Michael, Shania Twain, Sheryl Crow, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Styx, Sugarland, Toby Keith, Travis Tritt, The Who, and Yes. It’s nuts how much is out there just waiting for you.
A couple of friends have asked me if I’m actually paying more now with all of those services than I was with cable TV. The answer is no. But the most important part is that each of these is an individual account, which I can cancel AT ANY TIME. I’M IN CONTROL. I’m no longer stuck with a promotional rate that ends after a year, which of course just puts you back to square one trying to find an affordable TV service. And, do you remember in 2015 when NBC and Time Warner had a falling out, and we couldn’t watch our local NBC station on Time Warner for a number of weeks, including not being able to watch a Packer game? Well, that situation will no longer happen. NBC is free, over the air. I love being in control.
I still like to record TV (especially Packers football games). When I had Windows 7 on my computer, I used Windows Media Center to record OTA broadcasts, but that went away with my Windows 10 upgrade. So now I use a Tablo Dual OTA DVR. Tablo is a great little device that allows me to schedule the recording of any OTA TV show. There is no monthly fee (unless you want to pay for an extended TV guide). All shows are stored on the device itself, so there is no fee for cloud hosting. I can watch live TV and any recorded shows on any of these devices:
- any TV in the house with Roku device
- any computer in the house via web browser
- any mobile device (my cell phone), from anywhere in the world
Consider this situation. You want to put a TV in a location in your house where you can’t get a good antenna signal. If you have good wifi at that location and a Tablo device, then you’re all set. The Tablo needs to be in a location with a good TV signal, but it will then transmit its signal to any TV in your house via wifi. FREE!
That last bullet point above is pretty cool. Have you ever been out at a game or an event and some guy pulls out his phone and quickly puts on a football game or any other TV show? And you think, boy that must cost a lot. Not true. I can take my smart phone anywhere in the world, and watch any live TV broadcast from back home (or any recorded show) via the Tablo app. On top of that, think of the possibilities if you also have the Sling, Netflix, and Hulu apps installed on your phone. You can watch practically any channel you want from anywhere in the world.
While this device has 64GB of storage (about 40 hours of recordings), I’ve now found that I record so much stuff that I plugged in an external USB hard drive so that I have even more storage.
Ease Into It
Well, I didn’t ease into my setup; I just cut the cord and went cold turkey. But if you’re not quite sure about all this, I have a couple of ideas for you. These are some things you can do BEFORE you actually cancel your cable contract.
- Try buying a low cost digital antenna from Walmart or Amazon and connect it to one TV in your house. You can usually get something simple for less than $20. Scan for new channels and see what you get. Keep in mind that depending on your location and the quality of the antenna, you may not get all channels in your area. Maybe talk to a neighbor to see what they did. Try watching a real show like Packer game. If this works well, then you may consider just getting a couple more of those antennas for your other TVs instead of putting something on your roof and running coax cable like I did.
- In addition to the antenna idea (or instead of it), sign up for a Sling TV account. If you don’t have a Roku device yet (and didn’t get a free one), no worries. Watch it on your laptop or on your phone. Just play with it for a month or two, maybe watch it while you’re on the road, and see what you think. Again, there’s no contract, so cancel it after a couple of months if you want.
Cutting the cord is a pretty big change, so if you’re a little nervous about it or unsure of the costs, these simple ideas can help you actually see what all this stuff I’m talking about is like.
- AntennaWeb – explore your free TV viewing options
- Consumer Reports – tips for getting good reception
- FCC, Antennas and Digital Television
- Streaming TV Guides – perfect for Sling subscribers
- Tablo Blog – interesting articles about all aspects of cutting the cord
- TV Fool
The Whole Setup
My whole setup isn’t quite like the good old days. I can still turn on the TV and immediately flip through all the OTA channels. Depending on what I’m doing, I may have to switch to the HDMI input and fire up a Roku app in order to watch something else. But times have changed, and I like what I have.