Free and cheap alternatives to cable and satellite TV

My Story
January 19th, 2017 By Brian Shim

I was a loyal cable TV customer for all of my adult life, paying (what would now be considered an insanely low price) of $34/month for basic cable in Los Angeles. Then in 2010, I moved to Providence, RI, where the cost was $52/month for basic cable.

Providence, RIDowntown Providence, RI

I paid it and figured, "well, that's just the cost of getting TV". More and more, however, I realized that I wasn't getting good TV. I was surfing through the channels over and over looking for good TV.

Then, my 6-month "introductory cable rate" went up to $57/month. Sure, it was only a few dollars more, but it ticked me off; it was almost a 10% increase in six months! After a few months of putting up with the higher cost and lack of good shows, I decided to "Disable My Cable"!

Of course now, $57/month seems insanely cheap; many people pay over $100/month for cable or even $200/month - insane!!

rabbit ear antenna

The first thing I did was try an old rabbit-ear antenna that I had from the pre-digital TV days. I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to get about sixteen channels, many of which were HD, with picture quality better than cable TV! At that point, I was sold. I cancelled cable that weekend. It felt great!!

Next, I played with the antenna position. It turns out that the original place that I had put the antenna was the optimal position. That's great, except for one thing: it was right in front of my TV screen. In other words, it was the one place in my living room where blocked my view of the TV!!

I played with the location some more, and tried some home-made wire antennas with varying results. The best spot was still right in front of my TV. So, I ended up putting it there and just bending the antennas out of the way of the screen

After my antenna tweaking I was able to bring in one more channel for a grand total of 19 unique channels! I was happy with this. Here is a list of the channels I got using this cheap rabbit-ear antenna:

My digital broadcast tv stations
Description Resolution Strength
PBS HD hi-def (1080i) weak
CBS hi-def (1080i) medium
ABC hi-def (720p) strong
NBC hi-def (1080i) strong
Local standard (480i) strong
NBC (duplicate) hi-def (1080i) strong
Local standard (480i) medium
FOX hi-def (720p) strong
PBS Local hi-def (1080i) medium
PBS Local 2 standard (480i) medium
Local hi-def (1080i) weak
PBS SD standard (480i) weak
PBS World standard (480i) weak
PBS Create standard (480i) medium
Kids channel standard (480i) medium
CW hi-def1080i (HD) strong
Country Music standard (480i) strong
Ion hi-def (720p) medium
Qubo (kids) standard (480i) weak
Ion Life standard (480i) medium

Providence, RI is a city of less than 200,000 people, to give you an idea. The stations labelled "strong" came in pretty much wherever I put my antenna. The ones labelled "weak" required very specific tweaking... sometimes inches mattered.

Now that I have lived with this for a while, do I miss cable? There are channels that I do miss like the Discovery Channel, History Channel, Travel Channel, and stuff like that. Instead of Samantha Brown, I watch Rick Steves. Instead of History Channel, I watch Ken Burns. Instead of Discovery, I watch Nova. You get the idea. But when I think about how much I'm saving, I don't mind. I still get the shows that I like on the networks, plus I seem to get even more PBS channels than with cable, interestingly enough.

And, I find that I'm channel surfing less, since there are fewer channels to surf. It takes me less time to find out when there's nothing good on TV. I am also watching a lot less trash TV - stuff with no redeeming value - like mindless reality shows. I have banished these forever and feel better!! I now spend more time going out and meeting with friends and family.

I am not anti-cable. For some people, cable is the only option (if you live far from TV transmitters, or love to watch live sports). I just want to show people that there are alternatives that they might not have thought about. I don't think people know how good broadcast TV is now that it has gone digital.

I'll continue to post my findings and research on DisableMyCable. I hope it is helpful to you. - Brian

My Story - Part II

UPDATE 4/24/2011: Because my apartment complex is remodeling, I was forced to move to an upstairs apartment. "Great!", I thought. "Now I'll get even more channels since it's higher up!". Not so fast. After moving, I found that no matter where I put my rabbit-ear antenna, I was only able to get 15 unique channels instead of the 19 I had before. It just goes to show how finicky and counter-intuitive antenna placement can be!

So, I figured it's time to upgrade from the rabbit-ear antenna that served me so well in my old apartment. I opted for the Antennas Direct DB-4 from Solid Signal because it's inexpensive and has gotten some great reviews online. (Since then, I've moved to the Mohu Leaf.)

After playing around with the placement and direction of the antenna, I was able to get all 19 of the channels I had before, plus a new one and some additional duplicates. I found the ideal location was to face it out a nearby window.

DB4 antenna with my tv
My new "outdoor" antenna facing the window. I'll buy a plant to hide it, haha.

My Story - Part III

UPDATE 6/1/2012: Well, I just moved again. Instead of being on the fourth floor, my new place is on the base of a big hill, which is blocking many of the stations from the city. At my last place, I was able to get about thirty channels after switching to the Mohu Leaf antenna. Now, I am down to about sixteen channels due to the hill in the way.

Not the end of the world. I am still able to get the networks and PBS. I still prefer it over paying $60/month for cable!

My Story - Part IV

UPDATE 11/16/2012: I did a re-scan and was able to get thirty channels! It just goes to show that it pays to re-scan for channels every so often. Stations are increasing power and adding new channels!

To supplement my TV options, I connect my laptop to my TV so I can watch shows from the Internet on the big screen. - Brian

My Story - Part V

UPDATE 4/30/2013: I've moved across the country back to my home town of Santa Monica, CA. I can get about 60 channels downstairs and a whopping 126 channels upstairs using the Mohu Leaf and Cable Cutter Aerowave antennas, respectively, with RG6 cable! For Internet TV, I use a Roku 3. For recording, I use the Channel Master DVR+.

Santa Monica, CA

My Review Policy

I don't accept payment for writing reviews. All of my reviews express my personal opinion after evaluating and/or researching the product or service myself.

When I write a full review of a product, my policy is to puchase the product myself, just like you would. I don't accept free samples for review.

Why not? Well, when I get a free sample from a manufacturer, it puts me in an uncomfortable position where I feel obligated to give it a good review. Purchasing all of my review gear and services frees me from that conflict of interest, and allows me to give the most honest review possible! Yes, it costs a bit more, but I believe my credibility and articles benefit from this policy.

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About Me

I was born in Los Angeles, CA. I have a bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology. I'm currently a freelance web developer.

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