Cord Cutting 101

Cord Cutting 101, the how-to guide to free TV and alternatives to expensive Cable TV bills

Have you heard about “Cord Cutters” and how they are saving hundreds (yep 200 bucks or more?)

Two 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…

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Last year, I switched to Dish and I save a ton of money. They didn’t push me to upgrade to bundles, and they allowed me to downgrade to an el-cheap 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.

Recently, I downgraded my Dish to a “pause” plan. This cost me $5 month, and it allowed me to keep my Dish 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 blows — so does the local TV.

When the reception is bad, meaning the picture on my TV is either totally black or displaying a bunch of square-pixels accompanied by the audio cutting out, that’s when I switch on my Roku or Fire TV. 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.)

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. As a side-note, 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, I have a Fire TV “stick” which plugs in via the HDMI port on my TV, and it’s limited to a HD display of 720 or better. I know this might not sound like a limitation to allot of you, but my Internet Provider allows me 1TB of data use per month. And, because I operate a Film Festival, and CTV channels, I often find myself downloading large movie files, editing them and re-uploading these files, which demands a large amount of Internet data. So for me, 1TB is nice, but it easy to use up in one month.

You might appreciate another reason why I watch TV in SD mode. For one, usually the picture clarity is just fine. When I watch programming on my channels, or Crackle, or any other than Netflix, I get a clean looking picture that you would not recognize as “SD” unless you placed a TV with an HD image right next to it.

Secondly, I prefer to watch TV in SD-wide display mode because when/if someone in my house watches a streaming-TV-program, they just might forget to turn it off. And that means that the Netflix or whatever they are watching will automatically play through the night…resulting in my bandwidth getting used up, and then I end up paying the Internet Company a penalty fee for overuse.

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, ABC, Petticoat Junction, ArtHouse Movies, 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. My dilemma is “how to get LIVE broadcasts” that are reliable?

Reliable? Some services like Sling offer paid packages that deliver content to Roku and FireTV for about $40 monthly. This might be the way to get a few local LIVE channels, plus some other networks like Starz. But heck, I’m trying to save money — that’s why I “cut the cord.”

The answer? Maybe “locast.” I found this app on my Roku. It works in just a few towns like NYC. My bro uses it there and he is very happy because his digital antenna is about as reliable as mine is. From what I can see, the App is free, and it appears to be legal (appears!) After some research I found out that Locast just might be pushing the boundaries of what they are allowed to do. Both Aereo, and FilmOn lost their argument to rebroadcast local channels, and I think that although Locast is non-profit, they might be pushed to shut down operations.

A note about services that offer digital re-broadcast via Roku, Fire, etc. Most of these services are designed for our troops abroad. That is, like the AFN (American Forces Network.) Some rebroadcasters have agreements that allow them to re-broadcast HBO, USA 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.

PS: Kodi is one of the biggest to offer rebroadcasting. When it functions as a digital rebroadcaster, it is what I consider to be the pirates haven – and being a filmmaker (and a righteous-dude) I absolutely hate this service — but that’s just me living in a world of thieves and catch-me-if-you-can thinkers. (Waaaaaa – cry baby!)

Moving on….Antennas! What a cluster-frak. You can shop all day long, but I have to say that I’ve used Amplified and non-amplified antennas (like the old rabbit ears.) And neither one really works great in my house in Metro Detroit. We have about 20 great channels too, ranging from NBC 4 to 4-2 and “4-dash-3.” Sounds confusing? It isn’t really. The channels are set up just like they were in the analog broadcasting days, accept that channels like Channel 4 now has “multicast” channels like Heroes and Icons (H&I) 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.

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 “auto tune” your OTA (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.

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:

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 A-E.) Carefully, cut the end of the cable off. B.) Then carefully…carefully use a knife to 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. Now, cut anywhere from 6 inches to a foot of the housing off, but like to say – don’t cut the lining inside yet. 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 use it outside – you don’t want this thing to become a lightning rod.

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.

That’s about it for my Cord-Cutter DIY. If you have comments or suggestions please do so. Cheers!

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