The Cable-less TV Setup

I enjoy occasionally watching quality content and sports on television but I’ve been without traditional cable for many years. I also happen to enjoy technology and I have owned and tested almost every type of set top device that exist (Apple TV, Roku, FireTV). I’m constantly perfecting and tweaking my setup so feel free to come back as I still update this post regularly. It is possible get almost all content in full HD, including live TV and sports for free or much less than you are currently paying for cable!

Also, check out the updated 2014 version of the post!

The first two Questions you need to ask yourself are:

  • What content is most important to me?
  • How much do I want to spend on content?
  • (And Maybe) Do I even have enough time to watch all the free content out there?

To get access to the best content you need:

  • Digital Television w/ Tuner
  • High Speed Internet Connection (5Mbs+ Recommended)

Streaming Box of Some Kind (see bottom for detailed list and more info):
My updated suggestions only include three steaming boxes. Why? Because they are the best. They have everything we need. I always suggest buying used if possible and amazon “more buying choices”  because buying used ‘like new’ can often save you a few bucks!

Antenna (if Network Tv is desired)

Amplifier (if more than 15 miles from major metro)

For Free Over The Air High Definitions Channels
The setup is surprisingly simple but I’m amazed at how few people think that TV must come from a “Cable Company”. If you are in a major metro, simply plug any antenna into your television and search for channels! That’s it! If you are far from a major metro, a slightly larger antenna (still will fit in your attic) will work.

The free channels available are typically:
ABC, FOX, CBS, NBC, CW, PBS, Peachtree TV, Univision

Antennas Needed:
Distance to Major Metro Broadcast: 10 Miles
Leaf Antenna
Amazon Version (Much Cheaper)

Distance to Major Metro Broadcast: 10-30 Miles
Leaf Ultimate Antenna
Amazon Version (Much Cheaper)

Distance to Major Metro Broadcast: 40-70 Miles*
RCA Antenna ANT751R + RCA TVPRAMP1R
I also like the Winegard Amp HDA-100 but it is a little more expensive.
*Porch, Attic, Outdoor Mount
*My Current Setup in Athens, GA (Atlanta Broadcast)

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To find out if want you want to watch is available for streaming check here:
Can I Stream it?

My Streaming Guide
Previously I had a guide to which boxes could get which content. But, thanks to the ever expanding content, Apple, Amazon and Roku have stepped up their game and they both have access to all of the following content (natively or through airplay).

  • Watch Espn/ESPN3
  • Hulu/Hulu Plus
  • Netflix
  • Youtube
  • Amazon VOD
  • Aereo
  • USTVNow
  • HBO GO
  • Food Network (XBMC Only)
  • Network Hard Drive/Computer

Best for Live Sports:
Antenna Network TV (NFL, College Football/Basketball)
Aereo (live streaming TV in a few markets including ATL)
ESPN – WatchESPN app

Best for TV Shows:
Amazon Prime
Hulu Plus
iTunes (Purchase)

Movies:
Netflix (Stream)
Amazon Prime
Amazon VOD (Purchase)

Best for Local Media:
Several Rokus will play files off a USB Hard drive or Micro SD card. Apple TV can stream from your phone, Itunes, or any computers you have around your house easily. Plex is another great options that works with Roku and Apple Tv (Google for more information). But the current setup I am using is a Amazon Fire TV (rooted) with a USB hard drive (and SMB network sharing).

XBMC – Xbox Media Center
What can you do with XBMC? You can have it set up to aggregate all of your favorite content into once central hub. All your movies, television shows, live tv (with guide) are available in an attractive, updated interface.
Media Center Quick Start Guide

Download on PC or Mac to try it out here:
XBMC for PC or Mac

My Current Setup Includes:
RCA Antenna ANT751R
Winegard Amp ANWI8700
Amazon Fire TV
Netgear Router with 500GB HD, Tomato

What if Antennas do not work at my house?
You can check AntennaWeb and put in your address to see which channels you might get. Again, their estimates tend to be conservative as I get much more than they suggest. Also, Aereo streams OTA broadcast and USTVNow may work for internationals and some domestic households.

I purchased all of my streaming boxes used (if you click the amazon links just look for the used tab). They run forever and in general are in pretty good shape because people just put them down and leave them. I’d love to have just one box but all currently have their tradeoffs.

11 thoughts on “The Cable-less TV Setup

  1. Stephen,

    I bought an antenna & the amp you suggest.
    I’ve installed the TV.

    But it seems that I’m doing something wrong.

    Can you coach me?
    I’m getting no channels when I scan. I’m sure it’s a user error.

    Thanks!

    • That is awesome. Should be great once it is setup. I would start buy just plugging the antenna straight into the tv without the amp. You can figure out the exact way to point it by using the site:

      http://www.antennaweb.org/Address.aspx

      I would use the compass on your phone to get a general idea of which way to point it. At my house it is about 260 degrees.

      Do a scan and then see if you can come up with any channels that way. The amp is a little tricky to figure out how to get the chords in the right order so it has power and gets the signal to the tv. Once you get a signal with just the antenna, then work with the amp to make the signal stronger. Should be a good first few steps.

  2. Add a vote for PLEX media server (on main pc) and apps (for Roku, iOS, Android, web). Lets me stream my local media content anywhere in my house (or outside if you setup port forwarding on your router/cable modem). For me it primarily gets used to go to my Roku box connected to my TV. Doesn’t do iTunes content, but I have avoided that mostly anyway so not a big deal for me.

  3. I live in Athens, as well, and have heard that getting over-the-air channels was pretty difficult. I’ve checked the signal websites, and they say that I am on the edge. At my old house closer to Atlanta, I had no problems just using rabbit ears, but I’d like some reassurance that I can get them in Athens before I spend money on a big outdoor antenna.

    • I think, in general, the websites are pretty pessimistic in what they tell you. They do give you a good idea of what your reception will be like in less than ideal conditions (ie, bad weather). I’ve had pretty good luck with a small attic antenna and amplifier. According to the charts I shouldn’t get half the channels I actually receive. They do not all come in 100% of the time but typically do well in the early mornings and late evenings. For me, it was an inexpensive (relative to the price of cable) experiment. If you order the antenna online, just keep the box so if it doesn’t work out you can return/resale it (for almost what you paid on ebay/amazon) further reducing your risk to try.

  4. Are you able to use the WatchESPN app with just internet from your cable provider? It requires a cable provider in order to use that, yes?

    • Hey, currently you need a login and username from an internet provider/cable package. It will let you watch some content (mostly espn3) without it but to watch the best it does require a login and password. There are talks of a standalone “ESPN Insider” package that comes with a login but I haven’t seen it materialize just yet.

  5. Pingback: How To Go Cableless | Technology - Popular Question & Answer

  6. I also live in Athens and was very interested in your post after the Supreme Court decision against Aereo, which I used primarily to watch sports. Last time I tried an antenna set-up was a few years ago and probably didn’t do enough research to make it work.

    Looking forward to giving this a try, but have a few questions for you:

    If I do an attic mount it will be pointing out my eaves toward Atlanta. Is there much signal loss between attic or roof mount?

    There are longer range antennas in the same price range now. Do you think reception would be better on a longer range one without the preamp?

    I’m on a crawl space and am trying to think how to get the cable from antenna to TV without drilling a hole in the ceiling. Any ideas or tips?

    I also do Hulu, and Netflix and a few other channels thru a Roku box. I get my internet from Charter and I ask myself why I’m trying so hard not to use them for TV, but then I remind myself of the familiar pattern of a great initial deal followed by increases, an inability to get a la carte channels, which means I’m getting and paying for more than I want.

    Fingers crossed for a great antenna experience.
    Joe

    • I’ve had pretty good luck in athens with an attic mount (mostly due to my wife’s aesthetic preferences). I’m not too sure, I choose the RCA antenna due to the relative compact size and great reviews. I’ve had a great experience with it and so have several of my friends in athens as well. I’ve never used a larger antenna so I can’t attest to that but the RCA is pretty impressive with an amp.

      The best way to get cable to all of your tv outlets is simply find your ‘cable input’ box (most likely outside your home) and run your antenna as the primary input. We did the same thing and we just straight connected our charter internet line to a room in the house that doesn’t have a tv and connected the modem there.