How-To Geek

What You Said: Cutting the Cable Cord

Earlier this week we asked you if you’d cut the cable and switched to alternate media sources to get your movie and TV fix. You responded and we’re back with a What You Said roundup.

One of the recurrent themes in reader comments and one, we must admit, we didn’t expect to see with such prevalence, was the number of people who had ditched cable for over-the-air HD broadcasts. Fantasm writes:

I have a triple HD antenna array, mounted on an old tv tower, each antenna facing out from a different side of the triangular tower. On tope of the tower are two 20+ year old antennas… I’m 60 miles from toronto and get 35 channels, most in brilliant HD…
Anything else, comes from the Internet…
Never want cable or sat again…

Grant uses a combination of streaming services and, like Fantasm, manages to pull in HD content with a nice antenna setup:

We use Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, Crackle, and others on a Roku as well as OTA on a Tivo Premier. The Tivo is simply the best DVR interface I have ever used. The Tivo Netflix application, though, is terrible, and it does not support Amazon Prime. Having both boxes makes it easy to use all of the services.

Things we really miss from satellite: Discovery Channel, Science Channel, History Channel, BBC America (OK only really Top Gear) and Cartoon Network. There is no shortage of things to watch, but there are a few things we want to see that we cannot. The bill is enough less, though, that it is worth it.

The closest city is only about 60,000 people, and that is almost 20 miles away, but I still get over 40 channels from 4 different states with a really big antenna, some of them from 109 miles away.

Geoff uses an array of devices hooked up to streaming services to get his media fix:

My family cut the cable almost 2 years ago and we haven’t looked back. I have a roof mounted antenna and get 13 channels OTA. We use a Roku for Netflix, Youtube (was able to get the private channel before Roku shut it off) and HBOGo in the bedroom and use a Wii for Netflix in the living room. Netflix provides plenty of kids shows for our children. We made this decision because I was unemployed and couldn’t justify the $70/month for TV. The only thing I miss cable for is the live sporting events.

Reading through the comments one thing becomes abundantly clear: between the introduction of over-the-air digital broadcasts and streaming internet video sources, fewer people than ever feel the need to keep $100+ cable packages. Hit up the full discussion thread for more comments.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 11/9/12

Comments (17)

  1. Alex

    I too cut the cable long ago and use a combination of OTA and online content. I would like to know more about the triple antenna array though. I currently have a rotor, and wonder if noise comes into play with 3 different antennas.

  2. mrbungle25

    How does Geoff get HBOGo without having cable?

  3. TheClaus

    Yeah I am interested in how Geoff got HBOGo without having cable or HBO. Spill the beans Geoff.

  4. Rahabib

    So I thought that using multiple antennas causes ghosting on some channels. How bad/expensive is it to get a rotating antenna and how reasonable is it to change channels. I want an antenna that I can get all the major networks (CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX) so when I read that people are getting 10-40 channels are you getting all of those or are 90% of them local spanish language channels.

  5. CaptainCasey

    I received my Boxee TV yesterday and was somewhat disappointed.

    1. The antenna is useless and picks up 1 channel
    2. ClearQAM channels aren’t supported yet for recording basic cable (Says this on the future updates notes)
    3. It continually hangs or is sluggish between screens due to them pushing it out to early. I had to restart it 3 times.
    4. There is no off button!

    Now my wife isn’t really for it because of it’s lack of working amazing out of the box. I have to convince her that it is worth it to buy a better antenna without a guarantee that we will get all the channels. (We have a mountain between us and the TV towers in Los Angeles.

    What a bust….

  6. Nathan.D

    Why don’t just watch tv online? Even if the episodes on the official website aren’t available you can still go to other sites and view them, in good quality too. Just google “free tv online”.

  7. YaYa

    Cutting the cord seems like a no-brainer.

    Frankly, it amazes me that anyone would pay for cable TV or even land line phone service now that there are fast enough Internet speeds to stream the exact same content – or share it. And with the growing number of smart TV’s/Blue Ray players and other devices like Roku etc., or even Raspbery Pi with XBMCBuntu it’s getting easier and easier to do it without requiring a big honkin Media Center PC too. Throw in a TV tuner like a HD Homerun on your LAN so that Windows Media Center PC’s can record your live TV shows and even a VoIP telephone box with service at $19.95 a year from either of 2 providers (Magic Jack or NetTalk) and the savings really start to add up! I won’t even go into the cool factor of being able to watch live TV on my tablet (I just love my HD Homerun Dual). It just goes to show that it really does “pay” to do some homework and then get your hands dirty by cutting the cord. Your wallet will thank you. And isn’t that what we’re really talking about here? SAVINGS?!

    A couple of other caveats worth mentioning when it comes to VoIP phone service is that VoIP is portable and you don’t necessarily need a running PC to use it either. (I’m referring to at least 2 different VoIP companies you may have heard of – Magic Jack and NetTalk.) That means you can take your land line with you anywhere in the WORLD so long as you have a high speed Internet connection. And not all that high speed either.

    So even if you don’t fully commit to cutting the cord you may at least want to consider transferring your land line. You probably already have a cell phone and may even be thinking about getting rid of your archaic land line anyway. But why? What do you have to loose other than maybe ninety bucks for a first years service? It’s only $19.95 a year thereafter. And if you find you really don’t want it then you can completely unplug it too. I just suggest VoIP since I personally like having something to FAX with (hint hint).

    Sorry for sounding like an infomercial. I actually use BOTH of these ultra cheap VoIP providers and they’re really not all that bad when it comes to actual service. You just may regret it if you ever need to deal with someone in customer service or tech support since it’s almost non-existent. Therefore, ultra cheap VoIP may not be for the faint of heart. But even there, there’s always good old Vonage or even Skype (now under ownership of Microsoft). Besides, haven’t the POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) providers made enough of a shambles of their businesses and what they charge? It’s 2012 for crying out loud!

  8. Seabat

    About four years ago we cut cable. Never used satellite. The reasons: wasted money for subscription; very little on TV worth out time; Roku provides all we need to watch for free; total weekly viewing is about six hours. We love to read so real BOOKS are in the house or checked out from the library.

  9. Jimmy


    Another caveat on VOIP phone service.

    I have Callcentric and was very happy with them. That is, until they started suffering from DDOS attacks. Thankfully I don’t really use that phone line so I was pretty much unaffected. But, if I had relied on that phone line, I would have been SOL.

    So far, no mention of any compensation from Callcentric for the down time.

    I may have to just ditch that line.


  10. Riddle

    Well, this may be irrelevant but I enjoy top gear too :)

  11. Steve S.

    I don’t understand people that think cutting the cord should be done by everyone. I live in Southern Pa. and I’m in a very fringe area where even with the biggest baddest antenna system I’m lucky if I’d get 2 stations in the best weather on a sunny day. What most of you don’t understand is not everyone lives 20-40 miles right outside of a major city that has 20 or more television stations. I’m going to pay Comcast $70+ dollars to have high speed internet w/o cable or even phone. I might as well give them $159 to have it all. I have every service/station that they provide on top of having the ability to log on and watch tv and movies on demand through my pc or through the cable box. I also have zero cost in upkeep. Just because you live right out side of L.A. doesn’t mean the rest of the world does.

  12. D

    Hey Geoff,

    If you want a good site for live sports, try this:

    My son & I watched a lot of playoff games last year. There’s all types of sports on it. Great idea with the OTA Antenna. I know of some people use an old 6 to 8 foot satellite dish and get nearly a hundred channels.

    All the best.

  13. YaYa

    @ Steve S.

    You totally miss the point or probably aren’t aware that you can STILL GET CABLE CHANNELS WITHOUT THE EXPENSIVE CABLE TV SERVICE! So forget any antenna malarkey particularly if you’re in a bad area. If you continue to get Internet service from Comcast then you will ALSO still be able to STILL get the exact same TV stations (not the same “channels”) you might otherwise get with an antenna. Free and legal too! But there is a catch. You simply need to change your TV over to use a QAM tuner instead of an ATSC tuner or even a dead NTSC tuner. That’s it!

    For anyone else, please note that America no longer broadcasts anything using NTSC standards. And within the last year or so even most cable TV providers stopped using NTSC standards over cable too. So as far as the USA is concerned, NTSC is DEAD! However, we might still use “channel 3” or “channel 4” to connect a VCR or even a converter/cable box. But even that is pretty much dead despite cable companies who still confuse the issue with their DTA’s or other set top boxes.

    So if you “cut the cord” and start tuning in with “clear” QAM standards over cable you will never again have to pay for what is otherwise free TV. Clear QAM stations over cable are the exact same broadcasters you might otherwise receive over the air plus maybe one or two MORE! Thanks to the F.C.C. this is required. And that’s how you can still get free TV over cable so long as you have an active cable subscription to SOMETHING like Internet services.

    And really. Once you have a nice fast unfettered Internet connection, do you really need anything else?!

  14. Zwe Swam Yi

    VOIP phone service That’s great for Public Renovations In Developing Countries

  15. Idar

    I was thinking about cutting cable also, and just keeping the internet connection. Everything I want, I can access thru the internet with one exception.I have crazy premium channels, 2 boxes, 2 different rooms. Since I get my internet from my cable provider, I can access everything thru a website..but that is ONLY if I keep paying for cable access. I repair computers on the side. So I have screen names & passwords to Netflix, and I use just one. The service I provide, I record a screen names & passwords for the people I service. Of course I as permission to use that one for Netfix. Cable is a whole lot of nothing on tv

  16. bradn

    For a VOIP “landline”, I use a OBI110 with Google Voice, and I added E911 with Callcentric. All together it’s $1.50 a month. The line rarely gets used, but it’s good to have for babysitters and emergencies. If you don’t need or want 911 service, it’s free after the cost of the OBI110, which i think is around $50.

    I had a Win7 Media Center PC with over the air channels, Netflix and Hulu for a few years and it worked beautifully – 85% of the time. That 15% of the time, when it acted like computers often do and f’d up, was enough for my wife to demand that we get cable again, so we’re back to the $70/month…

  17. poorboy

    QAM is going to be a ‘has been’ for a lot of people soon. Check with the recent happenings at the FCC as that group is going to allow cable companies to start encoding it.

    There should be a blog on that.

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