Getting Started

The scope of this document is determination of suitability of an individual to cable cutting.  The assumption is that the cable cutter will replace premium programming with Over-the-Air (OTA/broadcast) and/or Over-the-Top (OTT) alternatives.   The discussion will cover needs, opportunity, and cost analysis.  We’re going to assume you have a television with a digital tuner.  If not, we’ll cover your options in Everything Else.

Needs Analysis

What You Watch  The first step is to carefully analyze what you watch.  This is pretty simple.  Put a pen and a pad of paper near where you watch television.  Tell family members that you are thinking of cutting or trimming your cable service and you do not want to impact their viewing.  I annotated my list with a W when I was actively watching something because most of the time tv is just background noise for me.

Pay particular attention to sports.  While the NFL is mostly available OTA or OTT, MLB, NHL, and NBA are not.

How You Watch  If you time shift, pause, rewind, or fast forward through commercials, take note of that — you will want a DVR.

Don’t Forget Your Phone  If your cable company also provides internet access and phone service, you will need to consider alternatives.

Resource Analysis

OTA First  Consider broadcast television first.  OTA is free forever and looks great.  Put up an antenna, plug it in, and watch television.  Nothing looks better than broadcast television’s uncompressed high definition programming.   Unfortunately, getting the signal from the transmitter to your television can be challenging.  With a little bit of investigation, you should be able to predict how well broadcast television will fit into your entertainment infrastructure.

Visit and prepare a report for your address.  There are three graphs in the report.  A polar graph shows orientation and strength of stations relative to your address.  The chart to the right of the polar graph is a list of channels ordered by signal strength.  This chart tells you the call sign, real channel, network, orientation, distance to, and path to each station you may expect to receive.  Real channels 2-13 are vhf and real channels above 13 are uhf.  Distance, frequency, and orientation will help in the selection of an antenna.

Check to see what is on the channels you might receive.

OTT  If you are not satisfied with broadcast television options, consider over-the-top or internet delivered options.  OTT requires a good internet service, a good local area network, and equipment that is capable of distributing these streams to your televisions.

For $8/month, you could subscribe to HuluPlus.  HuluPlus streams network programming over the internet to a single subscriber or device.

Netflix, Prime, Vudu, and other services stream premium programs and movies to your television over the internet.  Netflix is $8/month, Amazon Instant Video is available as part of a $79/year Prime subscription and/or purchase/rental of content, and Vudu is an online movie rental service that charges $2 for a two night rental.

Coupled with internet access and a set top box, OTT can approach the cost of a premium service and troubleshooting network and service problems can turn into a frustrating finger pointing exercise, but OTT is getting better every day.

If you are considering OTT, check for alternatives to your cable provider.  Inquire about download speeds, caps, and throttling which may limit how much you cans stream or adversely impact the quality of your viewing experience.  Cable companies are not required to give equal priority to all data types, so you should not be surprised to find that your ISP provides a higher priority to their voice and entertainment services than to other internet access (i.e., Netflix).

VOIP  A lot of people are pulling the plug on traditional phone service, but many prefer a ‘land line’ or local dial tone.  Voip may be available as part of an ISP bundle.  Be careful to ensure your VOIP solution supports your phone needs (fax).

Internet  Even if you opt for an antenna, you may want internet access for additional entertainment, information, or phone service.  If you are not using

Reading a Report is a great predictor of broadcast television success.  Go to, click >> Click HERE <<, enter your address and anticipated elevation of the antenna above the ground and click the Find Local Channels button.  You’ll get a report that looks like this…


The polar chart in the upper left corner shows the strength and direction of broadcasters relative to your antenna (the center of the graph).  The bottom graph shows channel strength and is ordered by ‘real’ channel number.  The table in the upper right corner is the most useful.  It lists channels from strongest to weakest.  For each channel, call sign, real channel, virtual channel, strength, path, distance, and direction are shown.

You will likely recognize the call sign and virtual channel of each entry.  If you are unfamiliar with the channels in your list, check your broadcast schedule using  The real channel corresponds to the actual frequency of the tv broadcaster.  2-6 are VHF-LO, 7-13 are VHF-HI, and channels starting with 14 are UHF.  The virtual channel is the channel you tune to on your television.  During the digital changeover, stations changes frequencies and virtual channels were created to help people recognize their familiar stations.  In my market, WBX moved from 4 (VHF-LO) to 20 (UHF), but it still shows up as channel 4 on my TV.

You will want to use this report and to make a list of channels you will want to watch.  Divide that list into three parts — VHF-LO, VHF-HI, and UHF.  Within the three parts, group your stations by azimuth (it doesn’t matter true or magnetic).  If all of your broadcasters are in one direction and UHF, then all you need to do is get a UHF antenna that has a suitable range and mount it with a line of sight to the horizon in the direction of the broadcasters.  If you want to watch UHF stations in one direction and VHF stations in another, it would be best to buy separate UHF and VHF antennas, point each towards the station(s) you want to watch, and join the two together.  If you have UHF or VHF stations in multiple directions, you may want to go with an omnidirectional antenna or a rotor.  If you have multiple televisions or DVRs that record unattended, things get more complicated.  We’ll go over specific scenarios in the Broadcast TV section.


Cost Analysis

Free TV isn’t free.  This is a good time to use the data collected to estimate your one time and ongoing costs. For our example, we’ll estimate for a family of four with a tv in the living room and each of three bedrooms. All sets will have a Channel Master DVR (hdmi only) for the guide and ad hoc recording with a 2t disk (320 hours of HD) and a Roku 1 (wireless hdmi/composite) for Netflix and other fun stuff. I’m going to assume, too, that we want to retain our phone system, so I’ll add an OOMA telo to the mix.  We’ll put our family out in my house with my report. I’ll just start on the roof and work my way to the tv. I’m going to presume there is cable from some point of entry to each set since we are cutting the cable and that you can penetrate the house using an existing grounding block.

91xg UHF antenna $76.02
Y10-7-13 VHF antenna $45.48
Amplifier/joiner $23.99
10′ Mast/Wall Mounts/Grounding kit $114.43
EDA-2400 Distribution Amplifier $51.70
100′ Underground Direct Burial In – Outdoor Rg6 $38.00
6ft RG6, Quad Shield, CL2 Coaxial Cable (Quantity 2) $8.08
Roku 1 (Quantity 4) $240.00
Channel Master DVR+ (Quantity 4) $1000.00
Seagate Expansion 2TB Desktop USB 3.0 External Hard Drive (Quantity 4) $359.96
Ooma Telo Free Home Phone Service $127.20
Total ==> $2084.86

Ongoing (monthly) expenses include an ISP ($45 for me), OOMA taxes and fees ($4 for most), and Netflix ($9 for two concurrent users).

This is just to help you think about the right things.  If you choose to hire an installer, your one time expenses will be significantly higher.  One time expenses really recur — eventually your hardware will break or become obsolete and need to be replaced.  Support is not included in the list because you cannot buy it.  You own most of the troubleshooting effort, so consider that time and effort and whether someone else in your home can support what you build in your absence.

Let’s take a look at OTA (Broadcast TV).

3 thoughts on “Getting Started

  1. You may not want to recommend the 2T HDD for the DVR+. Channelmaster has said that most of them will not function correctly.

    And your required items seem to be inflated for more users, especially those in a major city. We were able to use a Flatenna ($10) and only got one DVR+ with a 3T HDD. A Roku 2 will also likely be better for most users at only a slight increase in price and comes with a remote that allows you to use ear buds. It also works on dual band routers and has composite outputs.

    I think total i may have spent $470. We may eventually add another Roku for the other TV, but so far I’ve just moved this one when needed. Of course, one of our goals was to limit our consumption and make sure what time we spend in front of the TV is together as a family.

    So far we’ve use Netflix one month and will likely not have it every month. We did just OTA and the free channels on Roku for a few months. So far we have been able to get by with the lowest speed internet.


  2. Pingback: Dealing with TV Rebroadcast Negotiations | Free TV For Me!

  3. Pingback: Dealing with TV Carriage Negotiations | Free TV For Me!

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