Thursday, October 20, 2011

Step 6: Enjoy OTA Television

I decided to "shake off the lazy" and begin updating this blog again.  As a general update, we are still going strong WITHOUT A CABLE OR SATELLITE BILL - with no regrets.  Now where was I.....

At this point in the process, you will be enjoying live OTA broadcasts in crystal clear HD for free.  Any programming that you enjoy watching on the standard networks such as NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, PBS, The WB, etc. should now be available to you.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that you may feel like "something" is missing.  That "something" can vary depending upon an individual's viewing preferences.

For this reason, I suggest that you try to struggle through life for a few weeks with only OTA television (you'll survive).  During this period of "roughing it," make sure that you write down what your "something" is that is missing.  For example, is it the DVR?  Or do you miss the movies you used to watch?  Perhaps live sports? News?  You get the drift......

It is important to take inventory of what you are missing, because as you move forward, you will see that this information will allow you to tweak your HTPC set-up to satisfy your specific needs.

If you realize that the OTA channels are all that you need, then are done.  But if you are like me, and your "what's missing list" has a few items on it, then you are just getting started.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Step 5: OTA Antenna

The first thing that we did after canceling our pay TV service, and what I would recommend that you do first, is to get live network TV back on your set via an over-the-air (OTA) antenna.  As hard as I find it to believe, the vast majority of people that I speak to are unaware that you do not have to pay a cable or satellite provider in order to watch NBC, PBS, CBS, ABC, FOX and The WB live.  Back in the day, when I was a kid, everybody had an OTA its almost unheard of in most homes.

Those folks that are aware of OTA broadcasts, rarely seem to be aware that the signal you can get is clear, beautiful and in HD.  This is not your father's OTA broadcast.  The days of adjusting the antenna to avoid a picture of "snow" are long gone.  With today's digital signals, either you have the signal or you don' might get some pixelation due to a weak signal, but not snow.  Finally, nowadays you also get what are commonly referred to as "back channels" with an OTA antenna.  For example, in my area NBC is channel 2.1.  However, I also receive channel 2.2 and 2.3 - which are "back channels."  In all, I  am able to get about 44 OTA channels in my area.  The programming on these "back channels" can vary from movies to weather.  The "back channels" are usually in standard definition (SD), but the main channels are in HD as I mentioned.   


Probably the best place to start is at AntennaWeb. Here you can type in your address and get an idea of what type of antenna would work best for your specific location - based mostly on how far you are from the broadcast towers.  I am not going to go into too much more detail about types of antennas, how to install them nor which is best. You can read about all of that, and more, at AntennaWeb, or the countless other websites dedicated to OTA antennas (hint: Google search OTA antenna).

The only thing I will say is do not spend a ton of money on an antenna.  You just need to select an appropriate antenna for your area.  For our family, we identified the Channel Master 3010 as our choice.  Many people will mount an OTA antenna in their attic.  However, we have a radiant barrier in our attic, and I did not know how that might impact an OTA signal.  Therefore, I decided to opt for outdoor installation.  Although I have always heard that the higher you mount an antenna the better, I wanted to keep the install as "clean" as possible.  For this reason, I also purchased the Winegard DS-1111 antenna mount.

Once I received my antenna, I was concerned the mount that I planned to use might be too low for the antenna to receive a quality signal.  However, I figured that I would take the 'easy route" and if it didn't work I'd just need to move the antenna to the peak of my roof.  I am happy to report that the 'easy route' worked perfectly.  I installed my antenna and received a crystal clear HD signal immediately.  Here are some photos of my installed antenna and mount:

While your install may vary, here is a brief summary of my installation:

1.  Climbed into the attic and identified where the existing coaxial cable from the satellite was running.
2.  Removed the dish from its base and arm mount (disposed of the dish).
3.  Attached the Winegard DS-1111 antenna mount to the existing dish arm mount.
4.  Attached the Channel Master 3010 antenna to the Winegard DS-1111 antenna mount.
5.  Ran a 50 foot coaxial cable from the antenna, through the Winegard DS-1111 and into the attic.  I originally intended to use the existing coaxial cable from the satellite system, but it was too short to reach the antenna.
6.  Climbed back into the attic, attached the new coaxial cable running from the antenna to the existing splitter in my attic  Your splitter probably looks something like this.
7.  That's it.  Adjusted the antenna to maximize the signal strength.  I did end up replacing the splitter with a signal booster because I had some signal strength issues with FOX after a few days.  NOTE:  The weak signal was due to a long coaxial run and splitting the signal.  This booster does not help the antenna pick-up out of range broadcasts.  You may not need a booster, but I wanted to clarify its purpose should you need it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Step 4: Cancel Your Pay TV Service

After verifying that you have satisfied your contractual obligation, cancel your satellite or cable TV service.  You may be feeling a bit of panic setting-in at this point, because there is probably a LCD or plasma flat screen television sitting in the corner of your living room that "NO LONGER WORKS!"

You shouldn't be panicking, in fact you should be celebrating, because you just eliminated a monthly bill.  Next the fun part begins.  You will soon have more television options than you could possibly need......did I mention no contract?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Step 3: The Decision

When we were ready to "dump the dish," there were not quite as many choices as there are today.  When I say choices, I am referring to the growing number of platforms that are available to help you bring the internet into your living room - via your TV.  There seems to be a new one everyday, and each one is marketed as more user friendly than the last.  Just a few of the more popular ones are Google TV, Boxee, Apple TV, Roku, and WD TV.

Another available option is often referred to as a Home Theater Personal Computer or HTPC.  If you asked 10 people "what is a HTPC", you would probably get 10 different answers.  However, for the purpose of this blog we will use the term HTPC to simply refer to a computer that is being used as a dedicated media device to bring content to your TV.

For our family, the decision was fairly easy to make.  We elected to go with a HTPC, because it would allow us to achieve 100% of our goal (see last blog post).  All of the other available options, in our opinion, would have required the sacrifice of at least some portion of our goal.

As I mentioned, there are many more options that are available today when compared to the timeframe when we made our decision.  However, I can say that I would make the exact same decision if I were asked to decide today.  I say that not only because our set-up has worked so flawlessly, but also because I feel that no other current option is as functional as a HTPC.  While I do not have first-hand experience with all of the other options, I have read a great deal about many of them.  While there are some really great user-friendly features that many of these options include, I feel that each of them has at least one weakness.  Those weaknesses are differenet depending on the platform, but can include: 1) access blocked by the content provider, 2) no full functioning web browser, 3) additional fees 4) no DVR capabilities and 5) no TV tuner.

Perhaps one of these other platforms would serve your needs, but for us, none of them could offer everything that is offered by a HTPC.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Step 2: Define the Goal

The ultimate goal for our family was to eliminate both our monthly satellite TV payment and the multi-year contract that went along with  it.  However, we wanted to still be able to watch our favorite network (NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, The WB, etc.) shows, live sports, as well as the various other programs we enjoyed on other networks (USA, Bravo, HGTV, DIY, the History Channel, ESPN, Nick Jr., etc.).  Finally, we wanted to continue having DVR functionality and to gain access to as much HD content as possible.

Nothing like setting your sights high, right?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Step 1: Assess the Current Situation

In our case we had a pretty standard satellite package that consisted of about 120 channels and two (2) receivers - one (1) receiver was a DVR.  For this "luxury," we sent the satellite provider about $65.00 a month.  This included the cost of our package, the rental fee for two (2) receivers plus the never ending taxes & fees.  Notice that I didn't mention any fees for access to high definition (HD) channels.  That is because I could never stomach the idea of paying extra just so I could access HD channels - so unlike most people, we "suffered" with only our standard definition (SD) channels.  We also did not have any premium movie channels such as HBO or Showtime.

I was constantly irritated by promotions (i.e. free DVR, free HD channels, free premium channels, etc.) from our provider that were for new customers only.  The other thing that infuriated me was that I had a television that was capable of displaying a beautiful HD picture, but the satellite company "wouldn't allow it" unless I paid an extra $10.00 per month.  I wanted HD, and I wanted it without additional cost.  Something had to change.

Why the blog?

About (1) one year ago, we decided that we were sick and tired of sending a monthly payment to the satellite company.  However, we didn't want to be without access to our favorite shows, movies and live SPORTS.  After some basic research, we discovered that we could still enjoy all of our favorite shows, movies and live sports without the monthly payment and long-term contract.  So we took the plunge, canceled our satellite service and have never looked back.  Now that we are almost (1) year into this "experiment," I feel confident in saying that it was a smart money decision - and an easy lifestyle change.

So why the blog?  Many people ask us, "how did you do that," "don't you miss it" or "I bet it was complicated."  This blog is intended to answer all of those questions in VERY SIMPLE BASIC LANGUAGE.  I hope that each post will read as a baby step towards canceling your pay TV service.