Cutting the Cord Part IV; My Choices

January 31, 2011

Change can be difficult, CATV  companies have done a decent job in creating enough content value for many of us to keep the product even though the quality of the service may be lacking.  The solution of cutting the cord requires the viewer to change their habits. They are betting you will not.  Those of you that require a wide selection of live sports are going to have the most difficult time finding equitable alternative solutions. On the other hand, if you like to watch broadcast TV,  movies, vintage TV or some of the popular Discovery type programs, much of that is viewable from sources such as Netflex.

This episode of my excursion will cover the choices I have made and why.  As you have probably figured, this solution is like a multi legged table, where each leg supports part of the table. It will take a little more effort and some getting used to. But, by most accounts, it will get better.

My Choices:

  1. Broadcast Antenna: (You already figured that one out). To date, I have been impressed with the overall HD quality. There is a noticeable difference between my Uverse (HD) reception and the (HD) broadcast antenna. As previously mentioned, solutions such as the UVerse require alot of compression to get it through the copper wires that serve your house. This compression process degrades the sharpness of the image. Just remember, so far, there are fewer HD Broadcasts than found through the CATV or Uverse type solutions. Worth mentioning, since the digital conversion of  broadcast television, we have barely seen what broadcast television may become.  The biggest drawback appears to be the lack of a on-screen TV guides. See number 2. With the recent digital conversion, local broadcasters now have the ability to provide simultaneous program choices within their channel spectrum. In other words, you may find that the NBC affiliate has the primary station (52.0) a weather only channel (52.1) and maybe a sports (52.2) channel. So to us regular folks it looks like we now have 3 NBC stations instead of just one.   The broadcast antenna business could be the sleeping giant in the bunch.
  2. DVR: To bring broadcast TV up to speed with CATV, a DVR is nearly a must. The Channel Master DVR is a no-subscribtion, one-fee to purchase product. Besides the standard DVR type function it will provide you the on-screen menu that you will miss from CATV. The only draw back so far is that without some other equipment, its a one-box, one-TV solution. (I have some ideas on this one that I need to try.) The Channel Master DVR appears to be the industry leader.
  3. Netflix: There are dozens of choices out there. Netflix appears to have the least amount of hooks (i.e. upgrades and add-on for a fee). To get the Netflix (or streaming video), you will need some form of internet connection. Most new TV’s and DVD’s include an “internet ready” feature. Or, you can just purchase a standalone box. The Roku box appears to be the best choice for me.
  4. Roku Box: The Roku box brings the ethernet connection to your TV that allows you  to pull in streaming video from Netflix. Additionally, you get access to other Internet services such as Pandora, MLB, Hulu Plus and more. Some are fee based some are not.

Disadvantages of giving up cable: Even though I have solved many of the drawbacks and concerns I mentioned in my earlier posts, there are still some that remain with my current solution.

  1. One box, one TV: Assuming you want to watch Netflix on multiple TV’s, the one box per TV solution is actually the short answer. There are some other devices on the market that will allow you to manage 1 input source to 4 output sources. Look at Hometech Solutions for a better understanding of your options.  If you are willing to spend more of your budget, purchasing additional boxes is an easy answer. You may find, you want to replace your DVD (I do), so the Roku box can be used elsewhere.
  2. Available programing: At this point, I believe I am at about 85% of my content target. However, with Netflix, their bargaining power with the various sources continues to increase. So I look for this to get better.
  3. Live Sports: This too is getting better. For a monthly fee you can use your Roku box to access MLB/UFC for some of your sports obsessions.  However, if you are one that consumes all the various sports networks  with all the various programing, it may be worth it to look at those programs through you PC.  
  4. MSNBC, CNN, FNN: These networks are very similar to the Sports Networks; they worked hard to come up with as much odd ball programing  from minute by minute coverage of Wall Street to documentaries about Walmart.

Advantages of living without cable TV:

  1. Cost Savings: So far, with the chosen solutions I have this much invested; 1)Roxu box $59., 2) Broadcast Antenna, amplifier and misc $150. 3) Channel Master DVR $350. and last 4) Netflex $7.99 per month. As mentioned Netflix probably has the largest content offering but there are others coming on-line daily. Unfortunately , if you subscribe to all of them, you are back to the monthly fee of $80 bucks and regular cable programing may become a better deal. 
  2. A la cart viewing: This is something consumers have asked for but traditional CATV has avoided. With the use a Roku type box, you can pretty much subscribe to what ever you want (based on what they currently have to offer). However, be warned,  so far some of the pricing I have seen from the content providers will easily add up to the cost of CATV. 
  3. A lot less crap:  Have you ever wondered why you can block a TV station from your television, but not from your CATV provided set-top-box? Because they don’t want you to!! They use this marketing tool with program providers as a way attract new content to their network. We all surf channels, and there is always a degree of random stopping  to see what is on QVC, so they use that surfing to their advantage.

Next time we will review the new equipment and see how easy/difficult it was to install and turn up.

If you have not read the earlier posts on this topic, click on Techy Things to see all of them.

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Cutting the Cord Part II; Installing a TV Antenna

December 15, 2010

  The first step in cutting the cord will require the installation of a TV Antenna. As of June of 2009 broadcast television as we know it totally changed. All television providers were mandated by the US Government to convert their broadcast signal to a digital format. For that reason, if you choose to add a TV antenna, you must have a TV with a digital tuner or a converter box. If you have been purchasing television through a CATV provider you were not required to have a converter box. See DTV.gov for more information on converter boxes.  You will need a converter for each analog TV.

With digital broadcast television (antenna) service, you may find you get a better quality picture than from your CATV provider as the signal you are receiving is not filtered or choked on the way to your house. Just remember, not all programing is recorded in digital or HDTV. Reruns of Star Trek or HEE HAW will still look about the same.

Choosing and Installing a TV Antenna

  1. Choose  a high quality TV antenna:  Go to AntennaWeb and follow the instructions. This is a great site funded by the National  Broadcasters  Association (NAB) and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).  It does a great job of  analyzing your needs based on your specific address and zip code. Antenna selection and placement is very important. With digital broadcast TV signals, proper tuning and high quality materials are very important. AntennaWeb will tell you what TV stations you should expect to receive based on your location and the antenna selected. Follow the recommendations on the AntennaWeb page to the letter to ensure the highest quality service.
  2. Choose a good site for the Antenna: Your antenna of choice will have to be aimed in the direction identified in AntennaWeb. You can do this with a simple camping compass. Look for a location on the house with the least amount of obstructions toward the direction the antenna will be aimed.  If your house has a gable style roof, it should be easy to attach mounting hardware for the mast. Without a good place to attach it to your house, you may have to consider a free-standing antenna mast. This can add significant costs.   On the AntennaWeb page they will also recommend specific antennas with brand choices.  I have found Channel Master equipment to be superior. Regardless of the brand,  it is imperative to follow the recommendations of style/type of antenna recommended by AntennaWeb.   
  3. Grounding Required: Just like the CATV and Telephone services, you should ground the antenna mast as it is probably the tallest structure off the top of the house. If you mount the antenna near the CAT/Telephone enterance, you can add a #10 ground wire from a bolted connection at the antenna hardware to the existing ground wire of either the CATV or Telephone servies. For full understanding of grounding and bonding, take a look at the articles in the Electrical tab.
  4. Use High Quality Coax Cable: Use a high quality quad shield coax. You can purchase coax from the Orange Box store for small quantities. If you are going to wire the whole house look at CablestoGo for bulk reels of cable to save some money. If you will be getting your internet service from the cable company, you may have to provide new coax for one or the other. Check with your cable company to see if they can use your antenna coax to supply Internet Service (don’t hold your breath as they want to sell you both).
  5. Make the connections: Assuming you are running new coax or needing to make connections, you will need F-type connectors. I recommend using the Compression style NOT the crimp style for the best quality connection, they are not cheap, but this is what the professional will use. Applied correctly, they will be trouble-free. You will need to buy a special tool to apply them. The Orange Box carries both, if you want to buy them locally. If at all possible, route your new antenna cables near the same location as the CATV house connection. There will be an F-Type connector (and possible splitters) at this entry point. Simply disconnect the cable coming from the street (cable provider) and make you antenna connection here. Granted, if you wanted to retain  the CATV connection, this will not work. They make A/B switches that will allow you to switch sources, but if you do that you have to mount this A/B switch somewhere that you can get to it easily. The other choice is to add a second set of coax cables. If you are starting from square one and are installing coax cable for the first time, consider using Siamese style quad shielded cables. This way you will have two independent coax cables to each room. That way, you can connect both the primary and secondary cables to the TV allowing you to make the switch through the TV with your remote. NOTE: A splitter and an exterior A/B switch look very similar but they are not. The A/B switch allows two sources where the splitter provides two outputs.
  6. Splitters Required: For applications with multiple TV’s, you will have to run the coax into a splitter.  This allows you to start with one cable in and multiple cables out. NOTE: Everytime the signal is split, the signal strength is cut in half.  So, the more the splitters, the weaker the signal. To avoid the loss in signal strength, boosters or amplifiers can be added to the coax circuit. Make the decision to add the amplifiers AFTER you have hooked everything up and you determine you 1) have a weak signal, or 2) cannot receive all the channels you expected.
  7. Turn it up: Make all the connections to the TV’s and aim the TV antenna in the desired direction. Most new TV’s have “auto selectors” that can program your TV to all stations that the TV tuner recognizes. This is a good way to get started, but you will probably want to edit that list after you have the antenna locked in. Use the guide from AntennaWed to validate the stations you should be receiving.
  8. Troubleshooting: With digital TV reception, there is no such thing as a fuzzy picture. Poor reception will appear as an intermittent signal,  frozen/choppy picture or no picture (signal) at all.  Adjust the antenna a couple of degrees one way or the other to bring in a better signal and run the auto-select program in the TV again. If you are still not receiving all the channels, read #9.
  9. Troubleshooting II: If you find one TV receives all the channels at one TV but not at  another, this may be an indication that you need an amplifier to boost the signal. Install an amplifier per the instructions. Channel Vision carries these products too. This may solve your problem.
  10. Troubleshooting III: If you continue to have difficulty receiving some channels you may have a large obstruction (buildings, trees, mountains, hills) in the way. You can try moving the antenna to another part of the house and or try raising the antenna. Unfortunately you may have to compromise by living with the stations you can clearly receive. 

  I have completed this portion of  cutting the cord. Admittedly, I had some issues with signal strength due to cable length and splitters. If you follow the methods described, you should be able to clear up most problems as I did.

Next time we will look at the Internet TV options and how to maximize your choices.