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As a current cord cutter (and loving it) I wanted to create a beginners guide to cord cutting as this subject can get overwhelming very fast. Luckily, I hate super complicated stuff as I tend to give up after 5 minutes so I’m only going to be talking about the basics of cord cutting.
Ever feel like you are spending way too much on cable television or for a satellite dish? You aren’t alone. A recent report from the Video Advertising Bureau reports that the number of households using only streaming devices has tripled since 2013. The report goes on to say that nearly 15 million households are cord cutting as of 2017. To put that in perspective, it’s about 11% of the US population and growing…fast.
This article might be fairly long so feel free to click any link below and it will direct you to the appropriate section.
- What is Cord Cutting?
- Finding Your Broadcast Tower Locations
- Picking Out Your Antenna (To Replace Cable Channels)
- Pick Your Streaming Devices
- Decide Streaming Services
- Live TV Alternatives
- Other Services & Gray Hat Stuff
- Final Thoughts
1. What Is Cord Cutting?
In case you stumbled upon this article randomly and still don’t ‘get’ cord cutting, don’t worry I’ll explain. In its most basic form, cord cutting is when you decide to completely abandon your cable or satellite company and watch your favorite shows/movies/sports at a reduced price.
As cord cutters, most people often watch television via streaming devices or the use of an antenna (or both).
Since most cable/satellite plans range between $50-$250 each month + additional fees, cord cutting instantly eliminates those annoying costs. You can save hundreds/thousands of dollars each year by dropping cable.
2. Find The Location Of Your Broadcast Towers
Depending on your city/town, the number of broadcast towers that you have available will vary. Essentially, most local news stations have their own broadcasting towers that have numerous channels available that can be viewed for free via antenna.
So making sure you know the location of your nearby broadcast towers is a big deal, especially if you are someone that likes to watch live tv and wants to hear commercials in the background (I know I’m not alone on this one).
How to find your broadcast towers
There are several websites that can show you the location of your broadcast towers. Most people go to TVFool put I prefer a more visual approach so I go to http://otadtv.com/ and enter in my address. Simply put your address in the ‘locator’ widget and it will automatically find your coordinates.
Once you submit your location, you’ll be taken to a screen that shows all nearby broadcast towers.
In the example above, you see that the closest broadcast channels are in the southeast and southwest. Be sure to either print out the map or make a mental note. This is important because you’ll want to point your antenna in the proper direction to get the best signals. More on that later.
UHF / VHF – What’s the difference?
Aside from the map, you’ll also be shown a chart of channels and frequencies that they are on.
Essentially Ultra High Frequency (UHF) and Very High Frequency (VHF) are ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum that are able to be picked up on certain antennas. In other words, some stations have one frequency while others have a different one.
3. Picking Our The Right Antenna
Again, I’m sticking with the simple man guide here so I’m only going to throw out my three recommendations based on your budget/needs.
Under $10 – Starter Antenna
For those of you who are still on the ropes and don’t want the hassle of setting up an antenna, I recommend getting a basic antenna that won’t piss you off when it stops working the way you want it to.
I bought this antenna several years ago. Setup was simple:
- I moved the antenna near a window inside.
- Got a cable cord long enough to reach my HDTV.
- Connected the TV with the Antenna.
- Did “channel search” a couple of times under the “Antenna” frequency.
I think I had about 40 channels when I did this option. I say this is a good starter antenna because the signal was good enough most (not all) of the time.
I had to make sure the antenna was pointing in the right direction and I only used it for one room in the house. The signal was good most of the time, but depending on the time of day or if I stood near the antenna, the signal would drop often.
Under $50 – Big Boy HDTV Outdoor Antenna
This is the antenna I currently use and have used for the last 3+ years. I fricken love this antenna! I will admit that this is a bit more extreme, but it made sense to buy it as I moved into a house and setup requires using tools and getting your hands dirty.
I recommend this antenna if you want a one-time set it and forget it approach that lets you connect to the whole house.
- Requires additional tools to set up.
- You need to mount/build/place the antenna.
- Easy to follow directions.
- Bonus: Once you set it up you build your handyman street cred.
Believe I get 70ish channels at any given moment. I connect every TV and run my “auto-channel” search. I get PBS / Local News / Movie Channels / Cooking / ETC.
You will likely need to check out some Youtube videos on setting it up, but I haven’t needed to adjust it at all.
Middle of The Road HDTV Indoor Antenna
I have two friends that are cord cutters and since they live in apartments/condos they stick with an upgraded indoor antenna.
They don’t have any particular problems with these types of antennas. They are essentially souped-up versions of the cheap indoor antenna. I will say that you won’t get the same quality as an outdoor antenna.
That’s not to say this option is bad, it’s pretty good. But your mileage may vary. Feel free to look at this 1byone antenna and browse other indoor antennas. They more or less are all the same at this range.
- Setup is significantly easier compared to the outdoor method.
- Worth testing if you don’t want to upgrade from the $8 version
- Be sure to place your antenna near the window for best reception
- Connect to your tv and set up ‘auto-search’ with the antenna function selected.
4. Picking The Right Streaming Devices
Depending on your end-goal of cord cutting, streaming television will be a major part of your cord cutting journey. Chances are you already have a streaming device and don’t know it.
However, depending on your device, you might run into limitations. Considering we only want to get started, I’m only going to stick with top-level devices and provide my opinion on them.
Smart TVs & Video Game Systems
Almost every HDTV doubles as a “Smart TV” these days. This means that you have preexisting apps are catered to streaming services. The most popular ones that you’ll see are Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. If you want to stick with the basics in streaming then a smart TV should suffice.
I will need to point out though that the efficiency of these devices aren’t that great (slow load times, potential buffering issues) that tend to show over time.
As for video game systems – Nintendo / Sony / Microsoft’s gaming consoles are essentially entertainment systems. They are meant to be running on apps and streaming services all the time. So you’ll likely have more apps that are available to download and use more efficiently compared to a smart tv.
Both options are fine on their own. If you want to level up your streaming experience, check out the options below.
Roku / Amazon Firestick / Google Chromecast / Apple TV
To me, these are the big 4 streaming devices that are pretty affordable (excluding apple). Most of these devices are less than $50 and any streaming service or app does their best to work on these devices as they are the go-to for the vast majority of cable-cutters.
- Many different options available -> My personal favorite is the Roku stick as I can move it from room to room. You can connect to nearly an infinite amount of accounts and use Plex with it.
- Roku has the most variety of apps available from what I’ve seen with streaming devices.
- A simple layout to find your favorite streaming apps.
- I love the Firestick. IMO the intuitive interface and speed are much better to the Roku and I haven’t had many issues in needing to replace the device.
- My experience with apps is a bit better compared to the Roku, but that could just be because I use it on a majority of my devices
- Bonus: More flexibility to set up Amazon with Kodi and can watch more shows/streams for free (more on that later).
- Firestick is my go-to recommendation out of all the choices.
- I know I’ll get shit for this, but I just cannot use Chromecast. Despite its high ratings, it just sucks ass for me.
- I won’t dive more into it, I can only speak from my experience but it seems like I’m not the only one.
- Anyways, you can still buy it you want to get into the hype.
- It’s the most expensive option by a mile ($100-$150)
- I love how it connects with your Mac and iPhone for great syncing.
- Apps work pretty well in my experience.
- Probably the most limitations in regards to total apps available.
- If you want to be fancy and use your smartphone to mirror the Apple TV, then go right ahead. But the Roku and Firestick are my leading choices.
TL;DR Version -> Firestick probably gives you the most flexibility long-term, but Roku is rock-solid all the way around. Chromecast works super well in theory but I hated it and Apple TV is great but limiting and expensive.
5. Getting The Right Streaming Services
This one could be a major doozie so I’m only going to stick with the favorites that I use. Note: Some of these apps you might already use on top of cable, so these aren’t technically “savings”.
My Top Subscription Services
- If you share this with your family, then paying $13/month for having a library of original tv along with movies and other syndicated shows is a good option.
- There are other cheaper options ($10.99 standard option is good if you live alone and don’t want 4K streaming).
- Pretty much the go-to for binge-watching
- Despite the bad “rap”, it gets for having ads, it’s $11.99 to get 4K streaming with no ads. Literally $1 more than Netflix.
- Hulu includes the latest season of most shows
- Shows up are updated weekly so you can keep up to date on a number of your favorite TV shows
- They do have original programming, but I haven’t watched any of it.
- More “up to date” selection of TV
- Honestly, I probably use Hulu more than Netflix.
- Technically Prime can be used for free shipping and other services Amazon has, but for the sake let’s just assume Prime is primarily used for streaming.
- $119/year ($10/month average) and it’s half off if you are a student.
- Non-original TV selection isn’t that great nor are the movie selections.
- BIG DRAW: They have some sporting events that are streamed for free plus a massive amount of HBO shows available.
- I love anime and I use Funimation to watch up-to-date anime in dubbed form.
- The number of shows increases weekly and there is always something to watch.
6. Live TV Streaming Services
Alternatively, there are about 3 main options these days that people can use in replacing cable. While the services mentioned above are for watching tv, it isn’t exactly live television which could include sports or channels not included on an antenna. I don’t partake in these options as it defeats the purpose of saving money (plus I rarely watch live tv). Anyways, here you go:
Sling comes in at a $25 price point where you can pick the tv package you want. From ESPN to watching FX, you have your options. You can get 30+ channels for $40 as well in which you can watch live.
You get a boatload of top cable channels on Hulu TV for $40/month. This is different than the standard Hulu. Considering most cable companies have similar packages that $100+ (after introductory periods), this is a great / cheaper alternative. No hidden fees, no BS, pay $40 and watch your favorite shows live.
I’ll be straight up with you, the difference between Hulu TV and Youtube TV in regards to channel selection is minimal. Same channels and same pricing. I will say Youtube TV includes more concurrent users with cloud DVR, so they seem to offer more value compared to Hulu.
Should you get live tv? Honestly, outside of sports, you start to get accustomed to watching TV on your own terms. Personally, I consider this a waste, but that’s an opinion of some guy on the internet.
7. Other Services & Grayhat Stuff
I’m not going to lie, you won’t get the same experience compared to cable. However, you will be 99% of the way there with cord cutting with a fraction of the cost. Sometimes there might be a movie or a show that isn’t available anywhere unless you watch it live and that requires you to pay up.
It’s time to get saucy.
Movies / Sports Streaming Services
If you really want to watch sports on cable networks or catch a movie on-demand, check out the list below.
Movies on Demand
- Fandango Now
- Google Play Movies & TV
All options allow you to rent or own a massive library of titles.
Sports Streaming Services
- ESPN – Stream events on ESPN networks, including MLB, NFL, College Football, NBA, College Basketball games and more. Sign up for ESPN+ and this is included in Hulu/Sling/Google TV as well.
- MLB.TV – Watch every 2018 regular season game LIVE or on demand in HD. $24.99/month.
- NFL Game Pass – Watch live and replays of all games in multiple markets. I know most people really want to watch football, they come in at a reasonable $99/year payment.
- CBS Sports – Scoreboards and real-time stats for all major sports. Alerts about your favorite teams – never miss a thing about the teams you love. CBS All Access subscription at $ 5.99/month w/commercials or $9.99 for commercial free access.
Grayhat – Watch EVERYTHING for Free
Of course, everything I mentioned above applies if you are an upstanding citizen. I’ll keep this section short and I’ll let you do your due diligence on Google. But you can watch everything for free! Now, the streams won’t be top notch and you’ll run into issues with quality from time to time, but it is possible.
1. Get The Firestick – I love the firestick because I have flexibility when it comes to getting apps that allow you to watch streams for free.
2. Get “Kodi” installed – you can probably use facebook marketplace and buy a Kodi-installed firestick and get started
3. Dive into the world of free-streaming – There are so many builds for Kodi and apps within Kodi that there are websites dedicated to having the best experience.
Personally, I only use Kodi to watch anime that isn’t available right away. I do my best to support shows by getting Netflix/Amazon/Hulu/Funimation. This is more of a gray-hat route and illegal. But again, it’s my goal to give you the lowdown on all options out there.
Is cord cutting for everyone? Probably not. But I think that it’s worth it for a vast majority of people. While you aren’t paying $0 for cord cutting, you are saving a significant amount of money each year compared to cable or satellite.
My wife and I were nervous when we took the plunge. There was a lot of technical stuff involved and so much to read. I hope that this beginners guide to cord cutting is enough for you to get familiar with dropping cable. I am sure that once you do, you won’t ever go back.
I don’t recommend going all-in at once. Test it out with a cheap antenna on one TV and see how that works. Then go from there.
If you enjoyed my beginners guide to cord cutting, please take the time to pin/tweet/share/mention it on other forums. I know that this isn’t as in-depth as other guides, but I wanted to keep it simple to help bridge the gap for those unsure.
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