I’ve talked about cord cutting many times, but I’ve glossed over what you actually need to do to finally get rid of your cable bill. To cut the cord, you yada, yada, yada, and then you save $200 on your cable bill. I get it. That’s not very helpful. So here’s what you actually need to do to cut the cord and the trade-offs that you’re making.
An HD Antenna Gives you Free Local Stations
If you live in an urban area or close to an urban area, life is much simpler for cutting the cord because you can get a lot of broadcast stations, like ABC, CBS, CW, Fox and NBC, for free. All you need is an HD antenna. I recommend the Vansky 50 mile antenna because it works well, has good reviews, and is priced lower than most other comparable antennas.
Over the air (OTA) signals are great because not only are you getting these channels for free, but the signal coming through is uncompressed, which means that it’s higher quality that what you’re used to getting through cable. Better and free? It’s surprising why more people don’t go this route.
When you’re setting up your antenna, try to place it in a location that’s as high as possible. HD antenna signals depend on line of slight to the broadcast station, so the higher you are, the better the odds of getting a strong signal. I don’t have an HD antenna in my home because I live out in the boonies, so I’m pretty far away from the TV stations near me. Antenna web is a great site to see how far away the nearest TV stations are from your home.
I tried putting an antenna in my attic to increase the range, but it’s covered with a metallic insulation. This is great for trapping or keeping out heat, but it also does a fantastic job of blocking out the TV signals. My next option is putting an antenna on my roof, but that requires a lot of work. I don’t watch much TV, so it’s not worth it to pay somebody to put the antenna on the roof for me.
What If You Can’t get an HD Antenna?
Without an HD antenna, you can still watch TV shows on local stations by going online. ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and USA all offer some shows for free, for a limited time. Usually, you’ll need to wait a week after it airs before getting access to the free content. If you wait too long, the show will require a paid subscription, so you’ll need to watch it in a timely manner. Again, I don’t watch much TV, so these aren’t big issues for me.
If you’re looking for premium channels, you don’t need to subscribe to cable anymore. If you can’t live without Game of Thrones, you don’t need to! Because, really, what would like be like with Game of Thrones? Yes, it’s a life not worth living.
Netflix is the best known site for other content. Netflix won’t have all the content that you’re used to with your traditional cable subscription, but you definitely won’t need to worry about having nothing to watch. In 2017, Netflix is expected to spend over $6bn in content, trailing only ESPN! Netflix has also become a large player in developing its own shows and movies, content that you won’t find anywhere else.
Amazon Prime is another source for great content. If you’re a Prime subscriber, the content is free! Amazon is another company that’s investing a lot in proprietary content, so you’ll find shows and movies unavailable anywhere else.
This is usually the deal-breaker for trying to cut the cord. When I cut the cord 7 years ago, there was no way to get sports without a cable subscription. I’m not a big sports fan so it was easy for me to cut the cord, but I can definitely see why it’d be tough for fans.
With an HD antenna, you’ll have all the local stations so at least you’ll get all the major events, like the World Series and the Superbowl. But it’s harder for regular season games. Thankfully, you now have options. Sling and Hulu are the more popular options to get sports.
If you want ESPN, you can get Sling Orange for $20/month. If you want the NFL Network, you’ll need to subscribe to the Blue tier for $25/month. Unfortunately, there’s no package that has both, which means you’ll need to pay $45/month to subscribe to both. I don’t know how much both channels mean to you, but that sounds like a waste since there’s channel overlap between the Orange and Blue tiers, yet there’s no discount for signing up for both. In effect, you’re double paying for those channels.
With Hulu, you can pay $40/month and get ESPN, along with all the local stations. If you decide to go this route, you don’t need to get an HD antenna. However, the HD antenna is better quality and you’ll still be able to watch TV even if your internet goes down.
How Do You Record or Send the Signal to Multiple Boxes?
Another challenge with cord cutting is finding a way to stream the content to multiple TVs and recording shows. Cable companies let you do both with cable boxes, but they charge you a hefty fee on a monthly basis to rent those boxes.
To get around this with an HD antenna, you can get a device called HD Homerun.
When you plug your antenna into the HD Homerun, you’ll be able to access those channels on any device with wifi. It’s beyond this post, but you can turn a computer into a media center where you can record and store all the TV shows you get through the HD antenna.
Then you’ll be able to steam the content onto any internet-connected device. I bought an Intel NUC to do this because I didn’t want a big bulky computer next to my TV. The NUC is also very quiet, so you don’t need to worry about fan noise.
How Much Are You Spending/Saving?
The HD antenna will cost around $30, which is a one-time expense. The HD Homerun is another $100. A dedicated computer to use as a media center will set you back $500 for a good one. So in total, expect to spend $630.
If you must have ESPN, that’s $20/month in recurring expenses. So all in, that’s $630 in one-time expenses and $20/month in recurring expenses.
The average cable in the US is just over $100/month. I’d argue it’s higher because that includes people with promotional rates, but let’s use that number to be conservative. That means every month, you’re saving $80. However, don’t forget all those one-time costs. Including those, you’ll be breakeven in 8 months. After a year, you’ll save $320, and after that, you’ll be saving almost $1,000/year.
Above, I’m assuming that you’re building a dedicated computer to use as a media center. There’s no reason you can’t use your existing computer to record shows. If we exclude that $500 cost for a new computer, which you’ll be able to use for many other things, your one-time expenses are $130 and you’ll be saving $80/month. That means you’ll break even in under 2 months! And the best part is you don’t need to worry about your cable bill going up every year, which is what you’re currently dealing with.