Lessons Learned from a Would-Be Cord Cutter – Part 2: It ain’t that easy…

Getting a free TV is easy. Making it work without subscription services isn’t.

cordcuttingA few weeks ago, I published an article on what I was doing to get broadcast video content without subscribing to any kind of cable or satellite service. I’ve heard from some people that it’s easy. I’ve heard from others that it can be challenging at best.

In short, I’ve learned a few interesting lessons and I thought I would pass them on. If you’re thinking about cutting the cord – cancelling your cable or satellite subscriptions, or simply going without them – there are some burps you’ll need to get around if you want to have the best experience. Here’s what I found out.

You’re GONNA Need an Antenna – The Leaf Ultimate (and Placement is Everything)

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Many local TV station affiliates – NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, etc. – broadcast their content over the air. Besides the majors, there’s also a few other public access or personal interest stations that you might find available as well depending on your geographic location. In order to pull these stations in, you’re going to need a digital antenna.

Thankfully, you will NOT need one of those big, motorized metal monsters that you’ve seen strapped to the side of older homes or older homes with chimneys. However you will need an indoor antenna. The best one that I’ve seen – and the one that I ordered – was the Leaf Ultimate. It comes with an amplifier and is small enough that you can put it just about anywhere near the TV, though it is highly recommended that you locate it near a window.

The antenna is flat and looks like a laminated or plastic coated piece of paper. It connects to your TV’s coax connection and setup is easy. Provided you have the right kind of tuner (see below), all you’ll need to do is connect the antenna to the amplifier, connect the antenna to the TV and set the appropriate video mode for the coax input you attached it to. After searching for channels, you should be good to go.

Placement of the antenna is very important. Depending on what you’re trying to watch, you may need to move the antenna slightly now and again in order to pick up specific channels you want to watch or when the signal is pixilated due to inclement weather or weak signal reception. You can then put it back in the spot where you have it permanently mounted. The antenna is inconspicuous enough that it can either be mounted to a wall or bookcase with either included Velcro pads or pins. I’ve not experienced any reception issues with it, and it’s been functioning well. The Leaf Ultimate Indoor antenna lists for $89.99, but can be purchased for about $70.

Digital Signal Requires a Digital Receiver

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Back in 2009 when the US converted OTA TV broadcasts from analog to digital signals, there was a big push to get everyone a digital tuner. Most cable or satellite service users were not affected by this, as the cable or satellite box handled any required conversion. That made it easy for those folks to ignore the requirement and just watch TV.

Since being a cord cutter means staying away from either or both cable or satellite, using a TV manufactured prior to the digital tuner requirements put in place around 2007 and enacted in 2009, makes watching OTA TV impossible. In other words, you need a digital converter box.

I was able to obtain a decent Sony 720p/1080i TV for free. All I had to do was pick it up. The only issue I had in watching OTA digital broadcasts was that the TV was in 2002, and therefore had an analog tuner. I had to go to BestBuy and purchase a digital converter box. That cost me about $60 bucks.

The converter box is actually a digital tuner that bypassed my analog tuner and pushed the signal into the AUX port on the TV via coax, instead of the TV antenna port. The TV now displays all three local, major network affiliates plus other public broadcast and access channels. In all, I get about 20 channels.

I’m finding that I usually stick to the majors – NBC, ABC and CBS. The other channels, like ME-TV, The CW, etc., are nice, but I’m not finding a lot that interests me there. I like waking up to the news on weekdays. I now drive to work and finding out what weather, traffic and road conditions to expect always make the commute much easier to get through.

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