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VOL. 40 | NO. 5 | Friday, January 29, 2016

Cutting cable/satellite: Here’s how to build your system

By Jeannie Naujeck

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Mohu makes a line of HD antennas, including the popular Leaf, that allows viewers to access nearby TV stations. Mohu marketing states 94 of the top 100 TV programs are broadcast free over the air.

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Are you ready to cut the coax and enter the wild world of cable-free content? Here’s how to build your own TV service a la carte.

Internet access – for high definition streaming of movies and TV shows

Chances are you already have Internet service in your house and can go online on your computers and other digital devices.

To take advantage of streaming services such as Netflix, you’ll need high-speed, or broadband, Internet service. How fast do you need your Internet? It depends on how many people are in your household, what you’ll be doing (gaming, sharing large files, streaming high definition videos) and how many devices are connected.

Last year the FCC redefined the “broadband” standard as a minimum download speed of 25 megabytes per second (Mbps), up from the previous 4 Mbps, to accommodate streaming media and today’s devices that require more bandwidth.

Where should you get it?

The most reliable high-speed Internet service is offered on cable or fiber networks. Internet service is also offered by satellite services like DirecTV and Dish Network, but it is not nearly as fast or reliable.

DSL, delivered over telephone wires, is available from several providers, including Frontier in Knoxville, but it is not an optimal choice where cable and fiber networks are available.

Cable and/or fiber network service is offered by providers like Comcast, AT&T and, soon, Google. Comcast is the state’s largest Internet provider and offers residential Internet service on multiple tiers and price levels.

Sample plans start at $19.99 per month for 10 Mbps service and go up to $66.95 a month for 25 Mpbs and $78.95 a month for 75 Mbps service. The Extreme 150 Mbps tier is available in Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis and Chattanooga for $99.99 a month.

The Extreme 250 Mbps tier is currently offered only in Nashville.

Gigabit Pro, with 2 Gbps speed, starts at $299.95 a month and is available in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Nashville.

Doing it without regrets

Turns out breaking up is not so hard to do.

These Nashvillians broke up with cable and haven’t looked back.

“We cut the cable cord about four years ago. Instead, we watch everything streaming on our Roku box. Have not regretted it for one second. Still have to use Comcast for Internet but that’s it – (until Google Fiber is up and running)".
– Rich Gilbert

“We dropped cable several years ago. When we want to watch something we use Netflix, Apple TV or sometimes stream via the Internet. The only thing I really miss are some of the sports games that I love – Lady Vols basketball and other women’s sports. Overall, I’m happier without cable TV.”
– CJ Hicks

“We only use the old-fashioned rabbit ears and get a bunch of high definition channels. We have an Apple TV box that was about $100, and we can get mirror stuff from our Apple devices to the TV. We use iTunes cards instead of a credit card to temporarily purchase Netflix when we want it.”
– Aimee Sterling Fletcher

“We’ve got the very basic cable package, which is little more than the network channels and some home-shopping stuff we never watch. We do watch the Food Network, and occasionally, we watch network stuff live, like football games. Otherwise, it’s Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime — or a local sports bar for ESPN.”
– Brian Mansfield

“I don’t subscribe to any cable channels, just Comcast’s Internet service. But just until Google Fiber comes through - and then I’m done!”
– Jeff Thorneycroft

Charter Communications serves Knoxville with Spectrum Internet at speeds starting at 60 Mbps for $39.99 per month, with a free modem included.

Knoxville is also served by Wow!, which offers standalone 30 Mbps Internet service for $25 a month, 60 Mbps service for $50 and 110 Mbps service for $60.

AT&T U-verse offers Internet service as a standalone product or bundled with TV and phone.

AT&Ts Gigapower 1 gigabit service is available in some parts of Nashville and other communities around Middle Tennessee, including Franklin and Spring Hill, and is under development in Nashville.

Google is currently laying a network around Nashville that will provide 1 gigabit Google Fiber service some time in the future.

HDTV antenna – for free local stations and network affiliates

To get the best picture and the most free TV stations in your local market, you’ll need an HD antenna.

Basic table-top “rabbit ears” antennas are widely available in stores like Walmart and amazon.com for as low as $10. Many cord-cutters recommend MOHU’s line of Leaf flat indoor HD antennas, ranging in price from $20 to about $150.

The Leaf Metro captures over-the-air free channels within 25 miles, while the Leaf 30 and Leaf 50 bring in channels within 30 or 50 miles, respectively.

MOHU also sells a Sky 60 attic or outdoor antenna that is compact, weighs three-pounds and can capture channels up to 60 miles away. MOHU antennas are multi-directional, meaning you don’t have to point them, and claim to filter out cellular and FM signals to bring in more channels and a clearer picture.

To see which channels you might be able to pick up at your home, type in your address at the website TVFool.com for a TV signal analysis.

How many you actually receive depends on sensitivity of the antenna, distance from broadcast towers, atmospheric conditions, environmental factors like trees and buildings, and other signals that might interfere with the broadcast.

Television set – smart TV or conventional

Smart TVs connect to your wifi network and come pre-loaded with apps that stream content from services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.

If you have a smart TV, no other intermediary streaming device (such as a Roku, Apple TV or Chromecast) is required to access these apps, but you must subscribe on their websites and enter the passwords on the TV.

Netflix costs $7.99 monthly to stream on one screen at a time (additional screens cost more) and gives full access to its entire catalog of movies and TV shows, including buzz-worthy original shows and movies like House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black and Making a Murderer.

Amazon Prime membership costs $99 annually and includes free two-day shipping for products you order off their website, in addition to streaming of movies and TV shows on Amazon Video and original TV series like The Man in the High Castle, produced by Amazon Studios.

Hulu offers a Limited Commercials plan for $7.99 or a No Commercials plan for $11.99 ($13.99 using an Apple device), with the option to add Showtime content for an additional $8.99 a month. Hulu’s catalog includes old TV series like Hill Street Blues and the Mary Tyler Moore Show as well as brand-new episodes of current shows and movies and Hulu’s original programs like The Mindy Project.

Streaming device – turns your conventional TV into an app interface

If you don’t have a smart TV pre-loaded with apps, or if it doesn’t have all the apps you want, you can connect a streaming media device that turns your conventional TV into a vehicle for almost anything that is on the web.

The most popular boxes are Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV; they connect to your TV with an HDMI cable (widely available for under $10).

Similarly, Google Chromecast is a small device that plugs directly into your TV’s HDMI port and streams content via your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

All devices display apps from content providers like Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, HBO, Showtime, the History Channel, CBS, PBS, A&E and the Disney Channel, as well as music channels, YouTube and games. Some apps, like HBO’s HBO Now standalone app, require a subscription; others have free content.

Need a DVR?

Many cable packages come with a digital video recorder (DVR) to save programs for future watching.

The Tablo is a DVR for cord-cutters that plugs into a digital TV antenna and saves the programs that you select to your external hard drive. To use Tablo, you need an HDTV antenna, an Internet connection, an external USB hard drive (to save recorded programs and enable the pause and rewind features for live TV) and either an iPad or Android tablet, or computer or smartphone that has the Chrome browser.

Once the hardware is connected, you connect to your home wifi network, use the Tablo app to set up the system, scan for HDTV channels, download a program guide for two weeks and select the programs you want to save.

Not quite ready to cut the cord completely?

With the motto “Take Back TV,” Sling Television came out last year with a $20 “slim subscription” that includes 23 popular cable channels, including ESPN and ESPN2, AMC, HGTV, A&E, CNN, the Disney Channel, Lifetime and more.

Add-on packages with additional sports, kids, news, movie, lifestyle and Spanish channels are available for $5 a month. Sling TV channels stream to your TV through a player such as Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast and Nexus Player, or the Xbox One gaming console. (The service offers discounts on the Fire TV and Roku 3, or a free Roku 2 when you prepay for three months.)

Sling TV channels can also be watched on Apple or Android tablets and phones, and on Apple or Windows computers and laptops.

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