Cutting the cable cord
December 18, 2012 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Questions about cutting the cable cord in the US.

Comcast cable is actin' like jerks. Their latest upgrade forced us to install a new digital box, which took away the HD channels on local tv. We only have basic cable service. This makes us so mad we're thinkin' of just shutting cable off. We do watch some local broadcast tv though.

We have laptops and high speed internet. If we ordered a Boxee Box, would we be able to view local stations through it? We have an HD TV.

Should we get an HD antenna? Do those actually work? We have a Netflix account that we love and figure that adding a Boxxee Box would enable us to tell Comcast to get lost.

Thoughts?
posted by sock, the puppet to Technology (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Your over-the-air capabilities are going to depend entirely on where you live. Here's the FCC's map, into which you can enter your address and find out which channels you'll be able to get over-the-air. In my experience, you don't have a hope of getting the channels that are listed as anything less than "Strong" without some kind of antenna on your roof.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:39 AM on December 18, 2012


There is really no such thing as an HD Antenna... it's broadcast in the same way as previous TV signals. That's just something they put on the box to catch your eye.

We have an antenna and a Roku Box and don't miss TV. Antenna for NFL, Roku for everything else (Netflix, Hulu, etc etc).

Antenna feasibility varies greatly depending on where you are, but the good news is that basic tabletop antennas are very cheap. Look up what OTA HD stations are near you and whether they are VHF or UHF, then get an appropriate antenna.

Check this website out for help with that:
http://www.antennaweb.org/
posted by selfnoise at 9:40 AM on December 18, 2012


I went without cable for a couple of years and found that I could still watch nearly all of the shows I enjoyed, but I had to put a lot of work into keeping up with the various sources. I went back to cable this year, partially as a result of Hulu constantly ramping up their ads. It turns out I'm willing to pay to have all my shows in one place and be able to fast-forward through commercials.

An HD antenna was useless at my house because we are in an electronic dead zone or something (our cells don't work at home, either). It might be worth it to buy one and test it out before you cancel cable.

Your access to sports is going to be very limited, so if that's something you care about you should take it under consideration.
posted by something something at 9:40 AM on December 18, 2012


On antennas: Yes, they work, but it all depends on your location and how you position it, as stated above. I built a few following this old guide. They are ugly, but they do actually work!
posted by history_denier at 9:43 AM on December 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you like to watch live sports in your own home, it may be worth it to retain your cable or switch to satellite. I have a Roku box, Netflix Instant, and Amazon Prime, and that works fine for everything other than extremely recent episodes of TV series (like, I can't watch the first 8 episodes of the 7th series of Dr Who for a few more months, unless I'm willing to buy the DVD or pay per-episode.) I like very few current shows, and am completely willing to re-watch the previous 83 episodes of Dr Who to pass the time away while waiting for the newest episodes to show up, so it works great for me.

I have to watch OSU football games at my mom's house, though.

Also, you may not save much money switching, because they kill you on the single-service plans (i.e., internet without TV or phone.) I save about 30% on my bill by not having TV, and that percentage goes down every few months.

Definitely test out your antenna stuff before cancelling the cable TV. I didn't get any of my local over-the-air stations until I got a much better antenna, and I'm thinking of getting an additional booster for it because some of them are still spotty (and digital broadcasts mean you either get the picture or nothing - no more "well, there's only a little snow, David Duchovny's still pretty hot despite that, so whatever" stuff.)
posted by SMPA at 9:50 AM on December 18, 2012


There is really no such thing as an HD Antenna... it's broadcast in the same way as previous TV signals. That's just something they put on the box to catch your eye.

To clarify, does that mean if we buy an HD Antenna, we will not get and HD picture on the tv?

Also, does anyone know how this is legal? We had HD signal on the local channels before, now we don't? How can Comcast just stop offering something they use to offer?
posted by sock, the puppet at 9:57 AM on December 18, 2012


We have an antenna and it works just fine for us, though we are in an admittedly good spot for it. We watch lots of Netflix, PBS, and for the few shows on cable that we really like (Top Chef, Walking Dead, Breaking Bad...) we just buy the season passes on iTunes. We've got Apple TV, mostly for that reason. It is a little expensive, but all three season passes total are still less than what we'd pay for a month of cable. It helps that a lot of the Fox/ABC/NBC/CBS shows are available to watch online a week after their air date. We don't miss cable at all. I guess it's also a matter of stubbornness. I don't want to pay for it, so we just make due with what we have and it's not enough hassle to make me cough up the 1k or so a year for cable.
posted by takoukla at 9:57 AM on December 18, 2012


Sorry, that was confusing. What I meant was, any antenna will pick up HD channels, not just "HD" antennas. (and display them in HD assuming your TV has the tuner)
posted by selfnoise at 9:58 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


How can Comcast just stop offering something they use to offer?

Their TOS presumably says they can change their service offerings at any time with no recourse for the customer. They're evil. Fact of life, sadly.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:02 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a Boxee Box, but be aware that they were recently discontinued. There will be no more updates. However, they are now selling Boxee TV, which is pretty similar. I stream Netflix through my Boxee Box. I also have an antenna very similar to this one that works great.
posted by anotheraccount at 10:05 AM on December 18, 2012


I have a roku (Hulu+, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Crackle, and serve my ripped DVDs via Plex) and an antenna to watch broadcast TV. It works pretty well, I get a decent signal, but took some fiddling to get the right signal for all the channels. I do miss Monday Night Football, though. I also just recently started using Can I Stream It? to help me navigate the different streaming services offerings.
posted by nightwood at 10:09 AM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Just another note: if you can get the broadcast channels OTA, the quality is often much better than over cable. My in-laws have Time Warner up here with a same-res TV and the difference is startling... the cable company compresses the shit out of them.
posted by selfnoise at 10:12 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


AntennaWeb will tell you what kind of OTR reception you can expect, and what antenna you will need.
posted by COD at 10:14 AM on December 18, 2012


Also, does anyone know how this is legal? We had HD signal on the local channels before, now we don't?

The FCC mandates that local channels are must carry on cable, but there's no restriction on whether they are in HD or SD or not. And recently the FCC allowed cable companies to encrypt local channels. This is probably the restriction you've run into, where you now need a decoder box to get the locals. Perfectly legal and perfectly shitty.

Anyway, if you don't care about DVR functionality, plugging an antenna appropriate for your local reception (or even just a paper clip if the signal is strong enough) into your TV will suffice. The Boxee TV mentioned above by anotheraccount adds DVR functionality to OTA signals, but costs $10/month.
posted by zsazsa at 10:56 AM on December 18, 2012


Bypass the Comcast box and just connect the cable directly to your tv, do a scan and see what you get. Most likely you will get the same HD channels as you would get over the air.
posted by Ferrari328 at 11:03 AM on December 18, 2012


I got a roku last year, and am still pretty much in love with it. I don't watch sports, and I don't care much about current TV. There certainly seem to be lots of football on these days, but I don't know if those are the "right" games. I wasn't replacing cable, just augmenting over-the-air TV.

It has definitely changed how I use Netflix. I get pretty good reception in DC, and yes, there are lots of HD channels, which I get via a nice, fancy "HD" antenna downstairs, and regular old, broken, bent rabbit ears upstairs. Oh, and lots of porn.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:20 PM on December 18, 2012


In most places, you can't connect the cable directly to the TV anymore and get the cable channels - requires a DTA box from Comcast.

What's the implication for your internet service? if it's through Comcast, can you keep it at the same price?
posted by mrs. taters at 3:25 PM on December 18, 2012


Also, between Roku and the antenna, I do not miss cable, and I used to watch a lot of cable. It's tough for live sports though - that will be a harder hole to fill.
posted by mrs. taters at 3:27 PM on December 18, 2012


internet + roku + playon + scripts = love
posted by couchdive at 5:35 PM on December 18, 2012


Bypass the Comcast box and just connect the cable directly to your tv, do a scan and see what you get.

Yes, but teh picture quality is degraded and flaky
posted by sock, the puppet at 6:12 PM on December 18, 2012


Are you sure you left your TV set to Cable and did a scan to see what channels you'd get? By setting it to Antenna, it'll look for over-the-air channels, but you should be able to set it to Cable, skip the Comcast set-top box and still get many basic channels - many in HD.

I have Comcast too. I cancelled my TV but kept Comcast for internet... but I still get basic cable including HD channels via cable - obviously, without a Comcast box. I just have a splitter with one cable going to my modem and one going into my TV.

I get ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, all in HD, plus a bunch of others, including many sub-channels. They come in as 2.1, 6.1, 8.1, 8.2, 10.1, 10.2, 10.3, 12.1, etc etc etc.

I only subscribe to Comcast's mid-grade internet package, which is internet only, 6 megs download speed, but that has proved more than fast enough for me, even when using Google Voice, Netflix, streaming media, etc.

My total bill, including taxes, etc, is $49.95 a month. Totally worth it.
posted by 2oh1 at 10:30 PM on December 18, 2012


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