Cutting Out Cable TV

I'm not alone in wanting to find cheaper alternatives to cable TV. Whatever your reasons, here was my approach:

Measure the distance to TV stations

Use the very helpful Enter your zip code and it will draw a map indicating where you are in relation to the nearest TV stations. That gives you an idea of what kind of antenna you will need. In my case, all the stations are only 7 miles away or less.

Buy an HD antenna

Monoprice has an inexpensive HD antenna that's great for just getting started.

I experimented with several places to put the antenna. The coax cable runs along the outside of my house and goes through several splitters to reach outlets in different rooms. The HD antenna needs power to be supplied through the cable. Having any splitters involved in this process noticably degrades the signal. Also, the position of the antenna is important. I picked a roof peak on the house and have a cable go straight to the one outlet I need.

Buy a TV Tuner card

My choice was the AverMedia TVHD Duet A188:

Unfortunately Newegg no longer carries this product. But it shouldn't be hard to find a similar card. I wanted a dual tuner so I could record two shows at the same time just like the cable company's HD DVR. It's also good for Picture-in-Picture, which I will use sometimes when watching football.

This works for me because I already have a computer I'm not using and a hard drive with a bunch of space for recording shows. There are options if you don't have a computer, such as this crazy one from Ceton that has 6 tuners.

Add Windows Media Center to Windows

As an employee of Microsoft I have access to all versions of Windows through my MSDN subscription. But that does not include a SKU with Windows Media Center. I actually had to buy it. Shocking, I know. But with Win 8 Pro it's only $10.

Connect to Windows Media Center through my Xbox

The Xbox 360 has the ability to connect to a Windows Media Center PC on your network. Using that you can watch live TV and recorded shows from the PC. So it makes a nice centralized DVR. You can also get IR remotes that work with the Xbox so you don't have to kill the batteries in your controllers.

Find alternatives to content from non-broadcast stations

Basically Netflix and Hulu. Hulu is good for watching new programs. It's usually only one day behind. If you have a Roku there are custom channels for things you normally wouldn't see. I especially like the TED channel.

Consider a Roku

Or any other small streaming device like the Chromecast. They are small, silent, and cheap. Perfect for a bedroom. It's possible to play WMC content on a Roku but requires some effort. With some scripting I suppose one could write a Windows task that periodically checks for new recorded shows and converts them to Roku-friendly formats. Maybe someday.

Does it really save money?

If you have a spare PC that can record and don't have to go crazy with the antenna, then yes the ROI is pretty good. Cutting cable TV saves roughly $60/month in my case. There were shows I thought I would miss but now I can't even remember what they were. I realized how many shows I was watching simply because they were there. I've got no problems during football season. Plus major events like the World Cup or Olympics still look great and I don't have to suffer through buffering issues from watching online.

Another thing to note is that cutting cable TV opens up other options for internet service. That allowed me to go with fiber optic, which is cheaper, faster, and more consistent than cable.

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