Monday, December 18, 2006

My Year Without Cable

Since January I have watched several new TV shows and the major sporting events; Almost all of them were in glorious HDTV. With only minor changes to our viewing habits I have kicked the cable TV to the curb and gone 100% OTA for network and local broadcasts. It might surprise some people that someone with a HDTV might not have cable service. In reality dropping cable TV was an excellent choice for our household.


Some people may think we cheated. When we dropped cable we picked up a subscription to NetFlix in order to tide us over. We are big movie buffs and with the ever increasing cost of purchasing or rentals it seemed like a good choice for us. Despite some reservations about throttling we have consistently gotten 3 disks/week if we are diligent about returning the disks quickly. Our NetFlix queue has ebbed and flowed between a dozen and a few hundred discs. It's a general mix of TV shows that we have not seen and movies that we want to watch, but not own.


I really caught a lucky break when we converted out system over to antenna reception. I picked up a surplus Sony DHG-HDD500 from my local Tweeters for a measly $200. Adding a simple 10' Radio Shack antenna for $80 and some cable and connectors $20 to create a functional system that would pick up every station in our broadcasting area. I am close enough to the towers that I don't have to worry about pre-amps or other amplification equipment at this time. If you can't get one of the Sony DVR you can use any good ATSC tuner ( built into most TV's ) or put together a MythTV box with the appropriate tuner card and duplicate most of the same functionality.

The chimney antenna went up without too much effort. I did scare my wife half to death climbing around on the roof. I used the information from "antennaweb" on order to aim the antenna in the general direction of the main tower locally.

NOTE: For those who don't think they can setup an antenna because of one or more restrictions you should first read the FCC's website on the issue. What it boils down to is that basically none of the restriction from HoA's, local, or state restriction on OTA reception are valid.

How Well Does It Work?

It works like a charm. Most people who come over and find out that we are using an antenna are amazed at the picture quality. We get CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX, PBS, WB, and CW (was UPN ) all as digital transmissions, most in HDTV. The signals are strong and rarely have dropouts. It's at least as reliable as the Time Warner cable that we had before and quite a bit cheaper. We get guide information OTA as well from the "TV Guide" system that is datacast with the local PBS station. The Sony dvr is a timesaver as well since we can not be tied to the TV during prime time with a new baby in the house.

How Much Are You Really Saving?

Basic digital cable and a HDTV converter box rental run approximately $50/month, NetFlix runs approximately $20/month, and the hardware cost me $300. In the first year that's a savings of $60 and a savings of $360 for every year after that. Amortizing the DVR over a 5 year lifespan ( conservative estimate ) leads to a first year savings of $220 and a savings of $320 for the next five years. That adds up to a grand total of $1500 saved over the next 5 years!


The only issue that we have had with the new setup is the lack of a number of cable only favorites including the Daily Show and Colbert Report on Comedy Central. Considering the long term savings I don't think of these as insurmountable problems, just annoyances. I think that most moderate TV viewers could probably get used to a lifestyle with only OTA and NetFlix if they give it half a chance. The addition of the DVR really helps to extend our enjoyment of the system as a whole by allowing us to watch just the "good stuff" on our own schedule.


Anonymous said...

I'm even saving more. I never let cable guy in the house so never had to kick him to the curb. :)

Bought an HDTV with ATSC in August and now pick up more channels with PBS digital subchannels along with better Fox, ABC, CBS and CW reception. And all this free TV is with a decade old amplified indoor antenna.

I do have to rotate the antenna for some channel changes but that's no big deal. And, man do programs, especially sports, look good in HD.

Anonymous said...

And to get the comedy central fix check out iTunes. Colbert & Stewart are the only things worth having cable for, and for about $10 a month (iTunes season pass) I can download them and just use the air HDTV stations instead of cable also. And no commercials!

Daniel said...

Very Nice blog.
Could you also kindly add my web link into your blog page, thanks.

from Singapore

Jaime said...

What about Internet access?

Time Warner cable gives the option of Road Runner cable modem service. What are you doing for Internet access and how does this effect your cost-benefit analysis?

Anonymous said...

Hey Eric. Glad to find your blog. I'll read more later. Re cable...

I joined the ranks of HDTV viewers about a year ago with an OTA card for my puter. Somehow, that led to my first HD monitor purchase in June.(No surprise there!) Since I was already a 'complete package' TW user, adding their HD offering was not that much more, plus I got an HD DVR for just a few bucks a month more.

In all fairness, I'm reasonable happy with the TWC service and their overall offering of HD programming. While I'm a news junkie at heart, I also have been watching (and learning) a lot from the content available on DiscoveryHD, INHD1, HDNet, and other channels not available OTA. And the PQ on my meager 1080p display is absolutely awesome. I've even added a 500GB external drive to my SA8300 for more recording options. Gotta love technology.

BTW, I'm in Albany too, so it was good to discover your blog.