Cord Cutting 101, how to save money on TV

Aka: “A Cord Cutters DIY guide to Antenna’s, Free TV and alternatives to expensive Cable TV bills…” Note updated information is in [brackets.]

Have you heard about “Cord Cutters” and how they are saving hundreds? (Yes, cord cutters save $200 or more a month!) This article covers numerous ways to save money on TV.

[6] years ago I was paying Comcast over 300 dollars a month for my Cable TV, Internet, and digital (landline) Phone. Before Comcast I tried AT&T, and the cost was about the same. And both companies enjoy a monopoly of-sorts, so they were constantly charging more for their services. And I really hated the way that these big co’s treated me.

I mean, I wanted to watch NBA, and in order to do so, I had to buy a freak’n “bundle.” And the bundles offer all kinds of extra programming that I paid for – but didn’t want. You’ve probably gone through the same torment, so I’ll end my complaint session here. Moving on…

A BRIEF SATELLITE STORY…
[Years ago, I switched to another service and I saved a ton of money.] [I won’t mention the company because I’m not trying to pitch for them, but let’s me just say they use a satellite dish.] They didn’t push me to upgrade to bundles, and they allowed me to downgrade to an el-cheapo service of 40 bucks a month. But still, I felt that I was paying for local-tv programming that is offered free through my antenna.

Later, I downgraded my service to a “pause” plan. This cost me $5 [6 years ago] month, and it allowed me to keep my SAT while I tested the alternative – local TV channels delivered via OTA (over-the-air) antenna. So far, I’ve experienced mixed results.

When it rains or the wind blow, so does the reception in MY HOUSE — but that’s because I have an unpowered-homemade-antenna right next to my brick Chimney inside the house = poor reception and MY FAULT!

It’s best to buy a powered Antenna, which promises dozens of free Over-the-Air stations.

In Metro Detroit, my Sat service has a introductory plan that cost about 30 dollars, and it has local channels plus TBS, Motor Trend TV, and many more…This was my latest adjustment to my plan. It saves me allot of money, and I get reliable Local News, as well as LINK TV and International news from China. A nice plus is Dish’s “studio” channel where they feature films from some of their add-on channels, like MGM. You might want to ask if they offer it in your area.

Not very often, but on a very Stormy day, my Sat may go out temporarily. And on the occasion when I use my alternate — an over-the-air Antenna (you may recall the old rabbit ears) the programming is good.

A LOOK AT OTT & CTV — AKA “SET TOP BOXES”…
Set Top Boxes like Roku, Fire TV, and Apple TV all function the same way — you must have an Internet connection, 4mbps or better to use these devices to watch movies and Shows on your Television. (My current company says my Internet speed is 25mbps or so – and although that is not a consistent speed, it is perfectly fast enough.)

Using your Set Top Box (or “stick”.) You need to plug in the unit into your HDMI port or your composite (RCA) jacks on your TV. Just look for the “in” ports, it’s pretty standard on most TV’s, “Input” RCA jacks are Yellow for Video, and Red for Right-Audio, White for Left-Audio. Then plug in the power on the unit, turn on the TV, select the “source” aka “input” for the signal you’d like to watch.

(In other words, this set-top-box “source” is an alternative to just turning the TV on and watching via an antenna or cable/sat TV.) Over-the-Air Television is much more user friendly, so if you have a person in the house who is tech-challenged (like your Mom or Grandma) then you might want to stick with a simple antenna connected to your television, instead of CTV.

I make my living developing CTV channels, but I understand the challenges and why OTA is a great, free TV alternative.

Continuing on with our Wifi/Set-top-box setup: Next you should see that your Roku/Fire/AppleTV is asking you to connect to an Internet Signal. I’m sure your Internet Provider set you up with a WiFi Router. You’ll need the name of it, and it’s password. Type that into the prompts on your TV, and it will eventually connect you. Now click on the “home” button for your Roku or whatever — and you see they’ve automatically loaded a few starter channels. Yay! Your ready to watch.

USING THE INTERNET TO WATCH TV IN LOWER RESOLUTION…[updated September 2022]
As a side-note, on my second-TV, I adjusted my Roku’s display settings to Standard Definition, 16×9 Wide-Screen. This saves data-use aka “Internet Bandwidth.” My Fire TV doesn’t have the same settings, because I have a Fire TV “stick” which plugs in via the HDMI port on my TV, offering a HD display of 720 or better. Therefore, when I want to save bandwidth, I instead use my Roku because I can use the composite plugs and a SD setting.

Why save bandwidth?

Because if you live in a Rural area, then it’s possible that you do not have a large amount of “bandwidth” aka “data.” included with your Internet plan. Setting your TV to Standard Definition, 720, or most anything lower than 4k could save you Internet “overuse” charges. Of course this all depends on your Internet company and your budget.

Note that the Government’s recent “Internet For All” program is designed to deliver Broadband Internet to Rural, Underserved and Unserved communities.

The Internet For All program is something that my Broadcast partner and I are using to deliver a combined Broadcast/Broadband signal to Rabbit Ear Television users. This will be done via the new ATSC 3.0 technology, which is something you’ll hear more about in the future…NOTE: if you’d like to provide matching funds for the development of such a Broadcast/Broadband opportunity, then please reach out to me (Dean Lachiusa) via my webmail: MetroFilmFestival@gmail.com 


MORE ABOUT TV-APPS AKA SETBOX-TV CHANNELS…
Ok, moving on. Let’s say you have a Roku or another box that you’ve paid 25 dollars or more for. (The only cost for a Roku/Fire is the one-time purchase fee.) Additional fees apply to Netflix, Hulu subscriptions, if you opt for their programming — but really, you don’t have to. Great channels (aka TV-Apps) include Pluto, Crackle, “Movies Plus TV” (of course,) ABC,  TMN (The Movie Network) and many others like CW Seed.

Netflix is an App. It also is considered a channel on Roku. I subscribe to it. And I love my Netflix at about 8 dollars a month for the non-UHD reception. I get some great shows like LOST IN SPACE and LILLYHAMMER and quality feature films. BUT – I do not get my local programming. No local news, no Nightly News unless I want to watch the previous days programming.

Hulu is similar to Netflix. I pay about 6 bucks every month with advertising. Great programming like Dirk Gently, Quickdraw, and Misfits is here. But again, there is no live-local programming like Detroit area news, or IHolyfield TV on OTA channel 15, etc.

So, the dilemma is if I’ve fired my Cable TV company then: How do you get LIVE, LOCAL TV broadcasts in RELIABLE QUALITY without spending too much money?

Some services like Sling offer paid packages that deliver content to Roku and FireTV for about over $50 monthly. This might be the way to get a few local LIVE channels, plus some other networks like Starz.

You’ll be hard pressed to find an economical package that offers NBC, ABC, and CBS. You may be thinking…I’m trying to save money — that’s why I “cut the cord!” So what is the solution? (Usually money or OTA, but read on…)

What you should know about pirates and services that offer digital re-broadcast via Android Apps and Android-Boxes…
Services like Kodi are reputed to take advantage of streaming TV that is designed for our troops abroad. That is, like the AFN (American Forces Network.) Some rebroadcasters have agreements that allow them to re-broadcast HBO, STARS, and other networks to foreign countries. These re-broadcast services are not licensed (or intended) for use in the USA. Have people found a way to use these APPS in the USA? Yes, but I won’t say how because firstly it’s illegal, and secondly you cannot depend on the service when you use it outside of the way it is intended. So Argh, if you’re a pirate then maybe you’ll forego the moral implications and legal ramifications in order to get your TV this way. But I would NOT advise it.


ANTENNAS AND OVER THE AIR TELEVISION!
You can shop all day long for a cheap antenna, but I have to say that I’ve used non-amplified antennas (like the old rabbit ears.)  They don’t work well for me — but you may be lucky enough to live in an area that has strong TV signals and little structures overhead to block a signal. In my case, because I have an enormous brick chimney in the middle of my living room, the results are not great in my house. So, I need a powered Antenna.

In Metro Detroit we have over 30 channels too, ranging from channel 2 to Channel 62. My TV usually tunes just a portion available, like NBC 4-2 aka “4-dash-3.” If this sounds confusing, it isn’t really. The channels are set up just like they were in the analog broadcasting days, accept that stations like Channel 4 now have “multicast” channels like Heroes and Icons on their 4-2 channel. Don’t worry, you don’t have to find these manually, and you really don’t have to understand how multicasting or “subchannels” work in your town. (That’s my biz 😉

If you have a TV set with a Digital Tuner, then simply plug in an Antenna into the “Antenna In” coaxial port of your TV. Then go into your TV’s settings and use the Channel set up options to Scan and “auto tune” your TV’s Over-the-Air Antenna. It might take a few minutes, but your TV should find a few channels. And most new TV’s have a “skip” option that allows you to weed out the channels that you don’t want to watch.


If you have no walls or steel barriers in your house, then before you buy an antenna, you might consider a homemade solution. I know of two designs, and one that I currently use. Before we start on this – please take note: A coaxial port can be damaged – so don’t just jam any old metal thing into it…Okay, that being said, let’s examine a couple do it yourself indoor antennas…

ANTENNA DIY…
1.) I read about a guy who says to use a PaperClip — I would guess that the (big) business grade clip could work. He took a clip, and straightened out one end, then he gently pushed it into his TV’s “antenna in” jack. Done, with limited channel reception of course. But hey, don’t quote me, and don’t blame me if you decide to test your TV with a PaperClip or a wire.

2.) A coaxial cable. After buying both a Amplified Antenna, and a Rabbit Ear antenna, I decided to use a DIY antenna made out of an old cable-tv-cable. One end screws into the port “it’s the coaxial jack” of your TV, and the other end needs to be prepared like in the following tutorial….

3.) Proceed at your own risk…
Steps A-B: Carefully, snip ONE end of the cable off. Then carefully…carefully (so you don’t cut yourself) skin the protective rubber housing off of the cable. You need to do this slowly so that you DO NOT cut into the copper wire on the inside. (Pardon me for being redundant.)
Now, without cutting the inside lining…shear anywhere from 6 inches to a foot of the housing off, but like I say do it carefully and don’t cut all the way through because you’re just trimming off the protective rubber exterior. You may throw this rubber piece away.

C) Now you’ll see the lining, it’s a mesh — a wire mesh. This easily pulls back. It’s like putting on a condom (don’t get mad – this is the best analogy I can offer.) When I made my antenna, I didn’t have to cut the mesh. You should also be able to simply pull it back upon the cable, and then tape it up. Use a good tape like black electrical tape. Okay? Tape up that mesh that you pulled back.

D) Now you’ll see a plastic piece that protects the inner copper wire. If you have a good wire cutter then carefully…carefully slice this housing (WITHOUT CUTTING THROUGH THE WIRE INSIDE.) Now pull off that plastic housing.

E.) The copper wire is revealed. This is your antenna. Place it AWAY from a wall, as close to a window as you can get. And of course don’t place it near any open wires, metal, or a where a child can poke himself or a power-socket. Don’t try it outside because you don’t want this thing to become a lightning rod.

F.) Reminder – the end of the cable with the Coaxle plug goes into your TV?

I get about 30 channels with my DIY antenna, but like I say it’s not a perfect solution because the weather conditions greatly affect the picture and audio quality.


My ultimate solution…
I’ve opted to use two main solutions, and one backup. I have the el-cheapo “SAT” plan for [38] bucks a month — this provides my local network news, TBS, Motor Trend, etc. I secondly have Internet bundled with digital phone. I use my Internet to connect my Roku and Fire TV devices, and on these devices I have the cheapest Hulu plan, coupled with many free TV-APPS that run on my Roku/Fire. In addition I use my homemade “DIY” Antenna, for OTA channels like iHolyfield TV, and Heroes and Icons.

Did you find this article helpful? Then please visit our Patreon campaign, it’s a very inexpensive way of saying “Thank You.” https://www.patreon.com/moviesplus — (c) Dean Lachiusa

If you like what you’re reading…you’re a “Cord Cutter” and you might like my line of cord cutting swag, from pillows to mugs – click to get your own.

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