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How To Cut the Cord (Part 2)

Part 1 covered the my reasons for getting rid of cable TV.  “But wait,” you probably said, “I was on the edge of my seat during that riveting post and about to cut the cord, but didn’t have a roadmap to actually go through with it.”

Well then this post is for you…I’ll cover the “how” of our non-cable-TV-watching setup and installation for Part 2.  It’s a pretty straightforward setup: a combination of internet TV and a digital antenna for broadcast TV.

Internet TV

For internet TV, we sampled both Chromecast and Apple TV.  Chromecast is less expensive at $35 upfront.  At $100-125 upfront, it is substantially more than Chromecast.  But compared to monthly cable service, either is a deal in my book.  So I’ll recommend Apple TV based on ease of use and simpler integration into our existing apple store, music, etc.

Apple TV Home Screen
Apple TV Home Screen

Apple TV hooks into your TV through an HDMI plug, much like a DVR or DVD player.   Very much plug & play.  Once you plug it in and switch to that input on your TV, you are guided through a simple setup.  Using the remote (or an app through your iphone/ipad) you can then select various apps similar to your phone.  You can access on demand and/or live content from HBO, ESPN, Netflix, Youtube, Pandora, and other entertainment channels.

As with iphone apps, so are free and some have subscription costs.  The Apple TV just gives you the interface.  We already use Pandora and opted for Netflix at $8/month.  We also find ourselves using ESPN, Amazon, and Youtube (for BabyTV).  You can also access your photos and music from your computer.  And you can rent movies ($4-5 each) to stream directly from Apple if you just can’t find anything on Netflix worth watching.

Digital Antenna

In 2009, analog broadcast TV switched to digital.  This means that consumers are able to receive high quality picture and sound in broadcast TV but need to upgrade to antennas that can receive digital signals.  So began antenna research.

I didn’t find conclusive info with online reviews. They seemed to say that antennas tend to be fickle – some work best in one location while others work best in others. And that it didn’t correlate specifically to price.  The three main factors are distance, direction, and power of your local broadcast stations.

RCA Antenna
RCA Antenna

Because of this, we started a the cheap option using the RCA CANT1650F. It is a flat indoor multidirectional antenna ($20-25 from Amazon). Very simple setup…took it out of the box and plugged it into the TV.

The signal wasn’t great, so we plugged in the amplifier and it was decent. It especially struggled with live camera pans in HD (I guess because of all the data needing to come through). After a couple of months, and a basketball season, we decided to upgrade to a larger antenna in the attic.  Also, the small antennas typically need to sit out in the open (or on a wall), so it becomes an unattractive feature in your living room.

Clearstream UHF/VHF Antenna
Clearstream UHF/VHF Antenna

I went to several tech stores, and got references online for a larger antenna. I settled on the Antennas Direct Clearstream 2V. It combines the UHF and VHF signals, and has a longer range on signal pickup.  I installed it in my attic, near a window for reception and have been pleased with the results.

 

Instructions for Installing Digital Antenna:
  1. Check the signal direction/type & best antenna type.The FCC provides a helpful tool to check the direction and signal strength of local broadcast television. Type in your address/zip code and the map will produce a list of applicable stations with a map graphic.  Click on the stations that interest you, and the map will display location, signal strength, and UHF/VHF info.
  2. Purchase your antenna.We bought ours on Ebay. The cost was about $50 vs a little over $109 in stores/amazon.
  3. Assemble your antenna.Ours came mostly put together because it was bought used off of ebay. But the box also had straightforward instructions.
  4. Install in attic / outside.I didn’t want any gangly/techie devices hanging around my living room or front yard. So I went for the attic install. I have a window in the attic, so can still receive a pretty clear signal.  The key here is to figure out which way to aim your antenna. Based on antennaweb, the majority of the channels in my area are coming from 160 degrees (almost south). So that’s where I started.
  5. Run signal to TVsWe wanted to run multiple TVs from our antenna, so we ran the signal to the house’s demarc point, which was then already wired to the various TVs. The demarc point is usually in a box on the side of your house. It is the point that the public network meets your house. Inside this box, there is typically a wire coming from the street into a splitter, then out to the various endpoints (TVs, routers) in your house.
    Coaxial Cable Connector
    Coaxial Cable Connector

    If you are keeping internet service, you will need a coaxial cable connector (cheap: $3-6 each). Inside the demarc box, take the coax cable coming from the street, and disconnect it from the main splitter. Reconnect it to your connector. Then take the wire that runs to your router, and connect it to the other end. It’s worth doing this first, so you don’t confuse yourself as to which wires go where (like I did during our installation).Then you need to replace the data coming into your old splitter. Your new source is your antenna (instead of the cable company from the street). Run a wire from the antenna, or if you are lucky (and have an old house like mine) there may be a spare wire running down from your antenna to your demarc box. Connect this to the splitter in the same place previously occupied by the coax from your incoming TV provider.

  6. Digital ReceptionOptimize your signal.
    Once you get a signal, it is still worth maxing out your signal. Digital broadcast television is more of any all-or-nothing game than analog TV was. So you want to adjust your antenna direction until you get the highest reading on your signal quality/strength indicator (on your TV, usually in the menu section) When your antenna signal is optimized, secure your antenna.
  7. Cancel your TV service.It’s a very liberating call.  AT&T wouldn’t let me fully cancel on the internet.  Instead of being annoyed, I enjoyed every minute of removing my small revenue stream from that low-customer-service dinosaur of a company. (Minor frustrations with them in the past…you may be able to tell)

 

*Crutchfield has a good informational page on the basics and science of choosing the best antenna type for your situation.