Ask Stacy: How Can I Watch TV Without Cable?

Buying a house is the biggest investment you’ll probably ever make, and a car is likely the second biggest. So that’s why journalists like me write so much about those topics. But the fact is, once we’re out of our cars and into our house, we’re probably sitting in front of our TVs.

That’s why letters like this always interest me…

Stacy:

I have a brand new Sony VAIO HD television. I gave up cable because I kept hearing that you can get free TV just like when I was a kid – plus the price of cable kept going up, and up, and up!!! I bought a flat antennae (no rabbit ears) but I only get about four channels, and only one of them is a major network. Someone on my job said to get the flat antennae with the rabbit ears – if I still only get 4 channels, they said, then that’s all my residential area can get. Help! I just want the three networks and public television.

Thanks
Angela

I feel your frustration, Angela. TV is much more complicated – and expensive – than when we were kids. In fact, I remember this music video, which was the first to air on MTV exactly 31 years ago tomorrow!

OK, let’s break down Angela’s question…

Cutting the price before you cut the cable

Angela has given up on cable TV because of the cost. But she might want to make one last-ditch effort. If she calls back her provider, she might be able to score a deal. That’s what I did a few years ago.

I scanned the Internet for a deal offered by a satellite TV provider. (If you have satellite, do the same thing for a cable provider.) Then I called my company and told them I found a great deal with a competitor.

My cable company promptly offered me a $10-a-month credit for six months – then upped it to $15 when I asked to speak with a supervisor.

(Always ask to speak with a supervisor. Be polite, and thank the service rep who’s on the phone with you, but those couple of minutes speaking with a supervisor can reap big rewards.)

My call took about five minutes and saved $90.

While you’re on the phone, ask about eliminating some of those premium channels you might no longer watch. That can also save you a bundle.

Getting the right antennae

If Angela does want to drop cable, however, she’s going to need the right antennae. She first needs to check out AntennaWeb, a site developed by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). It lets you see what channels are available at your address, as well as the best place to put an antenna.

And she has to have the right antennae. If the one she has isn’t suitable for receiving digital signals, she can go online or to a place like Radio Shack or Best Buy and find one that is.

Watching online

Angela doesn’t mention which network programs she wants to watch, but she can see many of them at network websites…

…and she can stream them to her brand-new TV if she’s willing to spend a few more dollars and a few more minutes. There are now many options for showing computer content on HDTVs. They range from Apple TV to Roku to Boxee. Each has its pros and cons, from price to complexity to programming limitations. But if Angela is serious about staying away from satellites and cable companies, she might be motivated to check them out.

And if those free options aren’t good enough, Angela can subscribe to Hulu Plus for $8 a month. That will give her access to more network shows she can put on her TV through Roku or game consoles like the Wii and Xbox 360.

You can learn more at You Don’t Have to Pay for Cable TV. But the bottom line, Angela: TV isn’t free like when we were kids, but the technology is finally getting to a point where you don’t have to pay outrageous cable prices to watch what you want.

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