Free TV — You Can Do it, Put Your Nerd into It

A La Carte TV
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Since I’m in a major metropolitan area, I bought a $15 HD antenna and plugged it into my TV. We now receive 70 stations; no cable, no live streaming service, just an antenna. Sure, there are 30 channels I’m not interested in. However, we do receive ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, WGN, the CW, PBS, and other local services.

The major networks were in crystal clear 1080i HD. It was nothing like the reception of standard television back in the day. I called my wife upstairs to check it out. The first thing she said was, “Is this legal?” I was shocked by the question, but it got me thinking. Perhaps she always had cable TV. That would explain why she assumed free TV to be criminal. Have we have forgotten that major networks are paid for by advertisers and required to broadcast for antenna reception?

We’ve been brainwashed by services that package free channels into beautiful, and sometimes frustrating, user interfaces. What’s worse is that on-demand content has become so darn good you want Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Showtime Anytime, Disney+, AppleTV+, and Amazon Prime. But don’t stop there because you cannot get that one show you really like. So even if you have cut cable, you still need that live streaming service. You may have an unbelievable amount of content at your fingertips, but you also have a bill that rivals premium cable.

What are Your à la Carte Options

  1. Cable TV — It’s the old coaxial line screwed into a cable box. It costs a fortune when the trial period ends. As if you need a trial period. We all know what it is. This service has as much as you want to pay for with a mix of premium on-demand content and knock-offs like Cinder Princess and the Crystal Shoe. I jest, but some of that included on-demand content is pretty bad.
  2. On-Demand Streaming (Internet)— The new holy grail of fantastic content. It comes over the Internet and into your SmartTV, Apple TV, Roku, Google Chromecast, or Amazon Fire Stick. These services include Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Apple+, HBO Now, Showtime Anytime, ESPN+, and even smaller varieties like Shudder for the mega horror fans. You want them all so you can watch Jack Ryan, Mandalorian, See, Handmaids Tale, Stranger Things, and an assortment of other incredible shows. Get them all and pay $75 per month.
  3. Live Streaming (Internet) — Remember all those stations you want, but cannot have with on-demand streaming? You thought you could cut the cord, but how will you watch The Walking Dead, Dancing with the Stars, The Voice, sports, local news, etc.? You can get this over the Internet, but you need a service like Sling, AT&T Now, YouTubeTV, fubo, philo, or Hulu+. Add $20 to $60 per month. The higher end services replicate you cable experience.
  4. Antenna Reception — Welcome Back Kotter to the good ole’ days of television. Watch TV like grandma and grandpa, or like I did in my youth. You can receive and record major networks with an antenna and DVR for around $250.

My recommendation is that you make a spreadsheet with your favorite shows and sports, the networks they are on, and streaming service that supports them. Also, note which services run your favorite shows on-demand. If you’re willing to be a season or two behind, you can cover a lot with Netflix, Hulu, and Prime. You will always get the lowest bill if you can eliminate both Cable TV and Live Streaming. I admit that it is easier to do near a major metropolitan, but in an era of à la carte TV, you need to take control, or your spending will be out of control.

As for me, I’m going with Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, ESPN+, and AppleTV+. I’m replacing Cable TV and Live Streaming with an HD antenna and Amazon Recast for a one-time cost of about $265. I have Prime for free shipping, so I’m not including that as a monthly TV cost. AppleTV+ is currently free with my recent phone purchase. For now, my monthly bill is $28.98 for an incredible amount of content, plus $100 for high-speed Internet. Since cutting the cable, I’ve saved $150 per month. My new savings will be $200 per month after cutting the live streaming service.

What have I sacrificed for this solution? There are a set of stations that are not premium, not broadcasted, and not available with their own streaming service. These are the cable TV “loyalists.” Stations like AMC, TNT, TBS, FX, HGTV, among others, have seemingly banded together to prop up live streaming and cable services. Fortunately, the best of their programs can be viewed on-demand one or two seasons behind. This is a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

What is your favorite à la carte service or TV solution?

For those looking to remove cable TV

On-Demand Service — Pricing as of December 4, 2019
$12.99 HuluDisney+ESPN+ (This is a package price or available at 4.99 each)
$9.92 Prime with Annual Payment
$4.99 Apple+
$8.99 to $15.99 Netflix
$4.75 Shudder
$14.99 HBO Now
$15.00 to 25.00 Sling TV
$20.00 Philo TV
$54.99 fubo TV
$44.99 Hulu+ (Increases to $54.99 on 12/18/19)
$49.99 YouTubeTV
FREE PlutoTV — with commercials

Equipment Budget — Pricing as of December 4, 2019

$15.99 to $89.99 HD Antenna
$24.99 to $94.99 Roku Media Player
$179.99 Apple TV 4K
$49.99 Fire TV Stick 4K
$69.99 Fire TV Cube 4K with Alexa
$35.00 to $69.99 Google Chromecast
$229.00 Fire TV Recast (Record, Browse Show Guide, and Pause Live HD Antenna TV)**
$50.00 for various cables, power strips, coax, etc.

** Most TVs have HD digital signal decoders built in to display beautiful 1080i display via HD Antenna. A DVR is needed to record, pause, or browse live TV with a channel guide. Otherwise, you’re flipping through stations like Grandpa did back in the day…it can be maddening. The DVR will compress and transmit the signal to the TVs. It will be high-resolution, but be warned, the compressed signals aren’t as pure as 1080i, which IS CLEARER THAN CABLE OR SATELLITE. The compression will take it down to cable quality.

A Few Tips for Cable Cutters

  1. Putting a cheap HD Antenna, that doesn’t require power, outside is better than an expensive antenna inside. Your weather could be a challenge, but there is an opportunity to save. Do not put a costly indoor antenna with built-in electronics outside.
  2. Need help aiming your HD antenna? Start by pointing at the nearest big city. You can also go to Antennas Direct, enter your zip code, and they will show you your nearest tower. Oh, and they make an app that will point you straight to it. WOW!
  3. Check Antennas Direct before you buy an antenna. It will show you if you need a 35 to 70-mile HD antenna. Get the cheapest antenna you can, plug it directly into the coax port on your TV, and see what you think before buying a DVR like Fire TV Recast.
  4. Talk to your spouse. Get them on board with saving some dough. You’re going to have some type of inconvenience and change, but saving thousands of dollars is worth it, in my opinion.
  5. It adds cost but having multiple streaming devices can improve your experience. I have AppleTV and Fire Sticks. Some apps have better user interfaces on other devices. Plus, some services are limited to one platform or the other, happening less and less, but still an issue.
  6. Round out your unbelievable amount of content with free services like Crackle and PlutoTV
  7. Get high-speed Internet. Slower service isn’t going to cut the cable.

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