Cut the cable/satellite cord…

August 3, 2013 at 4:32 pm

cutcableSeriously. It’s time to cut that cable/satellite out of your expenses.

No, don’t physically cut the cable, you’ll need that later :-).

When my wife was preparing to become a stay at home mom, we were looking at things we could cut down or get rid of entirely. We had a package with Dish Network. It was a single satellite receiver, it worked in two rooms, DVR, had all kinds of good channels, it was super slick, and $80 a month. Ouch. That hurts me now just thinking of how much we paid for that month after month, and I know Dish Network has packages in the $200+ per month range, and some people have those. It was a serious waste of money, there are much better ways to get TV now, and trust me, once you try it, you won’t go back to the old way. Just a little side note, we went to the beach earlier this year and stayed in a hotel. We turned on the TV, and attempted to watch it. We couldn’t stand looking through the guide trying to find something that was on that we wanted to watch. Looks like the On Demand nature of our TV setup has spoiled us.

We called up Dish, cancelled the package and sent the receiver back. At the time, we hadn’t really set up our system yet, so the only thing we really had was an Indoor TV Antenna that we purchased from a local retailer, and Netflix on our computer. The performance of the antenna was lackluster, we only received two or three channels. It really depended on time of day, and weather, if we would receive all three channels, or just one. We live about 35 miles from any of the TV towers. Cristy and I both weren’t happy with the setup we had. One channel (or more depending on the weather) didn’t offer enough variety. Netflix wasn’t bad, but it was annoying to watch on computers.

So, being an IT nut, I started Googling, and started thinking of how best to resolve the issue. The indoor antenna we had, although it received few channels, those channels were in HD, and they looked great. I knew that the best way to probably fix the lack of channels would be to place an external antenna on top of the roof. My dad had a brilliant idea. He recommended to take the satellite dish off of it’s roof mount, and put an antenna in it’s place. So with that, I knew where I wanted the antenna to go, and as an added bonus, satellites use coax cable, which is the same thing that antennas use as well. So, my wiring was already done as well. So, I ordered the following antenna, and the coax cable tester:













We got both from Amazon (which we buy nearly everything from, but that’s another post). Here’s the link to the antenna, and here’s the link to the coax tester. The antenna came highly rated, and it had several features that I thought would be useful in our environment. First, because it’s parabolic in design, that makes it a directional antenna. Because it’s directional, I can focus the antenna to pick up the signal I want. In my case, I wanted to pull in Charlotte, NC channels**. The antenna was super cheap, but seemed to be built well. It also has a rotor motor, which means I can turn the antenna from inside the house. Honestly, we never use the rotor feature, once the antenna was set like we wanted it, there’s really no need to ever move it again. So, my dad and I put the antenna up on the roof. Well, my dad did anyway. I have an issue with heights (I’m working on it). It was super easy to loosen the satellite dish, slide it off, slide the antenna back in its place, and then tighten it up. At that point, we were done with the mounting of the antenna. We simply pointed it north since we wanted Charlotte, NC.

The antenna part was easy, the cabling part was a little more tricky to narrow down. With the Dish Network setup we had, there were two coax cables in a single bundle coming off the roof, going under the house, which then fed into two signal separators. I don’t want to bore you with the technical details, so suffice it to say, there were a lot of cables. In order for the antenna to work, we needed a single cable, from point A to point B. The coax tester was handy in this regard. Since cables coming off the roof were bundled together, it was hard to trace which cable was what. The coax tester came with a series of colored caps, and you put these ends on one end of the coax. On the other end of the cable, you plug in the tester. It lights up the indicator of which cable you have in your hand. It made it easy to find and identify the right coax we needed. We also had to remove all of Dish Network’s splitters, and merge the cables together to create one cable from point A (roof) to point B (TV).

Here’s what it looked like on the house. It doesn’t stick out, and to me, it really doesn’t look bad:









Here’s a close up of the antenna:









This particular antenna is amplified, which means it has a box that’s inside that requires power. So, we plugged the antenna into it, plugged the box’s ac adapter into the power socket, and plugged in the box output into the TV. Voila, we had a bunch of channels. To be more precise, we have 28 unique channels, with all of them except a couple being in HD (High Definition). We get all the major networks, ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CW, PBS, etc. These were all out of Charlotte, but we also picked up some Columbia versions of the same thing. Best of all, these over the air channels are 100% FREE. I just had to buy the antenna, and the tester. I bought this in February of 2012, so I’m getting 28 HD (some SD) channels, and I’ve saved over $1,300 ($80 X 17 months).

The antenna was just one vector of our amazing TV setup. At this point, we had a Nintendo Wii, and we were watching Netflix on our TV through it. But, we got tired of having to navigate through the Wii, the interface was clunky. So I started looking at other streaming boxes like Apple TV and Roku. I finally settled and Roku, and it’s awesome. It supports a vast array of channels, and more are being added. It’s also full 1080p HD (Yes, I’m a quality fanatic). We downgraded our Netflix to streaming only (saved about $10 a month), and we pay $8.63 a month for that. Netflix* gives us a lot of movies, and a good portion of TV, though the TV episodes may be older seasons. We signed up for Hulu* at a cost of $7.99 per month. It gives us a better TV side, because it usually has current seasons of shows, and new episodes usually are available the day after they air on the major networks. Plus, it has lots of Barney seasons, which Emilee loves (I plot the death of the purple dinosaur daily). We also have an Amazon Prime* subscription at a cost of $70 for a year. That gives us a bunch of movies and TV. There is some overlap between Amazon, and Netflix, but each company has some exclusive agreements for certain shows and movies. Netflix landed a Disney deal, which Emilee will enjoy (and Cristy too probably, she’s a Disney nut, and I guess I am too, to a certain degree). That’s it for our monthly costs. Roku also has several neat free channels, I encourage you to check out Crackle. The movies are older, but 100% free. Some ads do play during the movie, but it’s not overwhelming.

Here’s what our setup looks like. The Roku is on the top left. The gray box is the antenna rotor control to move the antenna around, this is also the box that amplifies the antenna. The Vizio is the bluray player:









Now, back to a point I made earlier, Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu, it’s all on demand. I search for what I want to watch, and then I watch it. Cristy, Emi, and I went on a beach trip earlier this year, and the hotel had cable TV. I hated having to look for something that I might want to watch, rather than being able to select what I want, and watch it.

So to summarize it all up for you, here’s a breakdown of the costs involved. Both the onetime costs, and the ongoing costs.

One time costs:

Antenna, $57

Coax tester, $22

Roku, $79

Total: $158 one time

Monthly costs:

Netflix, $8.63

Hulu, $7.99

Amazon, $5.84 (per month, paid annually)

Total: $22* per month.

I’m saving at least 75% on my TV experience by getting rid of $80 per month Dish. And, we like this a whole lot better. I’m working on building a media PC, where I’ll have a computer hooked up to the TV. I’m really excited about it, I’ll be able to pause live TV, record shows, and watch YouTube, plus anything else a computer can watch. That will enable me to do away with Hulu and save $8 a month. Keep watching for a post on that :-).

*Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon all require a decent broadband internet (10Mbps down minimum). I didn’t include this in my costs, because I already had internet at the time, and so Internet wasn’t a factor in the pricing.

**Ironically, I’m also pulling Columbia, SC stations, which are completely different directions. Not sure how that happened.

Thanks a bunch for reading!


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