Last summer, our cable went out during a storm. It was nearly a week before we noticed it and contacted Customer Service. My Hippie Husband had been gunning for Cable for a long time – we already had the smallest available package, it was still pretty expensive (over $50 per month), and we very rarely watched television. Plus, the shows we enjoyed were all available online. Cable was one of our least intelligent monthly expenditures. I found myself in the uncomfortable position of thinking, “If we want to get our money’s worth out of this, we need to start watching more TV.” That seemed stupid, so I greenlighted our foray into OTA (over-the-air) television.
Doing research, HH learned that the old 70’s-style rabbit ear antennas still work. Newer antennas look a lot different and come in a lot of shapes and sizes, but the basic idea is still the same. Some retailers are trying to cash in on the idea of a high-definition antenna, but they are not necessary. The term you will come across more often is “amplified.” An amplified antenna is one that plugs in, using electricity to boost the signal. The alternative “passive” antennas use the same concept as the good old rabbit ears, but they look a lot different. Some have a distinct Star Trek vibe. The amplified antennas are more expensive, so we started with a passive one: a Trek TV-1 Passive Indoor Antenna. We were able to get several channels, but we had to physically adjust the antenna each time we wanted to go between PBS and other channels. To get the best reception, we moved the antenna upstairs into one of the bedrooms, so fine tuning the direction of the antenna for each channel would not have worked for us. Next, we purchased an amplified antenna from Radio Shack. We were surprised to find that the passive antenna had provided better reception even though it was less expensive. So, it was time to call in a professional so we could mount a more powerful antenna on the outside of our home.
Finding the right professional took a bit of time. Unlike Direct TV, OTA is not widely used and advertised. HH used dexknows.com to check out contractors in our area. The one with the highest rating was Sound and Quality Services out of Bolingbrook. We could not have been happier with the service. Ron, the owner, was just wonderful. His expertise and professionalism made this job so much easier for us. We had initially inquired about a more expensive product than we ended up getting, and Ron recommended going with the less expensive product that would work better for our needs. He knew exactly what we needed and how to best accomplish the installation. Try finding *that* at Best Buy . . . The installation was completed quickly, and he spent a lot of time checking and rechecking to be sure that everything was working and that we were happy with the result.
On our installer’s advice, the antenna is mounted near the roof and is pretty much invisible. You really have to look for it. While it faces our back yard, Ron suggested that mounting it to the side and having it peek over the roof was a more stable option. Since we live in a pretty windy area, we followed his advice. The extra bonus there is that the antenna is in a very inconspicuous spot that will be obscured by leaves once spring arrives. The cord comes in through our attic, then drops into the basement, where it connects to our old cable lines so that we did not have to run wires to each television in the house. Now, that one antenna works for all of our TVs. I also enjoy that it is mounted outside, so it is not cluttering up the entertainment center or an upstairs bedroom. The antenna works beautifully. We get a lot of channels very clearly.
The antenna cost $120. Installation ran another $300. The indoor antennas were $10 for the Terk model, and $35 for the amplified antenna we purchased at Radio Shack. Both were returned when we found that they would not suit our needs. We did need to purchase digital converter boxes because it’s been awhile since we have purchased a new television. The total cost was less than $500. We made the switch last July, and with the amount we save each month on cable, we broke even in January. Now, our TV service is free.
Tips for people who’d like to give OTA television a shot:
- Assume that you will need to buy several antennas to find the correct antenna and placement. If you have an old set of rabbit ears, give that a try first.
- Try the cheapest antenna first, then progress through the more expensive models. Don’t forget to save your receipts so that you can return anything that is unsuccessful.
- If a particular antenna is getting some reception when you hook it up to the TV but still isn’t exactly right, try moving it higher in the house.
- If you are in love with your current DVR and cannot imagine living without it, you can use a program called MythTV. It’s free, but it requires some knowhow and hardware to get it humming. If you are interested in more info about how to install and use this program, please leave a comment on this post. If enough folks want the information, I will have HH do a guest post explaining it.
- Find the right contractor if you decide to do an outdoor-mounted antenna. Ask TV nerd friends if you have them. If not, check out dexknows.com and angieslist.com. The ratings should help you find the most reputable contractors
- Check out the online offerings for your favorite cable shows to be sure that you have access to any shows you are unwilling to give up.
We get a lot of funny looks when someone asks, “Do you use Cable or Satellite?” It stopped a pushy DirectTV salesman right in his tracks, as our response is not included in their script. It was absolutely the right call for us. We are saving a decent chunk of change each month, and I am watching significantly less television because I no longer turn it on while spending time on the computer or killing time late at night. Win.