Is “Cutting the Cord” Right for You?

This article is written by Guy Hamernik from Educational Technology.

We are in the midst of a paradigm shift in the delivery of our television entertainment. Since the boom of cable TV in the ‘80s, cable companies have expanded service areas, increased channel variety, and bought out the competition to remain profitable.  Cable and satellite rates also continue to rise.

With the growth in internet service and bandwidth in many urban areas including Rochester, viewers have access to an increasing amount of online video content. Pay services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime have increased our entertainment options and changed our viewing habits. TV show marathons on cable are being replaced by convenient binge watching of shows like “Breaking Bad” and “House of Cards.”

Many viewers are relying on these types of services partnered with an over-the-air antenna and eliminating their cable and satellite service.  This process the industry has dubbed “cutting the cord.” Is cutting the cord right for you?

To correctly answer this you have to first examine your viewing habits. If your interests include live programming like sports and news channels, your options are limited. Many of these offerings currently reside by-and-large on cable and satellite channels. If you mainly watch the networks, TV shows, and dramas, then cutting service might be right for you.

CASE STUDY: Charter Cable’s decision to encrypt their content requiring cable boxes on every TV has many viewers evaluating their options. Some are taking advantage of the 1 free year of rental on one extra cable box Charter offer, while others are changing to a satellite dish option.

In my household, I need two boxes. The kids like Cartoon Network, Disney, Pawn Stars, American Pickers, etc. while I watch or record many Minnesota hockey, basketball, and baseball games, which are on cable. I do have a TV in my bedroom that I mainly use when waking up to catch the weather forecast, and before bed to watch late night talk shows. The two main TVs need cable, however the bedroom TV might be a candidate where an antenna would be useful if I could receive the network channels over the air.

20141109_231131_resizedI tried my friend’s flat, plug-in amplified indoor antenna and was only able to draw in a couple religious channels. That option wasn’t going to meet my requirements. I needed to go bigger and higher to get all the networks available.

I consulted and, punched in my address, and let their computer figure out what channels are available. Their reports stated that I could pick up NBC and ABC around 40 miles SSE from my location. After reading dozens of online reviews, I purchased a 40-mile RCA antenna online, model ANT751 Compact Outdoor Antenna. (This model is also available at your local hardware store.) The reviews made it sound as if this one might be able to pick up those channels.

Assembly of the antenna itself took less than 5 minutes. I have a small, portable 20″ TV that I carried around to various parts of my house with the antenna in an attempt to see how many stations I could draw in. This antenna is directional, so I needed to point it as close as I could in the direction of the towers. I found that the antenna works best when it’s level, and all of the stations were south like the web sites indicated. Once I found the general direction, I determined that I could permanently mount it in the attic of my garage.

I mounted the mast hanging down from the roof, making sure it was level on both axes. Ten minutes later, the antenna was screwed on with a 12mm wrench. I connected my 20” TV and alternated between moving the antenna little-by-little until the picture was clear. I then rescanned the TV to see what I could pick up. I could get all four networks, although there was some pixilating occurring on KTTC. This was as good as it was going to get.

I ran the RG-6 coaxial cable through my garage and into the basement where cable enters my home. After terminating the cable with an RF jack, I tested the signal again. There was some break-up and pixilating, so I went to the store and bought an RF amplifier for $16 bucks to boost the signal.

I determined which cable went to my bedroom, and used a RF barrel to connect the antenna to it. The barrel connects two like connectors. The results: I get ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CW, METV, THIS, PBS, and a mystery channel from KIMT-TV out of Iowa that plays old TV shows and movies. The PBS Station, KSMQ also has 3 extra channels attached to it.

With the amplifier, KTTC was now clean and clear. I paired this antenna up with a streaming media player I bought cheap on black Friday several years ago, and I think this set-up is good to go.

Now I can get the networks and Netflix.  With Charter box rental being $7+ per month to rent, this set-up of $45 antenna and $16 RF signal booster should pay for itself in just over half of a year.

Cutting the cord might not be the solution for everyone, but with the right antenna and a streaming media player, it might be the right solution for you.

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