Saving Money by Cutting the TV Cord

I’ve been trying to analyze our finances and find areas where I can save money without losing much. One area that I focused on was media consumption, primarily television.

It took a lot of research, but I settled on what has been a great setup for my family. It gives us most of what we want and none of what we don’t want. Here’s a look at my decision process and the end results.

The Minimum Requirements

Before making any big decisions, I wanted to be positive I’d be getting certain things from the new setup.

  • Network Channels (CBS, FOX, NBC, etc)
  • Highest audio and video quality
  • Fully functioning DVR capabilities
  • Accessible on AppleTV
  • Accessible on iPhone and iPad
  • Accessible away from home
  • Easy to setup and operate
  • Cost effective

The Research and Considerations

I looked into antenna based systems and many of the online streaming services (such as Sling, Vue, DirecTV Now, Hulu, YouTube TV, etc). While I couldn’t find a solution that was 100% perfect, I did settle on one that I’m more than happy with.

It should be noted that my results include using AppleTVs, but you could also use Amazon Fire devices and AndroidTV with no issue. As a bonus, my setup includes automatic commercial detection and skipping for DVRed shows.

In the end, my upfront costs ended up being $225 and my monthly recurring costs are $18. No hidden fees, no contracts, perfect.

The Hardware

For this setup to work with LIVE TV, you’ll need the following equipment.

  1. A streaming device for your TV (unless you’ll be exclusively using an iPad or smartphone). You can spend whatever you’d like on these. Basically, $40 (Fire Stick) to $160 (4K AppleTV). I already had an AppleTV on hand, so that worked out perfectly.
  2. Next, you’ll need an over-the-Air antenna. These are relatively inexpensive. I picked up this highly reviewed one for less than $50.
  3. Grab this HDHomeRun device for $79 to be the power of the operation and you have all you need to get this setup working. Keep in mind that this device needs to be plugged into your computer, router, and antenna. Everything needs to be close together.

If you’d like DVR capabilities, you’ll need a little bit extra.

  1. An always on computer. This doesn’t have to be a top of the line iMac or anything similar. An old laptop (Windows is fine) will do just fine. Fortunately, we had an always on iMac in our home office already.
  2. You may want to add an external hard drive for show storage to your computer. I chose to add a 4TB drive to my iMac. This is not necessary, and can be added later if required.

Making Live TV Work

The setup for live TV is surprisingly simple. Plug the HDHomerun into your antenna and your router. Power everything up.

Then download the Channels app on your AppleTV, Fire Stick, iPhone, iPad, or whatever device you’re using. Once you set the app up, you should be watching live TV in your house without issue.

Making the DVR Functionality Work

This step is the most complicated part of setting everything up, but it’s still very doable. First, you’ll need to subscribe to the Channels DVR feature for $8/mo (no contract).

One subscribed, download the DVR feature software onto your computer and install it. It isn’t very complicated. In the process, you’ll be able to choose options such as commercial detection and DVR storage location.

Once you’ve done that, all that’s left is logging into your DVR in the Channels app on your AppleTV, iPhone, etc. This will allow you to access your DVR from anywhere in the world.

The Drawbacks

There aren’t many drawbacks once everything is set up, but there are some considerations and exceptions I’d like to address.

  • Depending on your geographical area, you may receive more or less channels than others.
  • In your home, TV is streamed across your existing network. Make sure your devices are in an area that have access to ethernet or strong WiFi.
  • In our area, I can’t pickup CBS over-the-air. Luckily, CBS offers a $10/mo option for watching live and on-demand. This extra $10 is why my monthly charges total $18.
  • We don’t get ESPN. While this isn’t ideal (I’m a huge sports fan), the only thing I really miss is Monday Night Football. It wasn’t worth keeping DirecTV solely for MNF.
  • If you want HBO, you’ll need to subscribe to HBO’s service independently.
  • As a baseball fan, I’ve always subscribed to MLB.tv to watch games. This won’t change.
  • If you watch shows on cable-only channels like HGTV (hello, Fixer upper) or TBS, you may want to consider buying season passes on iTunes. Even if you bought 2-3 seasons of shows every single month, you’d still be coming out ahead financially.
  • The HDHomerun allows you to watch TV simultaneously on two different devices at the same time. You can increase that capability to 4 by adding another HDHomerun. In fact, you can keep increasing beyond that by adding more devices.

Conclusion

We’ve now been using this set up for a few months with no complaints. The Channels app is much better than DirecTVs app (and TiVo’s app). Commercial detection and skipping is incredible.

We even invited people over for the Super Bowl and watched it without issue. I don’t think I’ll be making further changes to what we currently have in the near future.

If you have any questions or need help, reach out to me on Twitter.

Matt Langford @Mtt

Copyright 2018 Matt Langford

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