2014 Cableless TV Setup

The television industry is in an interesting state of flux. Bundled cable subscriptions are still widely used by older individuals and, despite continually rising prices, fewer people than expected are actually ‘cutting the cord’. Younger individuals and many Millennials are simply skipping the traditional cable experience and going straight to the source for the content they want. Technology is making the entire process of finding information incredibly easy and inexpensive. The amount of material available continues to rise as do the various ways to see and consume video content. We literally have millions of hours of content available to us at a moments notice on almost evecableless tvry possible medium. Each year we have new options, products, and devices that come out. It can be tough to keep up with all of the changes. And, rarely does a product come along that can provide a better experience, save me money, and combine several ideals I’ve desired for quite some time (FireTV).

We haven’t had cable for years now, and I have tried pretty much every server, media center, and set top box in the last five years. I believe I have tried about 15 different boxes and streamers, but I’ve had difficulty finding that one that could do everything. In fact, in previous posts I’ve recommended several different options but now there is a single one that works best.

My Needs and Desires:

  • Local OTA Broadcast
  • Access to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu
  • A nice interface for ESPN in HD
  • Access to inexpensive or free content
  • Play local content (all of my saved DVDs/BluRays)
  • A nice XBMC experience
  • A simple interface and remote
    * Bonus: Play old school Nintendo games (via Emulators)

My Current Setup:
Amazon FireTV – XBMC 13 (Rooted) & Fire TV Controller
RCA HD ANT751 Antenna & Winegard LNA-200 Amplifier (Attic Mount 70+ Miles)
Netgear N300 Router (NAS) & 500GB USB Hard Drive

51tqB7sVbyL

Seriously, I’ve used a: Apple TV 2, 3, Rokus HD, 2, 3, WD Live, NeoTv, Logitech Revue, BluRay Players, Laptops, Ouya, Xbox, Wii and PS3/4. I’ve tried them all. Finally, I can say there is a clear winner for casual and power users. It is the Amazon Fire TV. Yes, I’ve finally traded in my trusty ole Apple TV 2. I still use my RCA antenna to pickup channels from 70+ miles away but I’ve used the Modu Leaf Antenna in urban areas with great success.

Out of the box the Fire TV is a pretty strong device. It is one of the fastest devices that currently exists and it is priced competitively without being on sale. The Prime integration works well for those in the ecosystem and the voice commands are actually a little better than gimmicky (even though I wish they were universal across all apps). The ESPN app has already worked very well for HD World Cup soccer and plenty of other live events. It can run XBMC and emulators out of the box and can do even more once rooted (Homescreen shortcuts, USB storage, & Google Apps). I explain everything it can do below and FiretvNews has all the guides you could ever need for setup.

XBMCxbmc
XBMC is basically an interface (or app) that aggregates all of your content into one pretty, customizable application. Once loaded, you can find and play any type of media that you would like. It is couch friendly and allows you to do many things such as:

  • Play almost any files you can throw at it
  • Beautiful, customizable, and easy to use interface
  • Pull covers and artwork for local content
  • Aggregate all content available anywhere into one centralized hub
  • Customizable TV Guide with live streams from any source


I have ripped and saved all of my DVDs that I have stored on a hard drive connected to my router. The setup was around $50 and has served us quite well for the last few years. It has extremely low power consumption and can be accessed by all of our tablets and phones as well.

For Creative Non-Sanctioned Experiments
I think the holy grail of entertainment content would be an intuitive box that delivers consistent, high speed, easily searchable and organized access to all content available. I basically call this the Spotify model. I am so impressed with the Spotify model that I pay for its service monthly and thoroughly enjoy the product. Basically, every song I could think of is available in a easy to navigate, consistent, organized and inexpensive fashion. Now, if only the same was available for television.

For the television, the holy grail is:

  • Live access to all the channels you want (and none that you do not want)
  • A nice live TV guide
  • All episodes and seasons of every television show without having to DVR
  • Every movie made on demand
  • Limited or few commercials

The crazy part is that this exists. It is available, works very well after a somewhat complicated setup, but it exists. I do not sanction this activity but I think it is impressive that it exists and is available. XBMC can be used with content aggregators that are ambivalent of source (or you can add your own source). Again, the idea that you can have a central media box that fits into your hands and has access to all content, is pretty amazing. I will not answer any questions about this (google is your friend), but it is pretty interesting conceptually. It also shows what is possible technologically, but will not exist due to the current revenue models in place. With spotify or youtube, we often forget to stop and think about how incredibly amazing it is that we have access to almost every song or video made on our inexpensive little devices. Technology is awesome.

Finale
To finish, we probably all watch a little too much TV. But, if you are going to spend the time to watch some great content, you might as well do it efficiently. With a few different tools, there is finally a box that can do it all. I can now retire my aging Apple TV 2 and move up in technology. The FireTV is not without its quirks but it has become the default option for set top boxes. As an additional bonus, with a few Bluetooth controllers and some old emulators, there are plenty of vintage gaming options to keep you busy for hours or days. It is nice to be able to have the content I want with a great setup and lots of hours of entertainment.

12 thoughts on “2014 Cableless TV Setup

  1. Great review of Amazon Fire TV. We have (4) Roku 3 and are quite happy with them.

    How do you get ESPN? Or is that just on your dream list?

    We get ESPN3 through our internet provider, but ESPN streaming requires cable. Oh the genius in that!

    If I could get ESPN, HGTV, Food Network and Fox Sports North (to watch the Twins), I would be set.

    • We have used rokus in the past and they are pretty great as well. We use the FireTV to watch ESPN3 but rarely watch the regular ESPN feed. I know several friends who use logins (you can have up to 5 active devices per watchespn account) of someone who doesn’t watch espn. XBMC and PsudoTV can stream most of all the other shows from networks like HGTV, Food, Fox but it does take a bit of setup.

  2. Hey Stephen – Found your blog thru your comments on MMM. Started perusing and came across this post. What program/software do you use to rip your dvds? We currently have a Mac and I’ve been thinking of going towards the same setup you described in your post. We use the Roku 3 and Mohu Leaf (have Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu Plus (free thru Bing Rewards)), but I want to get all of our movies onto a hard drive and run it thru the Roku or tv. It will be a lot easier to have all the kids’ movies in one place instead of shuffling thru the discs when they change their minds on what they want to watch.

    I can’t wait to start reading more from beginning to end on your blog. Keep up the great work and thanks for your posts!

    • Hey, Good stuff. We use Handbrake which is free and then you will need something like AnyDVD (trial) for full readability of all disk. It works really well once it is all setup and just takes a few click and then a little bit of time.

  3. I think I saw in a previous post that you are in Athens, GA. I am on the west side of Athens and am looking into an antenna for Atlanta OTA channels. Every antenna calculator says I am out of luck, but you seem to have pulled it off. What area of Athens are you in? What channels do you receive over the air? Is the RCA amp sufficient or is the Wineguard worth the extra money?

    Thanks!

    • Hey, nice to hear from another athens resident. I live downtown so you should actually be better positioned than my residents. We receive ABC, Fox, NBC, CBS and PBS (pbs kids) and several other ones we don’t care about. ABC, PBS and NBC come in the best for us and the others can be fickle depending on time of day and weather. I’ve tried about 10 different antennas and the RCA is by far the favorite. Unless you live in a valley, you should be able to get some or all of the networks. I’ve tried both amps and they work about as well but the Wineguard seems to be better constructed. If you order from Amazon save your box so if it doesn’t work you can ship it back after you try it.

  4. After my most recent cable bill hike (+25%) I’ve decided to take the plunge and cut the cable and phone and just keep the high speed internet. Your article has been an immense help as I experiment on a spare TV in the house. I’m curious about the OTA TV broadcast aspect. Are you able to integrate the OTA directly into FireTV or XMBC/Kodi? If so, could you explain your setup a little further. Also, have you experimented with a Tablo DVR? It looks like it may solve this aspect for me, but I am curious if you had any experience with it.
    Thanks for your time, and again, a terrific informative and inspiring article.
    Cheers
    Dylan

    • Thanks for the post, I need to do an updated version for 2015. The edition of Sling TV and Tablo are certainly new pieces to the puzzle that almost round out the entire experience. I haven’t tried Tablo but the reviews I’ve read say it is the best current solution with the Fire TV. I’ll probably play with one if I can snag a good deal. Currently, I just switch sources on my TV to watch the OTA broadcast or use USTVnow.

      • Thanks for the speedy response. I think I’ll be adding the Tablo to your FireTV setup for my own setup. Looks like it does offer a solid OTA interface and also seems much more user-friendly then the PVR setup on Kodi, which left me wanting more tech savvy-ness.

  5. Hey, I tried this set up (RCA antenna and Winegard amplifier) at my home in Athens (the Boulevard area) and had no luck. I also tried the Clearstream 4, which is supposed to be a 70 mile antenna, and had no luck either. I’m in a 1 story house and have it set up in the attic and am getting 0 channels. Any tips or ideas of how to get the free OTA broadcasts or am I SOL? Didn’t know if you have any updates since this post is 2 years old

    • Update: I realized it didn’t work because my roof is tin and hooked the antenna up just outside on top of the house and it picks up some signals. I can get ABC, CBS, FOX, and PeachtreeTV with the Clearstream, and I can ABC and PBS with the RCA antenna. I can’t seem to get NBC unless it’s a real clear sky and at night, but I rarely get it. Any suggestions? Any other antennas that work really well?