The cable bill seemed to growing faster than my grandchildren – and those young folks grow up fast! I moved to a new apartment this fall and as part of my monthly lease was a $30 charge for data/internet access in my unit. If I wanted TV service, I’d have to buy it from the apartment’s sole provider: Directv.
I’d been thinking about “cutting the cord” for sometime, and this relocation provided the impetus for that big step. Here I’ll explain my thought process and the steps I took to free myself of the cable company. As an offshoot, I’ve saved $158/mo in expenses! I did spend a fair amount of money on equipment, which I’ll recoup in about 6 months of those monthly savings.
Before we get too far into this, let me lay out of few terms and definitions
- Over-The-Air (OTA) television. In the United States, digital TV broadcasts can be received via cable (from a provider like Comcast, AT&T, etc.); via the internet; from a satellite provider (for example, DishTV) or free by way of over-the-air (OTA) transmissions.
- HDTV Antenna. In order to receive the local channels broadcasting OTA, you need an HDTV antenna – much like in the dark ages when we had rabbit ears on top of our black and white TVs. Unlike the snowy, grainy reception from the old rabbit ears, OTA reception quality is most times superior to that provided over cable.
- Router. Simply put, a router is a small electronic device that joins multiple computer networks together. If you have cable service now and have a home wifi network, the cable company is providing that device to you – at a cost, of course!
- Streaming Media Player. A streaming media player is what connects your television to the Internet and allows you to stream video and music from online services. Some examples: AppleTV, Roku, Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV. The apps you load on these devices then provide the content (Netflix, Hulu and the like). Today’s Smart TVs come equipped with a few preset apps – in my opinion, the separate media player gives you more options and flexibility, but that’s just me.
The Original Cable Configuration
From my cable provider, BrightHouse (recently acquired by Charter), I received basic cable service; data; telephone and the premium channels HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax & The Movie Channel. My last monthly bill was $258.12.
I also had Netflix and Hulu subscriptions. My Amazon Prime account also offers a ton of free movies.
To get Netflix and Hulu I had one Roku streaming device that I used on my main TV and an AppleTV that was with my bedroom TV. I’d have to buy another of each, so both TVs could have both boxes – the major reasons being the AppleTV doesn’t allow streaming of Amazon offerings and I can get photos and iTunes on the AppleTV, but not the Roku.
What I Required & Could Give Up
If I was going to jettison cable/satellite TV, I wanted as many of the local channels as I could get (NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS). I also needed the station that carried Rays baseball and Lightning hockey (FOX/Sun Sports). HBO & Showtime were an absolute must. I could give up the seldom-watched “premium” Starz, Cinemax & The Movie Channel. I had to have at least one of the 24-hour news channels (preferably CNN). USA, AMC, History Channel, and an assortment of lessers would certainly be nice.
I’ve been one the holdouts, not wanting to give up my “home phone”. This was the perfect time to get rid of that and go “mobile-only”.
There are several web sites dedicated to this subject.
- I found these sites very useful explaining the overall subject: (1) Tom’s Guide; (2) Cut Cable Today; (3) PC Mag’s Ultimate Cord Cutter’s Guide and (4) Forbes’ Article on cord cutting.
- In researching routers, I found these sites helpful: (1) The Wirecutter; (2) Gadget Review and (3) Digital Trends.
- These articles helped me select an appropriate HDTV antenna (after one failure): (1) The Wirecutter and (2) Tom’s Guide.
- This Consumer Reports article about DVRs to use after dumping cable was most helpful.
Putting the New System Together
- The router is the glue that holds everything else together, so that was my first purchase. I chose the TP-LINK Archer C7 AC1750 Wireless router. It was reasonably priced and setup was a breeze.
- To address receiving/recording local OTA network stations, I bought the Tablo DVR, a Seagate 5TB external hard drive and a Clearstream Eclipse HDTV antenna. The Eclipse antenna didn’t get enough of the local stations I wanted, so I replaced it with Mohu Leaf 50 Amplified antenna. This combination allows me to receive/record OTA broadcasts from the local NBC, CBS, ABC stations. My location in a downtown area with tall buildings tends to block many signals, so finding a spot in the apartment to get most of the channels I wanted was a trial-and-error process. I pay $5/mo for the Tablo subscription service which gives me access to 14 days of TV guide data, as well as the ability to set recordings by series, season, or new episodes only. I get the local FOX station, but not via this setup.
- This diagram, from the Tablo website, shows how all the pieces fit together to bring OTA broadcasts to all my devices (TVs, iPhone, iPad & MacBook).
- A monthly subscription to HBO Now ($14.99) and Showtime ($10.99) gives me access to those “premium” channels via either my Roku or AppleTV. No contracts for either one; can be canceled at any time. The PBS app is free and gives me onDemand access to all that PBS has to offer.
- Sling TV is live streaming service that offers upwards of 100+ channels, depending on the option chosen. I opted for the Sling Blue package ($25/mo). In addition to the channels listed in that link, I get the local FOX station, as well as the channel that carries Ray and Lightning games.
- Until I found the right HDTV antenna, I signed up for CBS All Access ($9.99/mo) that gives me local and network offerings with no commercials on the onDemand stuff. I’ve kept it until things settle down. Can cancel it at any time.
This spreadsheet shows my before and after costs. Equipment could have been $100 less if I’d purchased the 2-tuner Tablo instead of the 4-tuner. I have a 5TB USB disk drive; could have saved $50 with a 2TB. On the monthly expense side, I decided spending $4/mo extra for Hulu to enjoy commercial free viewing was a no-brainer. The $30/mo the apartment management may be a bargain – I sense it might have been more if I had to purchase data/internet access on the market myself.
Tackling something like this is certainly not for the faint-of-heart. But anyone, with a bit of technical knowledge should be successful. Can’t lie, I really liked having the one remote to control all my TV viewing when I had cable; I still miss it. In time, I’ll get used to the multiple remotes – or maybe find one that will control everything!
That extra $158 in pocket every month makes it all worthwhile!