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More Cord Cutting
Rabbit Ears For A Digital World
December 2015

Editor’s Note: The Village Geek is a new TownDock.net column. The focus – technology that works for small town life. Join Roger Bullis in column #2 as he provides more cord cutting ideas.

T
he second edition of this column is about getting local TV channels with or without an antenna and some new internet free and pay options. For those of you that think the discussion of antennas is over your head, stay tuned.

Our local channel options are 7, 8, 9, 12 and 19. There are sub-channels to all of these so you get movie channels and old TV show channels as well as the major networks within these numbers. For instance in the digital age channel 12.1 also has channel 12.2 and channel 12.3.

I’ve fiddled with a bunch of indoor antennas and the best I’ve found is the Mohu Leaf 50 amplified antenna which is currently selling on Amazon for $62.50. But it’s not perfect for us.

Mohu is a North Carolina company – based in Raleigh. They sell cheaper antennas, most without amplification. I’ve hung those and this one in windows and waved them over my head with variable success. And the model 50 above likely won’t give you a signal from channel 9 which is the most difficult channel for we locals to get.

We are over 40 miles away from the most distant broadcast antennas and the cheaper models didn’t pull in as many channels. Remember, we are dealing with line of sight from that distance so the higher the better, the fewer trees the better. For antenna distance local advice check out Antennaweb.

Like I said, this Mohu option will give you some but not all of the local channels unless you hang it from a kite or a blimp. But if you only want a few TV channels you will get some channels depending upon the height of the antenna. Mohu claims 50 miles for this model and 20 or 30 miles for the cheaper models. 20 miles for $20 gets you the Fox channel but caveat emptor.

So what did I find that would work for us? An older model Antennacraft HDX1000 VHF UHF HDTV Outdoor Antenna – which we have indoors in our attic. Currently selling for $25 or so on Ebay.

The reviews are on this antenna are good. I put this on a rafter in our attic (which is high off the ground, say 3 stories) and with the amplification which came with it, and after aiming at Chocowinnity, I was able to get all the local channels without further fiddling. Voila. No adjustment needed.

Your success outside has got to be better than inside if you mount this on a roof. The only negative we have is the occasional strong wind which causes some of the weaker channels (I mean you, 9) to stutter. But the up side is that currently except for a very few 4k net and satellite offerings, the absolute best picture quality for your TV is over-the-air. Cable, satellite and internet TV services compress the image and reduce quality in order to offer bunches of channels quickly. For watching football nothing beats an antenna for picture satisfaction as of this writing.

Now can you record the antenna shows? It used to be that the TIVO device ($50) and a monthly fee ($15) was the only easy way. But…

I found devices on Amazon which allow you to plug your antenna feed into them and they will record the current or future show you want to watch on a thumb drive or USB larger portable drive. The cost for the box below to do this for OTA (over-the-air signals) is … drum roll…. $34.09 with free shipping.

iView 3500STBII Multi-Function Digital Converter Box with Recording and Media Playback

But if I can’t use an antenna and want local channels…?
You can get satellite basic services for $20 on up but they want long term contracts. Cable will cost more than that for basic service but with no contracts and sometimes they have TV deals bundled with internet service.

Last time I mentioned USTVnow and if you do some digging you can find how to get the service and reduced picture quality over the internet on your PC and then you can “cast it” to your TV. ROKU and Amazon Fire and Apple TV and Chromecast from Google support casting/sending picture and sound from your phone or tablet or laptop to the TV with mostly good success.

If you don’t mind watching the network show a day or even a week later you can go to the specific network channels on ROKU and the other streaming devices with a little digging and find network shows which have already aired. So Stephen Colbert is on CBS the next morning on the internet and with decent quality. Also the nightly news from the different cable and broadcast networks.

Finding these shows is sometimes easy and free; sometimes easier for a price. For example, The Good Wife is available for purchase a day or so after airing on CBS at Amazon or Google Play or I-tunes for $2.99 or so an episode. Same for Mad Men and many other series shows on channels like TNT, AMC and the USA network. Add up your favorite shows and see what the costs would be for on-demand purchases. Or pay the $7 or so to CBS for live streaming a month or buy SLING TV (below) or use a media server service on ROKU like PlayOn and get network shows for free.

My new favorite inexpensive way of doing this involves something called PlayOn which is a media server running on your laptop or PC. This program finds free network and free and pay cable feeds from dozens of sources and indexes them. Click and watch the show you choose on you ROKU or FIRE etc. with little hassle with the app for your device – as long as your laptop or PC is running the PlayOn software at the same time.

And if you buy their recording software you can record the delayed streams of your favorite shows for watching weeks or months later. Yes, PlayOn provides a DVR for internet shows. The OTA networks on PlayOn are currently all free as are many other channels like Comedy Central and CNN.

PlayOn also lets you sign into pay channels such as HBO or Showtime (subscription to those services needed) and you can watch or record those channels’ shows as well.

What about sports and this streaming stuff?
So you say your spouse can’t live without sports? A couple of options for her.

Sling TV (my – fingers crossed – favorite company, Dish Network) has started a $20 a month internet-only service with live streams of ESPN channels, AMC, CNN, TNT, Disney and other channels with STARZ movies and an additional sports package as premium add-ons.

None of the above services from Sling TV has a long-term contract. Try them and quit any time. Picture quality is decent but no recording is possible for now – you have to watch everything live.

What about sports? Well the NFL Sunday ticket is on DirecTV only if you have a long-term contract so that’s a non-starter unless of course you a have a relative who wants to share services so you can watch on your phone or tablet with their service and logon. (The head of Netflix has admitted to the knowledge that thousands of his customers do this sharing thing with their service and Netflix even charges for additional simultaneous streams up to 4).

There are also many live sports feeds from overseas on many different ROKU apps as well as the PlayOn media server for a small fee. Quality of picture and service is very variable on these latter options and some are clearly challenging legality while others aren’t. Caveat yadda yadda yadda.

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The Village Geek on TownDock.net is edited by Roger Bullis. Roger's background? Professor of Communication and Digital Media. Roger is always trying to figure out the next way to enjoy great & cheap technology in a small town.