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You sure can do this!!
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Many younger people, who have grown up with Cable TV all of their lives, have never considered that broadcast TV is available for free!
In most metropolitan areas, NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and PBS all transmit digital TV for free. All you need is a digital antenna to pick the digital signals.
But you’ll probably want to go further and set up an OTA DVR to record your favorite shows and watch them at convenient times.
I want to introduce the number one way to capture and time shift your local OTA broadcasts….[drum roll]…. Introducing the VCR!!!
Just kidding. 🙂
We have a digital option here at CableFreeUSA.com.
Our current rig uses TabloTV to record OTA broadcasts. It is connected to the antenna via coax cable, and connected to the home network via WIFI. For best performance TabloTV recommends that the device be connected directly to your WIFI router via coax cable. As we’ve documented previously, the CableFreeUSA.com rig uses an indoor antenna on the 3rd floor connected to the TabloTV. So some streaming quality is lost buy WIFI flexibility is gained.
Apps are also available for Android and iOS devices to watch shows on tablets.
On other devices, connecting to MyTablo through a browser that is on the same local network as the TabloTV will bring up a slick web application that will allow you to watch live TV as well as stream shows.
There are two TabloTV models available: two or four tuners. A tuner can either record a show from the antenna or stream a show to a device. Example: if nothing is recording – two shows can be streamed. If one show is recording – one show can be streamed. You will have to figure out what your typical recording and consumption rate of OTA shows will be to determine the most suitable option. The CableFreeUSA.com rig uses a two tuner model. On NFL Sundays, tuner collisions occur with two games recording with the desire to watch one of them. But that happens infrequently.
One knock I have against TabloTV is the need to purchase a hard drive separately. A 1 TB drive has sufficed for over a year on the CableFreeUSA.com rig, with only 1/2 of the storage being used. Make sure to purchase a compatible unit and budget an extra $100 for the drive.
With a fee of $49.99 / year, the TabloTV offers a digital guide. This service downloads the TV listings for the stations that you are able to receive, and allows you to schedule a season’s worth of shows. Example: to record Super Girl, you find the show and select ‘record all new’. Now all shows for that season will be captured.
Receiving local channels without cable can be achieved through the use of either an indoor or outdoor antenna. This is abbreviated as ‘OTA’ and is differentiated from ‘streaming’ which is how Amazon and Netflix send shows to your device that is connected to your TV.
From the invention of TV until cable transmissions, OTA was the only way to get content to your TV.
Broadcast TV still provides a lot of television options. Local news and weather are broadcast as well as local and national NFL games, national NBA games, and new network and PBS programming. Couple this with OTA DVR equipment, and over half of the content that you watched through your subscription is available.
Back in the day (70’s and 80’s) I remember the sometimes grainy transmissions that would be received, and that would be highly affected by weather, like wind, snow and rain, as well as (sometimes distant) thunderstorms. While these external factors are still in play, they affect the digital signal far less than the older analog tech.
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If you’ve ever had these thoughts, this site is for you:
My family was in the same boat. Additionally my children found themselves using their computers and devices (phones, tablets, etc.) interacting with content that they were interested in. They played games, interacted with friends via MineCraft, watched youtube.com videos that taught them things they wanted to learn.
Frankly, the internet fulfills the promise of what TV was supposed to be!
There were two words that made me nervous, and may make you nervous too – Live Sports.
If you notice, billionaires like Mark Cuban and Steve Ballmer have acquired sports teams, because they know that content is king. Live sports is the last bastion of collecting money from advertisers.
The Monday Night Football games are on ESPN. Thursday night football games are on NFL Network. The ESPN games can be watched with a Sling.TV subscription, if desired. I find that a couple of recorded OTA games per week are enough for me.
If you are out of your favorite team’s blackout market, you can easily watch your team through MLB.TV or NBA’s League Pass. Both leagues make watching live home games more difficult (to protect their local cable stations and advertisers), but it’s not technically impossible.
Sling.TV provides access to ESPN and TBS, and makes for a great option during MLB and NBA playoff time, as well as NFL Monday night football games. I purchased a month’s worth of Sling.TV to watch my Cleveland Indians 2016 playoff and World Series run.
Many new TV shows are still produced by the big four networks and are broadcast OTA. Our cable cutting rig will ensure that you catch, time-shift, and fast forward through commercials of your favorite shows.
If you look closely on your DVR, you will notice that the vast majority of cartoons are repeats. If your children are under 6, they will tend to watch a lot of PBS cartoon content. Why pay a cable bill for cartoons? It is more cost effective to sign up for Amazon Prime and Netflix per month to get some cartoons and stream the rest of the content from PBS Kids. Mix this in with the tried and true DVD purchases (used on Amazon Prime or Ebay) and the DVD rentals from the library, and your children will be happy. Besides, a lot of the Disney and Nickelodeon live action content content is morally questionable that is presented to pre-teens. Teens don’t actually watch it.
These two channels were made by cable packages. They generate a lot of addicting reality TV. You may be able to find some of these shows from a few years ago on Netflix, and may find the latest shows for pay on Amazon. Take a History Channel and Discovery Channel diet for a year or two as new programming appears on Netflix and Amazon. You won’t miss these shows. They are filler in between ads.
Take a look at our CableFreeUSA.com cable cutting rig to get an idea on how to take action, capture OTA broadcasts, and stream Netflix and Amazon to your TVs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!