Local Channels Without Cable

Antennas for Over the Air Reception

Receiving local channels without cable can be achieved through the use of either an indoor or outdoor antenna.

In today’s streaming environment, this functionality is called ‘Over The Air’, or OTA reception.

Frankly, it’s what we used to do at the dawn of TV!!

Until I cut the cord, I hadn’t used an OTA antenna in a couple of decades. Back then, I remember that the signal quality was spotty, that signals were severely impacted by weather, and that tuning in your favorite show could be a nuisance.

Times have changed! The USA has transitioned over to digital broadcasts, meaning the picture is being transmitted as 1s and 0s instead of an analog signal. This helps with the quality of the picture.

OTA Picture Quality

If you plug the antenna directly to the TV, you’ll immediately notice an improved picture quality over that provided by cable.

Why? Because the cable companies compress the digital signal. How does one compress a digital signal? By mathematically REMOVING parts of the transmitted information. This causes a more grainy picture. If you look closely, you’ll sometimes notice large blocks of the same color, especially in cable provided show backgrounds.

To transmit the local signal to you through cable, the cable company has their own HD antenna. It captures the signal, and then encodes in such a way to preserve their bandwidth.

Now, we’ll probably end up using the same type of trick to help our home WIFI network BUT we’ll be able to configure this to find a sweet spot between performance and quality.

Where to Mount the Antenna?

CableFreeUSA’s recommended cord cutting rig utilizes WIFI inside the house. We want to do everything we can to minimize actual wires. In an old house like mine, this is excellent, as running a new coax line through the walls of the house can cost hundreds of dollars and require plaster and painting finishing work.

I happen to have easy access to a very high part of the house – a finished 3rd floor attic space. This lets me point my Mohu Leaf antenna directly at the local antenna array.

I then plug the antenna into a signal amplifier and then into a TabloTV DVR. In this way, I can watch my local broadcasts, and even time shift them!!!  I specifically pursued this configuration to capture Cleveland Browns NFL broadcasts.

Popular new Prime Time network programming, found on the Big Four, is also there to capture and enjoy.

Call to Action

We recommend that you first try to replicate the OTA portion of CableFeeUSA.com’s recommended cable cutting rig to try and capture your local channels without cable. If your conditions do not let you get the Mohu Leaf pointed above the local ground obstructions (neighbors houses, trees), or if you are in the suburbs farther away from your local broadcasting array, you’ll want to invest in and mount an antenna on the house. I know this is more work and cost, but it really is the ‘real’ way to implement OTA capture.

2017 Cable Cutting Rig

Welcome to CableFreeUSA.com’s Cable Cutting Rig Case Study

This is a description of an actual known working system that I’m actively using to enjoy programming content in my home. It is comprised of three major subsystems:

A. The over-the-air system that catches local and national network broadcasts

B. The media server that serves ripped content

C. The streaming devices that are connected to the TVs in the house

 

1. The main wifi router is leveraged as part of the solution. The goal of the system is to watch video on different devices like TV, tablets, phones, laptops, and computers, while the devices are only connected to the network via wifi.

2. The wifi router is connected to a cable modem for internet only connectivity. I recommend purchasing the Arris Touchstone TM822G DOCSIS 3.0 8×4 Ultra-High Speed Telephony Modem. I LOVE it. I have only had to reboot it ONCE in two years of service. You will pay off the investment in a year of use. The cable companies love to rent it to you.

3. Purchase the internet only cable plan, preferably without the cable modem that you purchased separately. I am using Wide Open West (WOW!) and am actually pleased with my cable company.

4. My family home server (What!?! You don’t have a home server?!) runs Windows 10 Home with Plex installed. This lets me stream pictures, music, and ripped movies and TV shows to any device connected to the wifi router. By plugging the Plex server directly to the wifi router, you get the benefit of pumping the media data out as fast as possible to your devices. The throughput is then constrained by the capacity of the wifi links.

5. TabloTV is an Over the Air (OTA) Digital Video Recorder. I have a two tuner unit and pay $49.99/year for TabloTV’s ‘guide’ service. TabloTV is a Canadian company that had some initial issues with their software, but has since deployed very stable releases. Their customer support has always been top notch.

6. TabloTV requires an external USB hard drive that the customer must purchase separately. This is a hidden cost to the TabloTV DVR. Beware: TabloTV really only supports a few models, so make sure to verify that the drive model you intend to use is on the list. I’ve linked to the working model that I use.

7. The 30 Mile Mohu Leaf I use is a flat antenna that I hang on an outside wall on the third (attic) story of my house. It is pointed directly at my local transmitter array. It’s probably 2-4 yards from the very top of the house. The Mohu Leafs are reversible. One side is white, the other black. I have the white side visible as I prefer that color on my wall.

8. The RCA Digital Amplifier for Indoor Antenna is connected to the Mohu Leaf with a coax cable. The amplifier gets external power and helps boost the signal strength to the TabloTV. Many communities have issues with signal strength of a channel or two since the conversion of the broadcast stations to digital. In Cleveland, we specifically have a problem with Fox WJW/8 caused by signal interference from a station run by our Canadian friends on the other side of Lake Erie. BTW – The 50 mile Mohu Leaf comes with an amplifier included. Again, this device needs to be plugged into the wall.

9. An Amazon Fire TV is connected to the main family TV. Both a Plex app and a TabloTV app is installed on the device and is used to connect to each corresponding subsystem. Additionally we are subscribed to Netflix and Amazon Prime for access to recent movies and shows. There’s a TON of content available from those two providers. I’ll talk about all the content options in a future post.

10. An Amazon Fire Stick is connected to the basement TV. Launching of apps seems to be faster on the Amazon Fire TV. But the cool thing about the stick is that it’s very easy to take a long with you on trips, as it’s form factor is simply a USB dongle.

My hope is that this case study helps you on your quest to become free of Cable TV!