Eliminating Your Cable Bill the Easy Way

Updated on November 5, 2018
Bill Yovino profile image

Bill has been an information systems professional for more than 20 years. He enjoys writing about cooking, local history, and technology.

AntennasDirect Clearstream 4 over-the-air antenna
AntennasDirect Clearstream 4 over-the-air antenna

When Enough Is Enough

My monthly cable bill recently went from $200 to $250 per month. I don't know about you, but I didn't get a 25% raise this year, so I don't know why the cable company should. $140 of that bill is for TV programming and hardware. My provider was bought by a foreign company that immediately raised rates and laid-off employees. I had been looking into cutting the cord before this, and that gave me even more incentive.

The problem is that most of the solutions that I've seen online were very complicated and generally lacked the functionality I was looking for.

My Requirements

  • Eliminate or greatly reduce my monthly cable TV bill.
  • Keep the channels that I actually watch.
  • Be able to record and playback shows from/to multiple TVs.
  • Easy set-up and easy to use, preferably using only one remote.
  • Equipment should be affordable.

Cable Company Gotcha's

I called my cable company to see how I could cut down on my monthly bill and found that if I downgraded to a package with greatly reduced programming, it would only reduce the cost by about $20. Looking at my itemized bill I discovered that I was paying around $60 per month just for equipment: 3 set-top boxes, a DVR, and some fees and taxes.

Free TV

If you want to cut the cord completely you probably can. Unless you live in a very remote area, there are likely lots of over-the-air stations you can watch free of charge. To see what's available in your area, check the TVFool Signal Locator site. You can find other sites that perform the same function if you do a Google search for "tv broadcast tower locations map", but I found this site to provide the most detailed information.

A broadcast towers report generated for my address.
A broadcast towers report generated for my address.

If those channels make you happy, you just need an antenna capable of pulling them in. I bought a multi-directional Indoor/Outdoor antenna, which I mounted in my attic. I'm close to many broadcast towers, but the houses in my neighborhood are very tall and close together. Additionally, I have plaster walls and a stucco exterior. Those factors make receiving over the air signals challenging. Most of the channels I want to receive are located northwest of me, but one channel that we really like is to the northeast. A multi-directional antenna that covers 180 degrees solved my problem. I had tried a couple of different indoor antennas, but they pulled in very few channels because of my environment.

Find a good location for your antenna and aim it in the direction shown on the broadcast towers report for your area. Connect the cable from the antenna to the antenna connection on your TV, then go through your TV's set-up to scan for available channels. (See your TV owner's manual for details)

If free TV is all you want, go forth and enjoy! The rest of this article deals with other functions and options.

Use One Antenna to Feed Several TVs and Add DVR Functionality

Tablo Lite Dual TV Antenna DVR with WiFi
Tablo Lite Dual TV Antenna DVR with WiFi

Now I have the ability to view the over-the-air (OTA) channels that I want for free.

  1. How do I get them to the other two TVs that I have in the house?
  2. How can I record/playback from OTA shows like I could with my cable DVR?

I read tons of articles on how to do this. Some called for building systems from old computers and installing all kinds of software to make it work. Others called for thousands of dollars worth of equipment. In all cases, I knew that my family members would not be happy using the complicated interfaces.

I found one device that is relatively inexpensive, is extremely easy to set up and use, and does everything I wanted and more. I couldn't be happier with this $140 over-the-air DVR (details below).

This DVR comes with no internal storage, so I bought an inexpensive external 1 TB USB drive. More expensive DVRs come with internal drives, but those have very limited storage, usually 65 GB or less. For this reason, the solution I chose is cheaper and better in the long run than those with internal storage included.

Don't let the details worry you. This is very simple

  1. Download the app to your smartphone or go to the company's website on your Mac or PC.
  2. Plug the antenna into the DVR.
  3. Plug the included power cable into the DVR.
  4. Plug the external USB hard drive into the DVR.
  5. Either plug the DVR into your router with the included cable or connect your DVR to your router via WiFi (using the app).
  6. Using the app, scan for available channels.

If you have a Smart TV, Roku, Fire Stick, AppleTV, smartphone, or tablet, add the free DVR app. You can now watch, record, and playback OTA channels on those devices even though they aren't physically wired to the antenna. It's a Festivus miracle!

You can also pause and rewind live TV, which is a great feature.

The unit I bought gives you a free 30 day trial of their television guide which makes recording and searching very easy and intuitive. After the trial period, the service costs $4.95 per month, but it isn't required to use the system. There are yearly and lifetime options as well. I think it's well worth the money for the convenience, but again it isn't a requirement.

Expanding Your Channels Using Streaming Services

Streaming devices provide access to thousands of free movies and TV shows.

However, some of the channels you enjoy may not be available over the air or via free streaming. If you want to view ESPN, History Channel, Discovery Channel, The Food Network, Travel Channel, CNN, regional sports channels, etc., you'll need to pay for a streaming service. There are many different streaming options available: DirectTV Now, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, Sling and many more. Most can be tailored to suit your needs and budget.

Google "streaming services compared" to find options that meet your needs.

Please note that I have no affiliation or financial interest in any of the products I've recommended here. This setup has worked very well for me, and I'm happy to pass on the information to anyone who may benefit.

My Set-up

I put my antenna in the attic for the best reception. I have a three-story house and running the antenna or network cable to the first floor, where my router is, would be difficult. I put the DVR and hard drive in the attic near the antenna. I connected the DVR to my router via WiFi, eliminating the need to run wires through the house. It works perfectly and was incredibly easy to set up.

I have a media-streaming device on each of my three TVs. Each has access to all of the antenna channels and all of the functions of the DVR. I can watch everything on my smartphone as well.

I have a streaming service for $55/month which gives me all of the cable shows that I watch: History, Discovery, Food Network, TBS, TCM, all of the major networks and news channels, plus many others for a total of 85 channels.

The new hardware cost $280 and will take less than four months to recoup the investment. Going forward, it will yield a savings of close to $1000/year.

No cabling is required between floors or to TVs.
No cabling is required between floors or to TVs.

One-Time Hardware Cost

Item
Brand
Cost
Antenna
AntennasDirect Clearstream 4
80.00
DVR
Tablo Dual Lite OTA DVR
140.00
Hard drive
Seagate 1 TB USB External
54.00
Streaming Device (3) *
Roku Stick ($40 each)
120.00
Total
 
394.00
* Optional. If you have smart TVs, you don't need to buy any streaming devices to make this work. In that case your total hardware cost would be less than $280.

Monthly Fees

 
Formerly
Now
Cable TV with hardware and fees
140.00
0.00
DirectTV Now streaming service
 
55.00
Tablo TV Guide
 
5.00
Total
140.00
60.00

© 2018 Bill Yovino

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