You Don’t Have to Pay for Cable TV

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Almost a year ago I moved into a new apartment and did something revolutionary: I didn’t set up cable or satellite TV. I was frustrated by the lack of choice (only one provider), lengthy contracts, and inexplicably high price. As someone who watches a lot of television, this seemed like a truly difficult problem, but I resolved to find a way to see my favorite shows without paying a cable or satellite bill. Fortunately, it was much easier than I thought.

You might not know it, but you can watch HDTV with an antenna.

Over 99% of U.S. TV households can receive at least one local station over the air, while 89% can watch five or more. The picture is perfectly clear thanks to the switch to digital TV completed on June 12, 2009. You’ll either see a crisp, beautiful image or no image at all (static is a thing of the past). And the best part? All your favorite programming will still be in HD.

HDTV is more expensive for local stations to produce, so it’s common to see a station broadcast in regular standard definition during the day, but switch their signal to high definition for prime time. So while the local news may not be in HD, your favorite shows like Glee, America’s Got Talent, and The Bachelorette will be.

Of course, you will need an antenna to make this work, but your HDTV will also have to have an “HDTV tuner” built in. This is sometimes referred to as “integrated HDTV”. If not, you’ll need to buy a separate HDTV tuner that connects your existing HDTV to an antenna. To check, you may have to consult your HDTV’s manual, do a search online, or contact the manufacturer.

AntennaWeb, a site provided by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), will show you exactly where to point your antenna for the best reception at your address. It will also let you see which stations are broadcasting over the air in your area. There may be more than you think.

What about shows that aren’t on broadcast channels?

Two of my favorite shows, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, air on Comedy Central, which isn’t a channel you can receive with an antenna. Fortunately, Internet to the rescue! If you’ve got a computer and internet access (there’s no way I’d be able to live without paying for Internet), both shows can be watched in their entirety on their respective websites for free. (Full episodes of The Daily Show and full episodes of The Colbert Report). Like most online shows, you’ll have to sit through a few commercials, but less than you would see watching the same show on television and without having to pay for the privilege.

The popular website Hulu has hundreds of shows available to watch online, all free, commercial-supported, but it’s not the only option. Netflix is a great way to watch past seasons of favorite shows, which can be streamed instantly to almost 100 devices like your computer, Xbox, PlayStation, Wii, iPhone (soon), etc. You can watch as much as you want for only $9 a month; compared to the cost of a cable or satellite subscription with premium movie channels, a pittance. Plus, they’ve got almost every movie you’ve ever heard of, offer a 2 week free trial, and let you cancel whenever you want.

Where do you watch live sports online?

If you’re getting your Internet from one of these providers, you can access ESPN3, a “broadband network for live sports programming”. The site is currently in beta and not every game on TV is available online, but you can watch thousands of games and events (even World Cup soccer) live with chat, stats, scoreboards, and picture-in-picture. According to them:

Each year ESPN3 delivers thousands of live games and events like College Football and Basketball, NBA, MLB, UEFA Champions League Soccer, The Masters and US Open Golf, all 4 Grand Slam tennis tournaments, and more. Plus you get a fully interactive experience with real time in-game stats and scoreboards and live chat.

Other sites to watch sports? MLB.tv has an $80/year membership that will let you stream every regular season baseball game (with a few exceptions) right to your computer/PS3/etc, live or on-demand, and in HD when available. Given the success of these ventures, look for even more games and events to be broadcast online through sites like ESPN3 and MLB.tv. The interactive nature of the web allows for an engaging, social experience and ultimately, more enjoyable spectating.

But what about “premium” shows, like the ones on HBO, Cinemax and Starz?

Some shows can be purchased individually from sites like Amazon.com or Apple’s iTunes Store a day or two after they air. If you do the math, you’ll find that purchasing your favorite show is likely to be cheaper than paying for the channel it airs on month after month.

For everything else, you’ll have to be a little patient and wait for the inevitable DVD release of last season. The typical DVD set for one season of a television series costs between $25 and $35, so you could buy several sets each month and still save over the cost of cable or satellite. However, if it comes out on DVD, chances are it’ll show up on Netflix where that $9 a month subscription is now looking really good.

How does all this internet video get on my TV?

While streaming video to your computer sounds great, most people want to watch television on their television. Fortunately, there are tons of options to get your favorite shows on your big screen. First, check your computer for an output designed to work with either an external monitor or TV. If you’ve got one, you may be able to buy a cable and adapter that will plug your computer directly into your television. Doing so is a bit like putting together a puzzle; you want to find pieces that connect to each other. This can be a little tricky, especially with all the different possible connections on the market. So if you’re not tech savvy, you may want to get a little help from someone who is or check out this video from Howcast called “How To Connect Your Laptop To Your Television”.

You might also want to look at “media streaming” boxes. Like the cable box you’ll be ditching, these connect to your TV and allow you to watch programming you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. The big difference? You can watch free and paid internet content. Depending on the box, you’ll be able to stream video from Netflix, Amazon, MLB.tv, Hulu, and YouTube, audio from internet radio stations, Pandora, and Last.fm, and watch movies or look at photos that have been stored your home PC. Think of media streaming boxes as mini-computers for your TV.

The Roku Digital Video Player is $80 ($100 for the HD version), but you can get $20 off if you’re a new Netflix subscriber. It’ll stream dozens of “channels” from the web right to your TV for less than the price of one month of cable or satellite. Plus, it’s an open platform so developers are adding new channels all the time.

The Boxee Box by D-Link wont be available for purchase until later this year, but you can install their free software on your home computer right now. It’ll turn your Mac or PC into a full fledged media player, with an interface specifically designed to look great on TV. It’s much easier to navigate with a remote and provides easy access to your personal collection of movies and music, as well as every video website under the Sun.

Google will soon enter the market to pair TV and the Internet with Google TV, a software package they developed to be built in to TVs, Blu-Ray players and set-top boxes. It’s sort of a super-TiVo that will let you watch and record broadcast programming while seamlessly switching to internet streaming when what you want to watch isn’t on a channel you receive. In essence, Google created the perfect companion for anyone who wants to ditch cable or satellite without sacrificing their favorite shows. Upcoming devices with Google TV built in have been announced by Sony, Logitech and Intel, but wont be available until later this year.

Apple TV is like an iPod for your TV. It’ll let you stream videos and audio from your iTunes collection, but only if they’re in the right format, and nothing from Hulu, Netflix, etc. Of course, anything you purchase from iTunes will play perfectly, so this may be a great option for some. However, at $230 with seemingly limited capabilities, your best bet might be to wait for the Apple TV 2 (if such a thing is coming).

So there are plenty of inexpensive options. You don’t need a new computer for every TV in your house, though with the money saved by cutting out cable or satellite, you could afford several.

How much does all of this cost?

While the average cable bill is $75 a month or $900 a year, I was paying closer to $150 a month or $1800 a year to see everything I wanted. Now I pay $9 a month for my Netflix subscription and watch everything else for free online or over-the-air broadcast. I don’t need a TiVo (since you can just hit pause on a website), and I use an old, cheap computer running Boxee hooked up to my TV as my “media center”. My $1800 a year expense is now only $108 and I can watch just about everything I want, whenever I want.

Update: Hulu Plus

Just one day after writing this story (yesterday), Hulu announced their new premium membership called Hulu Plus. For $9.99 a month, it promises full and current seasons of shows like The Office, Friday Night Lights, Dancing with the Stars and Lie to Me. Shows can be watched on your computer, through an iPhone/iPad app, or on a compatible television, blu-ray player or gaming system. While you are paying money for a premium service, Hulu has said that programming will still be advertising supported, so be aware. Currently, the full Hulu Plus catalog is only open to those who request an invitation, but look for wider availability soon. Personally, I can’t wait to try it out.

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Comments & discussion

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  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/4QPUC6MOIF2B5JWHKB3WVD7IUA Nightryder

    Texaslonghorns, if you have DISH, they can provide you with Internet access through satellite which would probably require another type of dish. I would think DirecTv would have the same thing but you would have to do your own research on that issue.
    But getting STREAMING from a satellite is not the best way for “smooth” streaming. Having a hotwired connection is ALWAYS the better way to go.
    So DISH offers either or both TV and Internet…………..you could dump the TV portion from DISH and get the Internet from them. But I would suggest that you get your Internet from DISH and go on your quest for getting TV by way of STREAMING and if it is satisfactory, then you dump the TV portion of DISH.
    I suggest you go to a Best Buy or a Radio Shack and have someone explain all this to you IN PERSON

  • Rainmon

    This is great, I have been living in Bangkok the last 2 years and was watching many shows on the internet. Now how do I watch NASCAR online?

  • Qazx543er

    Yes, but what do you pay for high-speed internet for these streaming shows? The only high-speed internet available in my area IS cable!!!!! Can't cut the cord unless I cut my internet!!!

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/SBOEAP6BLQ4HIVLFH4BGKZ4IUM Ned Mitenius

    What about major news channels? I would have already stopped my cable TV if I had found an equivalent to CNN online. What I have found are sets of news videos from CNN.com and others, but they don’t directly correspond to the current “latest stories” on any news channel (ie hurricane or earthquake news).

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/KWNLJGXMJLU2M3BG3IEW34EO4M પાર્થેશ ઠાકોર

    Not for Me, this works only in USA

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/M442BIOLF7S3XOPVTAUCY6SA44 AniEire

    All of this sounds great, and I've used some of these options such as Hulu. The problem is, captioning. You see, I'm deaf and I rely on captioning to watch television. Hulu is great about captioning most shows, but it's not totally up to them. For instance, CBS does not caption ANYTHING on their website. MTV? Their recent airing of “My True Life: I'm Deaf” wasn't even captioned! How ironic is that?
    I was about to buy a BlueRay, and just use it to stream from Netflix…when I found out that movies aren't captioned on there either.
    I would love to find more resources, especially CBS shows that have captioning, without the cable television.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=524731241 Barbara Clements

      Can’t you use the captioning on the TV with this?

      • http://profiles.google.com/casstevensclyde clyde casstevens

        I can sometimes depending on the picture you are watching and sometime no you can.ok?

  • http://www.moneytalksnews.com/ Dan Schointuch

    Good question. I suppose it says something about a person when television news isn't fast enough for them, but that's me. I follow several Twitter accounts that seem to consistently break news before the cable channels. Back when I had cable, by the time the story showed up on CNN's tv channel, I had already heard about it on Twitter and learned the pertinent details online.

    The @BreakingNews account is owned by MSNBC and is almost always the first to announce anything. If you want to get breaking news as it happens, I'd recommend following them.

    I also follow @cnnbrk, CNN's breaking news account. As you know, most of their stories have video and go into a good bit of detail.

    Detail, of course, being the main reason I stopped watching cable news. Television programs only have a certain amount of time before the next program begins, so information gets cut out. With written content online, however, there is no such restriction. A written story can be 50,000 words long, if need be. But speaking that same story on television (at an average of 150 words per minute) would take about 5.5 hours. So if you really want to find out about a story, you have to go online for the bulk of the information anyway. In short, the Internet is already faster and more detailed than cable tv could ever be.

    If you're looking for hurricane or earthquake news, again I would suggest the Internet for the same reasons, speed and detail. There's no shortage of Twitter accounts that monitor both.

    You can also have alerts emailed or sent to your phone as text messages from The Weather Channel, 24 hours a day, whether your television is on or not: http://registration.weather.com/ursa/alerts/step1

    And the USGS's Earthquake Notification Service does the same for earthquakes: https://sslearthquake.usgs.gov/ens/

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RSIC5GVZGLRAVCQ7VU4YNKWWXA brian

    Great article Dan, I am glad to see that you get it! I just found your article linked to Yahoo's homepage, and tracked it back to here, so sorry to join the party late. I have worked for several telecommunications companies over the last 13 years, so have seen first hand how the bills have gone up while the customer service has gone down. I recently decided to bail out on them and start my own business to help people take advantage of everything that you bring to light in this article.

    I am currently in the process of putting together the website (not finished yet), etc., but please check it out and let me know what you think. I also plan on offering a lot of different services to help folks out that are trying to do any of the things that Dan mentioned in this article, so please contact me if I can assist.

    http://www.freetvee.com/

  • TheRealBionicWoman

    I am also deaf and my biggest complaint about your article echos what AniEire posted- most online services/websites don't offer captions for most shows – even Hulu doesn't offer it for all shows. There are currently two separate bills in Washington floating around that would address this but they need more support. Senate Bill S. 3304, if passed, would do the following:

    ◦Require all devices to be capable of captioning video, no matter how small the screen.
    ◦Require all Internet videos to be captioned. Including movies and TV shows.

    Unfortunately, S.3304 does not define advanced communications as broadly as the House Bill H. R. 3101. This means that some products, such as Google, Skype, AOL, and other messaging services aren't covered by the Senate bill.

    There are more than 20 million deaf or hard of hearing Americans and currently we are being ignored by most online content providers. It is not expensive to add this technology, it already exists in expensively. I hope anyone reading this will write their congressmen and senators and support this bill.

  • TheRealBionicWoman

    I am also deaf and my biggest complaint about your article echos what AniEire posted- most online services/websites don't offer captions for most shows – even Hulu doesn't offer it for all shows. There are currently two separate bills in Washington floating around that would address this but they need more support. Senate Bill S. 3304, if passed, would do the following:

    ◦Require all devices to be capable of captioning video, no matter how small the screen.
    ◦Require all Internet videos to be captioned. Including movies and TV shows.

    Unfortunately, S.3304 does not define advanced communications as broadly as the House Bill H. R. 3101. This means that some products, such as Google, Skype, AOL, and other messaging services aren't covered by the Senate bill.

    There are more than 20 million deaf or hard of hearing Americans and currently we are being ignored by most online content providers. It is not expensive to add this technology, it already exists in expensively. I hope anyone reading this will write their congressmen and senators and support this bill.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tena-Ireland/1511232933 Tena Ireland

    What about the people that can only get PBS on antenna and would like to have NBC or CBS? Also they do not have high speed internet. Most people would love to have internet but when you have to buy services for $40.00 to $90.00 per month to have just to watch TV than what are the savings. It is great if you can use it but people that can not have to pay the price for the people that can, just like the postal service (snail mail) instead of a letter.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KLXBFBW4F2OSRCJA7GHICD7DWU Anthony P

    What he fails to mention about MLB.tv is that you'll only be able to watch games outside of your market. For example, you live in the NYC metro area, and your favorite team is the Mets. You can't watch them online due to local blackout rules, which are in place to ensure people go to the game or watch on cable/satellite. So that doesn't really work if you are an MLB fan.

  • pbaperez

    What it also fails to mention is the ESPN3 is only available through SELECT internet providers. For example AT&T customers can stream but TIME WARNER cable customers can not. Otherwise very useful information for people living under a rock.

  • pbaperez

    What it also fails to mention is the ESPN3 is only available through SELECT internet providers. For example AT&T customers can stream but TIME WARNER cable customers can not. Otherwise very useful information for people living under a rock.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IEBEOGWWTS5KBDTMZVMEATNCBU yahoo-IEBEOGWWTS5KBDTMZVMEATNCBU

    I'm hearing impaired (late-deafened) as many thousands of Americans are. I require captioning when watching TV or Videos. I'm disappointed there was no information in the article concerning the availability of captions on Netflix as well as Hulu and videos found on websites.

    Here's what Netflix doesn't provide captions of their streaming videos or TV programs because they don't want to bother “hearing” people with captions they can't turn off. Here's their “excuse” for not providing a service I, and thousands of other Americans, can use.

    Netflix: Foreign-language movies streamed to your PC, Mac, or TV have subtitles “burned in” to the video (“open captions”). However, we do not currently provide closed captions or subtitles for English language movies when streamed, although you can find them on most of our DVDs.
    The technologies we use for streaming do not yet adequately support closed captions, and most viewers object to permanently visible open captions, which they cannot turn off, burned into the video stream for English-language content. We are working on delivering closed captions or optional subtitles in a future technology update, probably first for PCs and Macs, probably sometime in 2010, and later for various TV-connected devices as new firmware can be created and the devices updated.

    Hulu is great. I've watched programs on Hulu. It's easy to find programs with captions by doing a search. Watching programs on their websites doesn't work because almost NO websites caption their videos of current or past programs. It's pathetic.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IEBEOGWWTS5KBDTMZVMEATNCBU yahoo-IEBEOGWWTS5KBDTMZVMEATNCBU

    I'm hearing impaired (late-deafened) as many thousands of Americans are. I require captioning when watching TV or Videos. I'm disappointed there was no information in the article concerning the availability of captions on Netflix as well as Hulu and videos found on websites.

    Here's what Netflix doesn't provide captions of their streaming videos or TV programs because they don't want to bother “hearing” people with captions they can't turn off. Here's their “excuse” for not providing a service I, and thousands of other Americans, can use.

    Netflix: Foreign-language movies streamed to your PC, Mac, or TV have subtitles “burned in” to the video (“open captions”). However, we do not currently provide closed captions or subtitles for English language movies when streamed, although you can find them on most of our DVDs.
    The technologies we use for streaming do not yet adequately support closed captions, and most viewers object to permanently visible open captions, which they cannot turn off, burned into the video stream for English-language content. We are working on delivering closed captions or optional subtitles in a future technology update, probably first for PCs and Macs, probably sometime in 2010, and later for various TV-connected devices as new firmware can be created and the devices updated.

    Hulu is great. I've watched programs on Hulu. It's easy to find programs with captions by doing a search. Watching programs on their websites doesn't work because almost NO websites caption their videos of current or past programs. It's pathetic.

  • daveinphilly1478

    Netflix streaming does not come in HD 1080P and does not come in 5.1 sound. Major deficiencies. Also, who wants to have a PC in every room next to their TV? What a hassle! And with no Tivo, you have to go back to watching the commercials. I'll never go back to that time wasting method.. With Tivo, I can watch an hour show in 40 minutes.

    I'll stay with cable, thank you. Even the Dish has many drawbacks, especially during a snowstorm. Too many hassles and trade-offs when you get rid of cable TV. This article fails to mention them.

  • shesakeeper

    Like so many others I found my monthly cable bill to be outrageous and way to expensive for my disability income to support. You can still get cable minus the premium stations by asking for “basic cable” service. In my area this service is $15/month!!!! Also, I found out that the Internet service through your cable company is “tiered”. So I opted for the least expensive tier with that service and my once $130 cable/internet bill is now $43 a month!!! Talk about a savings….

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OIZBXHPHV7LQLN3TDHSVEEBBNI Denise

      I negotiated with my Cable Company (until I was blue in the face, but I won) for an inexpensive package. I told them, that all I wanted to do, was access my local channels, without being manipulated into an expensive package. It may have taken over a 1/2 an hour, but they finally gave me a package that is mainly just my local channels, and a few others, for $7.49 a month. Although that  was 3 years ago, I now pay $12.66. It went up, because of digital. And, although I may not get channels like HBO, NFL and other premium stations, the benefit is, if there isn’t anything on, it’s much easier to turn the boob-tube off, and do something a little more “productive” (like talk on the phone).

  • Anonymous

    I don’t want to watch on a small computer screen. My bundle bill is $214.00 a month and I am on a fixed income. What is the best action for me to do?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_S6WGH73VDVVCC67PQDGWDKGOOA Ms. Poetical Praise

      You don’t have to. I have connected my laptop to my 32″ in my bedroom and now it’s hard for me to look at the laptop screen now. I did it with one cable and clicking a few times on my computer to make it go to external display. Once you get connected with the big screen you will be spoiled forever. I am so spoiled that I got a wireless mouse and keyboard. lol

  • http://www.facebook.com/karabarton0233 Kara Barton

    this is crap i have been mad about the cable bill i get for a long time i have internet but it costs alot of money and as it turns out the damn bill is only 5 dollars more with tv too, so even if i just have internet im still paying the damn premium.