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Cut the Cord

Cut the Cord: How to Ditch Cable for Good

How to cut the cord and ditch high priced cable tv services for good using HD antenna's, high speed internet, and streaming services.

There has to be a better way

Seven years ago, our cable tv bills were getting out of control. We had a tv in each bedroom, one in the living room, one in the gameroom, one in the study, and one in the master bathroom. And of course, each needed a cable box. Our cable bill was pushing $200 every month, and we weren’t even using 90% of the channels included with our package. It was time to cut the cord.

So I started researching alternatives. Ones that eliminated monthly bills even if they required an up front investment. And one option that kept popping up was, oddly enough, like taking a step back in time. An antenna. Or in this case, an HD antenna. But of course, childhood memories of rabbit ears and aluminum foil left a great deal of doubt about how effective they could really be, and I certainly had no interest in buying one for each TV in the house.

But it turns out I wouldn’t need to. Most homes these days have residential media enclosures where coax cables, telephone lines, and networking cables from each room are routed into a common location. In those enclosures, they’re connected to service feeds from internet, cable, and telephone which then routes those services throughout the home. And in the case of cable coax, even older houses that lack media enclosures have a single point where cable services enter the home. Either way, attaching an HD antenna as the source will provide service throughout the home.

Finding an Antenna

And so I searched. Then I read, and I watched YouTube videos on how to cut the cord. And then I came across a website called Antennas Direct that is a treasure trove of information and useful online tools to help would-be cable cutters make the leap. Right smack in the middle of their homepage is a tool that allows you to enter your zip code and it will return a recommended HD antenna, along with a list of all of the channels available in your area.

Cut the Cord and replace it with an HD antenna

I bought the Clearstream MAX-XR. It’s good for 60 miles, and get’s me access to well over 100 channels. Now truth be told, MOST of THOSE I’ll never watch either, but at least I won’t be paying for them. What I will use are all the major network channels and some specialty channels that include sports, classic movies, vintage TV sitcoms, news and weather. Which is really 99% of everything I watched prior to making the switch anyway.

Installing the Antenna

Antenna’s from Antennas Direct are not terribly difficult to install. A roof mount bracket is included in the box, but you’ll also want to order some roof sealant to seal the areas where the mounting screws penetrate the roof. Antennas Direct even has a free mobile app that you can download for Apple and Android devices that will assist you in the positioning of the antenna. Installation basically consists of two screws, and two u-bolts, but if you’re not comfortable doing the installation yourself, hire a handyman.

What cutting the cord looks like

The rest of the installation looks similar to this. A coax cable will run from the antenna, into the house, then split off to each of the TV’s. Now, since your home is almost certainly pre-cabled for each room, you just need to connect the antenna to the common junction point where the room cables meet the service line. You’ll disconnect the service line, and then attach the coax cable from the antenna.

Next, you’ll want to find where the service line connects to a splitter, which is what converts your single service line into multiple lines that then run to each of your rooms. How large it is depends on how many rooms in your home have service, but it might look something like the one shown here. The top port in this image connects to the service line coming from your antenna, and each of the bottom ports will run to a room in your home.

If you are in a newer home that has a media enclosure, the splitter will be in that enclosure. Often, builders outfit homes with a media enclosure and running service lines to every room in the house. In such a case, they may choose to use a distribution block that looks like the image shown here. Both the distribution block and the splitter serve the same purpose, the former just supports more outbound lines.

Installing the Amplifier

Regardless though, neither of these devices are amplified, which means the signal strength is weakened with each additional line that is put into service. To counter this, we’ll replace the splitter with an amplifier and terminate any unused ports. Make sure you select an amplifier that has enough ports to support all the outbound lines in your home.

To install the amplifier, you’ll want to label each lead as either the service line (from your antenna) or a delivery line (to each room in your home). Then disconnect them all, and remove the splitter. A quick and dirty look of how this all works is illustrated in the image below.

In place of the splitter, install your new amplifier, being sure to connect the service line to the RF IN port, and all of the delivery lines to the OUT ports. Next, connect the power line from a nearby power outlet to the power port on the amplifier. Lastly, install terminators on any unused OUT ports. This will ensure that you’re providing the strongest signal possible to all destination TVs.

Here’s a photo of the amplifier setup in my personal home. Note that all 8 OUT ports are in use, so I did not need to use any terminator caps.


The last step of the physical installation is to check the connections on each of your TV’s. If you’re migrating from cable or DirectTV, this is where you’ll unplug the coax cable from the back of the cable or DirectTV box, and then plug it directly into the TV. Verify that the connections at both the wall and the back of the TV are secure, you can then remove your cable providers equipment.

Channel Scans on your TVs

Now that the hardware installation is complete, the next step is to perform a channel scan on each TV. Some Smart TV’s perform the channel scan automatically when the antenna is plugged in and detected by the TV. More often than not, and in my case in particular, I had to manually start the auto-scan feature on each TV. Consult the owners manual for your TV to learn how to start this process. Once started, it will look a little like this:

If your scan completes, and it has not found any channels, you’ve got a disconnection somewhere in your chain. Work your way backwards from the TV all the way back out to the antenna itself:

  1. Verify the connection at the TV is secure.
  2. Verify the connection at the wall is secure.
  3. Test that the cable is actually receiving a signal.
  4. Verify the connection from that line to the amplifier port is secure.
  5. Verify that the inbound service line to RF IN port is secure.
  6. Verify that the amplifier has power. They usually have power lights.
  7. Verify the connection at the antenna is secure.

If you get through all of these tests, and still haven’t found the problem, contact the antenna manufacturer for additional help. They should be able to help troubleshoot the problem and provide a solution.

Edit your channel list

Once your channel scan is complete, you will likely feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of channels available to you. Most Smart TV’s have an option to edit the channel list and allow you to remove or hide any channels that you just won’t watch. For example, I’ve hidden all foreign language channels, religious channels, shopping channels, etc. And I’ve found that it’s actually easier to hide all of the channels, then go back in and unhide only the channels that I want. What I’m left with is a compact set of channels that I regularly watch and navigate between quickly. Thens simply repeat these steps on each TV.

But what about DVR?

I have shows just like everyone that I want to record, and for that, I turned to Tivo’s OTA Roamio DVR. It’s no longer available, but has been replaced their OTA Edge DVR. It’s not cheap, but it’s a one time investment that costs less than 3 months of the Direct TV service I was paying for. And since I only need DVR on the living room TV, it’s an affordable, simple plug and play solution. And the best part? Programming updates are included FREE for life.

So what did all of this cost?

So by my calculations, I was all in at about $605.86. But that was 7 years ago, and I’m sure current pricing is more expensive than it was back then. But even if it wasn’t, that’s the equivalent of just three months of DirectTV service at $200 per month. Cutting the cable back then, if my math is correct, has since saved me nearly $17,000 in DirectTV charges. And in the seven years since – I’ve only had to pay $29.99 one time to replace the fan in my Tivo DVR. I’d say that’s a pretty good investment for my at-home entertainment dollar.

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