Or, getting your shows the old-fashioned way; over the air.
So, a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that my wife and I were cutting cable. At first, I think it was a slightly terrifying idea for both of us, but, as it turns out, there are loads of options besides the standard, mainstream “cable” television providers. As I explore some of the options, I’ll write them up here and try to keep things up-to-date regarding any changes we make.
First, though, before getting into any of the various streaming services, I’d like to remind you all about how we used to get our television. Back in the Before Time, as I like to refer to my distant childhood, television meant an antenna of some kind, usually sticking up high on a roof somewhere. Actually, the higher the better! And we’d risk life and limb to get those monstrosities all lined up just right to receive the clearest signal, which, of course, translated to the clearest picture, that we could manage. For those of you too young to remember those times, count your blessings. Viewing options were few and far between. Generally, you could only tune in about four or five stations, if you were lucky, and they often would all be broadcasting things like the news at the same time. Once cable television entered the picture, if you’ll pardon the pun, regular broadcast television died a swift, merciful death.
But, as it turns out, not really.
You can still get broadcast television, now in high-definition. (Or HD as all the kids say!) All you need is a television with a tuner built into it and a good HD antenna. I recommend the Mohu Leaf 50 Amplified Indoor HDTV Antenna. This is a really great, little antenna. It runs less than $70, less than $40 if you get a refurbished model, at Amazon, which is where that link leads to, and can pick up a surprising number of stations. The actual number and variety obviously vary from area to area and I can’t tell you how well this will work outside of large cities, but in Houston, we get quite a few stations very clearly. Granted, more than a third of them are non-English oriented stations, but we do get some great programming over the air. For instance, we watched “Big Bang Theory” just fine via the our Mohu Leaf 50 the first week we had it. And, we had plenty of time to go get snacks during the commercials!
Okay, yes, the big drawback of this technology is that you don’t automatically get a DVR or rewind option with it. Of course, over-the-air digital video recorders to exist, but they will cost extra. At some point, I know my wife and I will invest in one. I’ve been toying with the idea of rolling my own, but that will probably be a series of posts on its own!
Not sure what’s available in your area?
No problem! Check out AntennaWeb. The front page is a little tricky, so look for the pale blue button that says “Click Here to Start”. That will take you to a page where you can fill in your address and some other information and get a good idea of what broadcast channels you’ll be able to pick up in your area. Notice, though, that it depends on the antenna that you use and how high up it is. My wife and I have noticed that height and position of the antenna really do make a significant difference regarding what you can get and how well it comes in. Even with the fancy, amplified antennas we use. The nice thing about this site is that it will also give you some idea of the kinds of antennas you can use to get what channels. Though, again, we really have been pleased with the Mohu Leaf 50 so far.
But, how do you know what’s on?
You don’t get a viewing guide on-screen with over-the-air broadcasts. But, there are plenty of places to find what’s playing in your area. My wife’s favorite is TitanTV. You can sign up for a free account that will let you save your preferences and customize settings for your location or locations. It’s a pretty comprehensive listing and you may not get all the channels. (In fact, the listings include cable channels so, under the premise that you’re cutting cable like we are, you definitely won’t need all the listings they provide.) Also, they have an app for your phone, so you can have a handy guide to what’s currently on TV in your hand and don’t need to be logged into your computer for that.
Two of my wife’s favorite broadcast channels are Antenna TV and MeTV, both of which play re-runs of old, syndicated television. Antenna TV is going to start playing the old Tonight Show from when Johnny Carson was on it in January of 2016!
Notice, that both of the last listed websites advertise some over-the-air DVR systems. I can’t vouch for any of those, yet, but I know I’ll be looking into them in more depth eventually. So far, the one thing we do miss a little, is our DVR and the option to rewind the last couple of minutes of broadcast to catch what someone was saying when we weren’t paying close enough attention. It’s not a big loss, but I know I’ll have to address it eventually.
Also, I’d like to note that if you don’t get a lot of channels right away, try moving your antenna around a bit. We did that and, after rotating one of ours 90 degrees to a different wall, we got 30 more channels that we did initially. We had to “upgrade” our antenna cable from the 16 foot cable that it came with to a 25 foot coax cable, but for about a $10 investment, it was totally worth it to add some stations that we hadn’t been getting.