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The scope of this document is determination of suitability of an individual situation to cable cutting.  The assumption is that the cord 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.

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.

Visit http://www.tvfool.com 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 2-6 are vhf-low, real channels 7-13 are vhf-high, and real channels above 13 are uhf.  Distance, frequency, and orientation will help in the selection of an antenna.

Check http://www.titantv.com 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.  Generally OTT services are not free and out of scope, but here is a list of popular services…

Service Channels Streams Price/Month Notes
DirecTV Now 60 1 $35 ABC, FOX, NBC, CBS (in some cities)
Hulu 55 6 $39.99 ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox (live or on demand)
PlayStation Vue 45 5 $39.99 ABC, FOX, NBC, CBS (select cities)
Sling TV 25/40/50 1/3/4 $20/$25/$40 FOX, NBC, ABC, Univision, and Unimas, are only available in select markets
YouTube TV 48 3 $35 ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CW

Netflix, Prime, Vudu, and other services stream premium programs and movies to your television over the internet.

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 TVFool.com Report

TVFool.com is a great predictor of broadcast television success.  Go to http://www.tvfool.com, 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…

tvfoolhome

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 TitanTV.com.  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 TitanTV.com 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 TVFool.com 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 $50
Stellar Labs 30-2476 VHF antenna $45.48
Amplifier/joiner $30.00
10′ Mast/Wall Mounts/Grounding kit $114.43
EDA-2400 Distribution Amplifier $59.99

Ongoing (monthly) expenses include an ISP ($45 for me), OOMA taxes and fees ($4 for most), and Netflix ($11 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).