Demystifying the Digital World – Part 7 – TV

In the beginning, there were TV antennas. Big ones on the roof, rabbit ears on top of TVs, small round ones on the back of TVs, and many other shapes and sizes. Then Cable TV became popular in the 1980s which made it possible to get rid of that ugly antenna and pay a monthly fee for dozens of local and special interest channels, back then 50 channels cost around $20 / month. Over the next few decades cable and satellite TV options exploded into the market. Soon there were hundreds of channels and costs skyrocketed. By last year, it cost over $100 / month for basic service which consisted of local channels plus hundreds of “special interest” channels that were anything but interesting.

So my wife and I finally became “cord cutters.” It wasn’t just the cost that was an issue, but ugly dishes and lousy digital video recorders (DVRs) finally swayed us. It was scary at first, but in the spirit of adventure, we tried Hulu, Sling, and Google TV (unrelated to YouTube). Unfortunately despite “Cloud DVRs” and the convenience of TV over the internet, they all had serious shortcomings and still cost around $40 / month.

The solution was to go back to the 1960s technology, an ugly antenna on the roof, but with a modern twist: a standalone DVR called Tablo. Now we get local channels (including PBS) in High Definition, record what we like, and watch it when we like. For movies and many older TV shows we have Netflix, Apple, and Amazon Prime Video.

For a total of $324 we purchased:

We actually used an existing bracket and cable on the roof so we only spent $288 and many people already have something that can take the place of the Roku so the total could be as low as $225 and even lower if you can use an indoor antenna. The Tablo works with Apple TV, Amazon Fire Stick, Chromecast, some Smart TVs, and even an Xbox. Monthly charges are minimal and include $5 for the Tablo digital TV Guide (not required, but useful), Netflix $8, and Amazon Video $0 (included in Prime Membership). For people who have good reception, who only rarely watch local channels, and who can live with commercials, there are $20 indoor antennas that connect to any TV made in the last decade. Done.

Of course, some people are in apartments or locations that do not receive over the air (OTA) television so it is best to start with some online research. Websites like AntennaWeb.org (or the FCC website) can predict reception based on your address. On this website yellow does not mean caution, it means a small antenna could work. If reception seems possible then take the next step. An indoor antenna (purchased somewhere with a good return policy) connected directly to a TV is an inexpensive way to confirm. We needed a rooftop antenna because of a small hill near us, but an indoor antenna still picked up several stations.

How do we like our new TV world a couple months into this experiment? We LOVE it. There are no more complex boxes behind our TV with a rats nest of wires or an ugly dish on the roof. We can watch TV from our iPads if we want and even watch recorded shows when we are away from home through the Tablo. The Roku stick works very well and streams other services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. There are tons of other streaming apps available also like Acorn TV for British shows, PBS for streaming older shows, Vajra for Buddhist TV, etc.

It is funny though how we have come full circle. At least the indoor antennas are much more interesting now. Who thought the antenna below that looks like a piece of paper could save you $100 a month?