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Friday, January 21, 2011


Cutting the Cable

Let's face it, subscription services like cable TV have invaded our lives. Those subscription costs add up and we've been convinced that they are a necessary evil. Even though we don't spend as much as some folks on these services, our annual contribution to satellite, cable, etc. would easily buy a nice TV to watch all of that subscription content on. I'd heard about "cutting the cable" but I had two concerns - the first was about the quality of "alternative" content and the second was how I might manage without the handful of programs that I'd grown accustomed to seeing on a regular basis. It turns out that things went a lot easier than I imagined.

First of all, let me state that while things worked well for me, your mileage may vary. The type of TV you have, the quality of your internet connection and where you live all have an impact on your results. But more on that later.

The plan was a three pronged approach - antenna for local broadcast, streaming video for "cable" content and computer input for anything else. I'll start with the antenna.

If you're like me, you're familiar with the old "rabbit ears" used to get TV broadcasts. And you're probably also well acquainted with the "snow" that accompanies a weak signal. Let me state that those days are gone. If you have a digital TV receiver (this is essential - analog won't cut it), then any broadcast you get over the antenna is either going to be crystal clear or not there at all. That's because of the nature of digital TV. All of the data gets delivered and processed, missing bits are automatically corrected for and therefore, no snow! However, if too much data gets lost, the image and audio stutters and eventually disappears all together. There really is no middle ground.

We are fortunate to live within 20 miles of the broadcast towers in our area, so we can get by with an indoor antenna. We get all of the content from the 5 major broadcasters in our area. When I say all, I mean all. That's another little "bonus" of digital TV. There are additional channels. One broadcaster is sending out 24-hour weather broadcasts in addition to their regular broadcast. Another has added music videos to their broadcast. And PBS has 3 additional channels of content in our area!

Seriously, if I had known it would have worked this well, I would have done this a long time ago. So no more need for cable for local channels. But what about the cable channels? I'll cover that in a subsequent article.

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I purchased a vhf uhf antenna a year ago and cancelled the cable bill. I get a ton of stations here in Chicago but I still definitely miss my NFL Network. The Bears games come in crystal clear though over this thing.
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