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Cutting the Cable TV

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Cutting the Cable
There used to be time when all of America connected a pair of rabbit ears to their television sets and blissfully watched. Three to thirteen channels was all anyone needed. Then cable and satellite television came along. With the new options came more channels, all of them crystal clear. Today my brother gets his television over a high speed fiber optic cable from Verizon - a phone company. The problem I have with these three new options is that they cost money, each and every month. Many have forgotten what it's like to not have to pay for television. Sadly, I'm one of them.

Confession time: I'm addicted to television. On an average night, I'd say that I watch it for 4-5 hours. Often times, it's just background noise, but there are some core shows that I catch week in and week out. Surely, I'll be writing that check to the cable company for life, right? Maybe not.

I was at a friend's home a couple of weeks ago. He had just gotten a new LCD flat panel HDTV. It wasn't just 1024 x 768 resolution HDTV, but the full 1080p (1920 x 1080) resolution. We started to talk how HDTV wasn't broadcast in 1080p - his television couldn't take advantage of it. As the conversation when on, he noted that his antenna actually gets a better picture than his cable television. It turns out that cable HDTV is far more compressed than over the air. Instantly a light bulb went off in my head. If I could reduce my television watching to channels available over the air, I could finally cut the cable. Looking over my television habits, it wouldn't be that hard. I'd say that 95% of what I watch is on NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, or CW. So it's time to call up the cable company right? Not quite yet, it's a little more complicated.

I said before that I'm addicted to television. To fill that addiction I have a dual tuner digital video recorder (DVR) from Comcast. After all, I have to be able to watch 24 and Heroes and not just in standard definition, but in high definition. Solution: Build my own. That sounds difficult, but there are examples here, here, and here. I have to do a little investigation to see if they support the dual-tuner HDTV, but I know I can at least get HDTV or dual-tuner standard definition.

There's one stumbling block that most cable subscribers just can't get past. It seems there's always one channel that stops them. Perhaps it's The Discovery Channel or ESPN. I happen to like FX quite a bit. Could I give up those shows cold turkey, or is there a free, legal solution for watching these shows as they are being broadcast? There is a solution, but I have to stretch the rules a bit. Buy a Slingbox and set it up at a friend's house. You'll be able to watch his cable over the Internet. Your friend may ask for a little money each month, because you'll be tapping into his/her bandwidth, but at least you are splitting the cost. You'll also be using your bandwidth, so you can't cut the Internet connection. I would never have thought of this solution if I didn't use it myself to watch my beloved Red Sox and Patriots games. As a bonus, you'll be able to watch your television from Windows Mobile 5.0, Symbian, and Palm OS (in beta testing now) cell phones as well as Windows and Macintosh computers.

Am I going to try to cut the cable? This solution requires three things:

  1. Polished DVRs with no subscriptions. I can't have the OS crashing on me. I need an interface that everyone can use. Perhaps this is not a problem. I'll need to research this. There is likely going to be a one time cost. Perhap I can get something pre-built on Ebay.
  2. Slingbox and good bandwidth. The original Slingbox's picture is okay for most television viewing, but it's tough on sports with small details such as a baseball or football.
  3. I need to get one of those HDTV antennas. They are cheap and easy to get on the Internet. I'll probably pick one up this weekend.

[Photo Credit: George V. Reilly]

Last updated on April 7, 2011.

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41 Responses to “Cutting the Cable TV”

  1. I live in a condo, and my cable fees are actually built into my monthly maintenance costs. When they voted on this, the cable company gave a teaser rate, and I voted against it, because I had my dish – and loved it. As the years have passed, our rate is now the same as the standard cable rate if anyone bought through the company. In short, we got hosed, and now nobody wants to get out of the contract anyway.

    Still, I would tell you not to kill the cable, and here’s why. If TV viewing is something that you enjoy, then it is something that you should be willing to bear an additional expense. You bought the good TV because you like watching TV and could justify the expense. You don’t want to watch your Sox games with such a poor quality view that you can’t tell where the ball is, do you? This is worth it….if you can afford it – and it sounds like you can.

    My view is that there are some things in life that are not worth skimping on – a good bed (I spend too many hours of each night to have a miserable experience there), a good television (*I* spend too many hours there!), and, occasionally, a good meal (man cannot live on bread and water alone!).

  2. Wow the slingbox might be the final piece of the puzzle for me. Sounds like you’ve used in the past – how hard is it to watch sports with it? I know you mentioned that it’s hard to follow the baseball or football and coming from rabbit ears on a standard tv I know what that’s all about (having to wait for the referee to see if the field goal was good or the long pass was caught.

  3. Do the HDTV Antennas really work?

    I would have a hard time since we need Dora the Explorer.

    Plus I think the 61in Rear project LCD is a little harder to justify without feeding it all the channels.

    Between Cable and The Best Internet Connection my cable bill goes $200 . Ridiculous, but I don’t think I have a choice.

  4. Rich Slick says:

    You have some other options. One of which is iTunes. I was shocked to see that I could pre-pay and buy the 2007 season of the “Dresden Files” on Sci-Fi channel through iTunes. This got me thinking that I could potentially ditch my dish system and simply buy the shows I really want to watch. Unfortunately I signed an 18 month contract and I have a way to go but I’m moving in that direction.

    As for HDTV antennas, don’t pay extra for fancy “HDTV” antenna as they are all the same. I use a $9.95 cheap one that I had from 10 years ago and it picks up signals fine.

  5. Lazy Man says:

    I thought about mentioning iTunes, YouTube, and NetFlix/Blockbuster as entertainment options, but I eliminated both from my plans as they incur cost per use. I had thought about avoiding the Slingbox as a solution, as someone still has to subscribe, but I thought it would be helpful to some.

    Travelin’ Man is right, I might not actually cut the cable myself, but as someone that loves technology and frugality, I might do it to see if it’s simply possible. Maybe I’ll just unplug it for a month and see what happens. As for catching my Red Sox in good HDTV quality, it’s not in the cards for me in Silicon Valley. I’d have to switch to the Dish and then subscribe to the expensive New England Sports Network. If was an option from my cable company, I may consider it, but they don’t offer it. Lastly, most of the games would get over around 7PM PST, just about the time I’m leaving work. However, with a Slingbox, I could watch or listen to an inning or two there.

  6. Lazy Man says:

    It’s worth mentioning that someone on Reddit suggested the Slingbox idea might be against the cable contract or illegal. The person then went on to suggest that I might as well go with BitTorrent if I’m going to enter the quasi-legal waters.

    First, from my understanding many BitTorrents strip out the commercials. To me, that would make it “less legal”, if there’s such a thing. Secondly, Slingbox was invented to transmit television outside of your home over the Internet. They specifically included all the media providers and got their blessing by limiting it to one outgoing stream at a time (you can’t just share your cable TV with everyone – just one person at a time). My advice, as always, check with a professional, in this case, a lawyer, before you act.

  7. […] Lazy Man and Money wants to cut the cable TV and go HDTV antenna. […]

  8. Clever Dude says:

    I really want to justify an antenna, but I bought 2 different ones at Radio Shack (non-HD) and neither got very good reception on ANY channel on our main TV. I figured I didn’t want something that I had to fiddle with constantly when I’m only paying about $18 per month on basic cable anyway.

    And we get the Spanish channels. Not that I speak Spanish.

  9. rich644 says:

    An over the air antenna is the best way to get HD. Most people do not realize that the picture quality is actually better from an over the air antenna and is the only way to receive high def TV without signal compression. The fact that there are no monthly fees is just icing on the cake. In many cities there are new multicast channels that are only available via OTA. (e.g. 4 PBS feeds, local weather channels, etc…)

    And as for the comment that “As for HDTV antennas, don’t pay extra for fancy “HDTV” antenna as they are all the same.” this is NOT TRUE.
    While some people are able to receive digital signals with a coat hanger, an antenna that is tuned for the higher digital frequencies while being resistant to multi-path interference will be much more consistent and reliable. Many of the antennas found in “Big Box” stores do not often have these qualities, resulting lower success rates and tend to be returned more often.

    But regardless of the antenna (whether it’s a coat hanger or a $150 Lacrosse) the picture will either be perfect or a black screen. There is not much middle ground with digital TV. Once you lock the signal, a higher power antenna will not improve the picture quality like it used to on analog TV.

  10. Quang says:

    Hey Lazy Man, Red Sox Rules! Can’t wait till the season starts. Network channels broadcast HDTV through the airwaves? Who knew… You’d think something like HDTV will be to big to past through the airwaves (I obviously know nothing about this stuff), Yeah cutting the TV bill will be nice, That’s about $50-$100 a month extra right there…

    A solution if you don’t care about quality (or squatting the legal line) is downloading it… or even I hear you can get those bad satellites that gets the naughty channels…

    A bit of reassurance, I took the tv receiver out of my bedroom and was amazed of how little I watch TV now. I don’t miss it at all (barely noticed, prolly cause I still have my laptop here), only watch those serial shows, (Heroes is aweseome) Good Luck on your TV habit. =]

  11. Deyl says:

    i dont have cable at all, but my friend showed me how to get fox, nbc and abc in HD over the air. i only watch a few hours a month though. there are too many good books and people to connect with to waste time in front of the tube.

    I’ve been enjoying your blog for a few months, but i’m always leaving your blog with the overwhelming thought that you could reach your goal of financial freedom far quicker if you spent those 28-35 hrs a week coming up with new business ideas, pursuing clever investments, finding real estate deals, mentoring/getting mentored.

    just a thought… keep up the good work!

  12. Just get an off air tv antenna. It is free and far better HDTV quality.
    Cables HDTV quality sux. You will never see what 1080p can deliver with the cable.
    It is like watching a VCR tape on high def tv ….

  13. Steve Leung says:

    It’s not technically free but I’ve been using Windows Media Center as my DVR for the last couple years and it’s worked fine for recording both standard definition and HDTV over-the-air programming.

    It’s relatively stable (a dual tuner config w/ one HDTV tuner was an issue previously) and the interface is just like TiVo without the programming recommendations.

    Giving up ESPN in hi-def, though? Not sure I could do that myself…

  14. Kenric says:

    I have a slingbox, I bought it and shipped it to my friend’s house in another state. I’ve never seen it. I bought it for the sole purpose of being able to watch Bears, Bulls and Illini games.

    I have the non-HD version and it’s pretty hard to follow the ball on my 17″ computer screen. The resolution is not that great for fast moving shows. I would get the HD version of Slingbox and hook it up to my HDTV now. The HD slingbox wasn’t available when I bought mine.

  15. […] http://www.lazymanandmoney.com/cutting-the-cable-tv/ (tags: saving money) If you enjoyed this article, you may want to bookmark it for others to enjoy: This entry is filed under Around The Horn. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. Leave a Reply […]

  16. I just have rabbit ears myself. If I had cable I would watch more TV and I watch enough already.

  17. Karen says:

    I’ve REALLY been giving a lot of thought to cutting the cable. I hardly ever get to watch it since I work a part-time job and blog. My kids are in preschool part-time and they take a nap when they come home. They do watch some tv, but if I could pick up PBS they would be happy with that, plus their DVDs.

  18. Heather says:

    I’ve been cable free for seven years.

    It feels good.

    Although, I do miss a few channels.

  19. Sylvie says:

    A freind of mine was just told that Rabbit ears were becoming illegal. I can’t find anything on the internet to back this up. It sounds ridiculous to me. I think my freind’s source is full of it. Any response.

  20. Lazy Man says:

    I think your friend’s source is full of it too. If anything TV stations would just stop broadcasting the signal over the air if they didn’t want people to pick up the signal. People could even make their own rabbit ears. In college I found that just plugging in cable (even if you don’t subscribe) turned the whole dorm’s cable wiring into a big set of rabbit ears giving me pretty good reception.

  21. […] Cutting the Cable TV – This is, by far, the article I spent the most amount of time writing. Not only did I spend a fair amount of time researching, but I believe the idea of using a Slingbox from a friend’s home is uniquely mine (though I may be proven wrong here). Lastly, you get a picture, a rarity from Lazy Man and Money. […]

  22. The Personal Finance Blog You Can Invest In - Money Blog Site Round 1: 3rd Region » says:

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  23. Brian says:

    Sylvie – What your friend may have been thinking of was the fact that over-the-air ANALOG broadcasts will be cut off in a couple years (sometime in 2009, IIRC). Basically, the broadcasters were given a ton of free spectrum for digital/over-the-air broadcasts, but in return, they have to exchange the spectrum used for the old, analog broadcasts. So when that happens, if you want to keep using an old, analog TV that’s not hooked up to cable or satellite, you’ll need an adapter to convert the digital signals to analog.

  24. Luke says:

    Well, much like many of you, I simply gotta have cable. I got Comcast, or should I say they go me for $65/month. I guess it’s not as bad as a couple others…

    I got a HDTV after my older set went and I simply love the HDTV stuff, but over-the-air wont pick up ESPN, Discovery etc. etc.

    When it comes down to it, I only watch maybe 15-channels in total with my wife watching probably 5-more for a GRAND TOTAL of 20 freakin’ channels, yet I am forced into 100 with my package that I simply can’t get any lower. Verizon Fios isn’t in my area and I currently don’t have any other options at the moment other than the dish. I am stuck, stuck, stuck!

  25. brenna says:

    Just made it through my first two weeks cable-free, and surprisingly, I’ve hardly noticed that it’s gone. In fact, it feels downright wonderful not to be staring at a screen during my free time. I had digital cable, and virtually every TV show that I watched was part of the cable package (TLC, Discovery, etc.). I was probably keeping the TV on each night for 3 or 4 hours, and on days off for even longer. So far I have had no regrets, and I feel ten times better filling my time with things that are enriching, or which allow me to have actual conversation. A few shows on DVD are more than enough to pass any dead time. Even if you think you “gotta have cable,” as I did – you may be surprised by the results…

  26. […] read about my Slingbox, my Treo, and my plasma TV. So it should come as no surprise that I like electronic gadgets. Here […]

  27. Ro says:

    This week, we bought a Radio Shack antenna, booster, cords and guide wire to switch to antenna. Antenna.web maps your location for best signals. We have 14 channels so far that are excellent quality. We’re pulling the plug on Dish Network this week ($69 a month) and looking forward to cutting more monthly bills that are bleeding us to death. Bell South’s taxes and mystery fees for basic phone line is $14.50 a month ($69 total). I am reading Mary Hunt’s book about living for half price. We are making a game of budgeting, opting for viewing our own videos vs rentals as well as library videos and exchanging with friends. The stress levels are coming down as the bills become less. Entertainment is too time consuming, anyway!

  28. […] luxuries, but I get full use of them. I’m also looking to get around them with my plan to cut cable TV. Still, my cable costs are half of what the typical cost […]

  29. […] got an uplifting comment towards my cutting the cable TV article from a person known as Ro. His comment is worth publishing […]

  30. Ummmm says:

    Something everyone seems to be forgetting:

    Slingbox’s licence agreement for using the player outright states that only the person PAYING FOR THE CABLE has the right to access it through the player. This means what some people here are doing is against the agreement, and what you’re suggesting is also against the agreement.

    Simply put its breach of contract. Not that I care, just want you to be aware. Anything that screws the stranglehold of media on the consumer is good in my book.

  31. Lazy Man says:

    I’m going through the Slingbox Software Agreement (what I’m using out in CA) at and I don’t see anything about it being against the license. If it eases your mind to stay within the “paying for cable” rule (that I can’t find), send a penny a year to the person. I already suggested splitting the cost.

    It’s worth noting that this is the exact purpose of the Slingbox. The founders wanted to watch their Giants game when they couldn’t be around for the local broadcast. I can’t be around for the Red Sox local broadcast, so I purchased the product. It’s silly that they’d suggest that I set up a home and a cable connection in area. If that is their intention they shouldn’t hide it in a licensing document, but put it in bold letters that people know BEFORE they buy the product. I’d go as far as saying that enforcing the phrase of the licensing agreement amounts to a bait and switch tactic.

  32. […] Lazy Man tried to hack a cable free solution. […]

  33. AskDong » One Topic: Television says:

    […] LazyMan pondered cutting the cable. I did this a couple years ago, but now I’m addicted to the DVR that comes with the Sattelite TV service I have. […]

  34. […] costs in other areas. If you don’t watch a lot of television one way to save money is to cut your cable tv completely (figuratively of course). Another option is to call up their cable company and threaten […]

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  36. Little Birdie says:

    I had Dish Network (a TERRIBLE company) and they pissed me off.. so I decided to save $65 a month and get rid of it. Goodbye TV.

    I’m totally ok with it.
    I miss some shows, some times.. but not much.

    I watched the debates on-line.

    I get my news on-line.

    I still have my DVD player for the rare night I want to watch a movie (I would rather go out to the movies).

    I’m bored I read a book, listen to music.. or do what I am doing right now.. waste time on the internet typing to people who probably don’t care too much :)

  37. SouthernMyst says:

    Haven’t had a TV in the house for 4 months now. Haven’t had cable now for a year and 2 months, but before that the other people I lived with paid for the cable; haven’t watched that much TV for years, now. I can veg out for hours on end, if given the opportunity (have to be careful when I house sit), but I like myself much better when I do more productive things than that.

    I have quite an extensive movie collection, and can always rent or check out from the library; as for the TV shows I miss, I just buy from iTunes store or rent, or borrow from a friend. It works out quite nicely.

  38. Negra says:

    Haven’t had cable for years! Luckily most of the major networks actually have a lot of their shows available online for free. HULU.com is where I spend most of my time. HULU is a centralized location to find old and new shows from several networks. Best of all its free and it has great quality because its actually legal.

  39. master_mind413 says:

    I havent had cable for 2 years now I bought me a 42″ lcd flat screen with a VGA input with my tax return then hooked up my pc I now tunnel my tv through my internet browser into my tv

    hulu.com

    casttv.com

    spreety.com

    I can get anything from foodnetwork to scyfy channel to history and discovery and if I miss some thing at work I just come home look it up on the browser and there it is I havent missed a show in years

  40. […] some time. Finally, after writing about trying to cut the cable twice, I am making progress (see: Cutting the Cable TV and Cutting the Cable TV (Part […]

  41. Nicole says:

    Hey Lazy Man, doesn’t sound like you’re too lazy because that’s a lot of work to get rid of cable. I have DISH Network, a small monthly bill and the ability to watch TV anywhere with my Sling Adapter. I also have HD programming free for life and 24/7 tech support that I don’t see being offered by any other provider. Good luck with your efforts! If you ever change your mind DISH would be happy to be your provider and I say this sincerely as a DISH employee ;)

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