Cable TV Is Here to Stay...for Now

By Carlos Portocarrero on 29 September 2011 (Updated 1 October 2011) 11 comments

The economy is in rough shape, and everyone wants to save a few bucks where they can. And thanks to the Internet, you can cut your cable bill without missing any of your favorite shows.

But after doing some research and running the numbers, I realized that cutting cable won't go mainstream until someone comes up with an easy, convenient solution that gives couch potatoes what they want. Or people stop watching TV.

Until then, cable is here to stay.

There are tons of articles out there on how you should prepare for cutting your cable, but here’s a quick rundown of what you need to do and how much it costs to make the switch. (See also: Now It’s Easier Than Ever to Cut the Cable)

Check the Airwaves

The goal here is to replace all your shows by simply getting an antenna, so the first step is to see what you can get for free via the broadcast networks. That’s ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and so on. Then head over to Antennaweb and enter your address — it’ll show you which channels you’re likely to get over the air depending on where you live.

If I were you, I’d put all this into a handy spreadsheet to make things easier to track.

So far so good — we haven’t spent any money yet! But if you don't have one, you'll need to get an antenna. And if you want to get the broadcast channels in HD, you’ll need you may also need to buy an HD tuner depending on what kind of TV you have.

Total Cost: $30 for the antenna and another $50 for the tuner (if you need it)

Stream On

Your spreadsheet is likely to have some shows that you can’t get over the air. Visit Clicker.com to see where on the web you can stream them, or check out this handy chart.

You may be able to find your shows for free if you’re willing to wait a week or so, but if you want them right away, some will charge you — make sure you read the fine print.

Total Cost: Depends, $10–$20 a month

Do You DVR?

If you have a DVR in your cable box and you can’t live without it, you’ll have to find an alternative solution. Sure, there’s TiVo, but the whole point is to cut out monthly bills. There are tons of great articles on how to turn your computer into a DVR, but it takes some knowledge, some new hardware, and patience.

Total Cost: $100 and a fair amount of your time/sanity

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Watching on TV

Sure, it’s great you can stream so many shows to your computer, but you want to watch TV on your TV. Cable is pretty good about that.

You’ll need a way to get what you’re streaming showing on your TV. There are tons of options — Roku, Wii, X-Box 360, Apple TV, Slingbox, and the list goes on and on.

If you already have one of these devices, you may be in luck. Odds are it won’t have access to ALL the streaming services, but it’s a start. Ideally, you have a setup that allows you to show anything you can bring up on your computer on your TV.

Total Cost: $50–$150

Your Internet Connection

The elephant in the room is your Internet connection. You might have a fast enough connection that all your shows look nice and crisp when you stream them online, but they may not. If you want to use your Internet connection to replace your cable, you might have to upgrade to a faster connection.

Total Cost: $15–20 a month

Your Savings

Once you run all those numbers you’ll find that the savings might not be as significant as you thought.

After doing all this work, I figured out I could cut my monthly bill from $92 to $60, and I'd have to shell out around $200 in one-time costs. That includes bumping up my Internet speed, buying the shows we can’t get for free, and buying the hardware to get everything up and running.

Thirty bucks a month might be worth it for some, but I'm guessing it's not enough for the masses to go through the hassle. You should run your own numbers to see if cutting cable is worth it for you.

What We Need

We need one easy-to-use/install product you can buy that allows you to get ANY of your shows. Until someone out there can do for television what iTunes did for music, most people will probably stick to cable — with good reason.

Editor's note: Antenna information was updated since initial publication.

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Guest's picture
Lorena

For those looking for a DVR option, there's always Sezmi, which is available in some markets. It has a one-time cost for equipment, but it's only $5 a month to record over-the-air broadcasts. I've looked into this and am waiting for the service to become a bit more robust and reliable. Otherwise, there is a DVR recorder available through Amazon that only incurs a one-time cost (but, it's not particularly tech savvy and seems to work similar to a VCR did for recording shows back in the day).

For us, the big problem with cutting the cable cord is losing ESPN and some cable shows on FX (otherwise, Hulu Plus carries most Comedy Central and FX programs we enjoy). My husband can't live without ESPN and there's no way to access online content and stream it to your TV unless you have a Xbox (we're a PS3 family).

Guest's picture
k-ro

Great article! So many bloggers talk about how great it is to cut the cable cord, but darn few talk about the drawbacks, limits, and costs. This article takes the status quo and looks at if/how it can be met in another way (and the financial implication).

We've looked at cutting the cable cord in our home, and our research found many of the issues you raised here. For the time being, our answer is to retain cable because we have two jobs and kids and don't want to put that much effort into finding something to watch on TV. Lazy? Maybe, but there are so many more important and interesting things I'd like to focus on rather than tracking what shows are produced and researching where/how I can access them. When I sit down to watch TV, it's to relax, not to research!

Guest's picture
Guest

Whoa, an antenna is an antenna. There's no such thing as an HD antenna.
If you used to watch tv over-the-air and used an antenna, you can continue to use the same antenna.
Also, the issue of a tuner is less and less of an issue, since most people have already upgrade their tvs to take advantage of HD tv provided by cable companies.
ALL tvs larger than 35" in 2005, larger than 25" in 2006, and ALL tvs since March 2008 HAD to have tuners built in.

Gross misinformation.

Guest's picture
Canyak

Very true. HD antennas are a big marketing scam. They still use the same TV carrier frequencies as before, which is all the antenna cares about. The only thing that changed is how those carrier waves are encoded and unless you have an ancient tube TV, you probably already have the tuner to decode digital TV.
We get every HD channel in our area with a pair of rabbit ears.

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

Wow, I missed that. I did a ton of research and never came across this little tidbit. Thanks for pointing that out! I saw a wide range of prices for these antennas and this explains it since so many of them are labeled as "HD Antennas."

At least I didn't recommend a $75 HDMI cable...that would've been worse!

Guest's picture
ischriscrazy

You can use any antenna you had befor HDTV as long as it picks up UHF stations and you have a digital TV or converter box. Don't pay to watch TV, thats what the commercials are for. The more people that cut cable and satellite the better the over the air programing will get.

Guest's picture
Guest

15-20 for internet? Where is this guy coming from? Also, most computer monitors are just as good as a tv if not better, so you do not hav to put to tv. And all you need to stream internet to your tv is a connection from your computer to the tv. Most video cards have extra connection for a vga or hdmi, and most tv's have a couple of those connectors too.

I stream content through a single hdmi cord, or a wireless hdmi product I have. REALLY SIMPLE TO DO!

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

The $15-$20 is to upgrade your connection, not the total bill. But if you want to go up to a faster connection that might be close to the cost you'll have to pay.

Most people won't want to re-arrange their sofas and chairs to point towards their (typically smaller) computer monitor. And while it's easy to hook up an HDMI cable and extend it over, most people don't want wires all over the place. The idea is to get as close to the convenient setup of cable, hence the additional cost to make that happen.

Guest's picture
Patrick

Spreadsheets, web research, shopping - that's a lot of work. There should be an app for that...oh wait, there is!

http://tv.appswers.com

Tell it what you are paying and what you are watching and it will analyze hundreds of configurations to figure out which (if any) options can save you money. Then it gives you a step-by-step personalized plan to make the switch.

Guest's picture

I have tried to go cable free for 2 months and it's just a big hassle. It is possible to keep up with all your favorite shows without cable but nothing yet can beat the convenience of turning on the TV and instantly flipping through channels. The thing I missed the most with no cable was the morning news. I like to watch the news while I get ready in the morning and dont have the time to pull up a stream or startup my HTPC.

A huge downside to cutting cable is lack of sports. It's possible to find streams of every football game but it's a HUGE inconvenience to flip through games if you want to keep up with multiple scores.

Guest's picture
Jerry

I think there was a great deal of information left out here. Cable itslef does not cost that much hwever it is all the fees and taxes that create an issue. My cable is tied into phone and intenet. The total bill each month is always $220.00. That is $2640.00 a year That is WITHOUT on demand movies. I bought an antenna for HDTV which has UHF and High VHF capeability with a gain box $300.00 (one time fee) I also purchased Netflix to stream movies @ $7.99 a month. I bought a DVR that recordes over the air broadcasts ($250..00 one time fee) I purchased a OBDII ($49.00 one time fee) for google phone and got my number reasigned and enabled 911 for a ($20.00 one time fee.) Intenet and Netflix is all I am paying for and my bill went from $220.00 a month to $46.00 a month because I don't have to pay all those carzy fees. Also I am saving on the energy the cable box itslef sucks up. We plugged that monster into a Kill-A-Watt meter and it was taking 350 Watts to power that thing. In off mode it was pulling 25 watts! Perhaps you should check you cable box to see if it is energy efficient... then you'd know why it get's so wharm.