Cutting the Cord Part 1: The Assessment
Assessing your Cord Cutting Potential
The first step in assessing whether cutting the cord will be a good fit for you is to write down all the shows you and whoever you’re sharing your cable/satellite with watch regularly. Simply documenting the name of the shows, what channels they are on and whether or not you can get them from other sources may make the decision a simple affair.
For example, if you just have to watch Homeland on Showtime when it airs and can’t wait the 6-12 months for the DVD to come out, then you can probably assume that cutting the cord isn’t going to work for you.
My Experience: When I first started thinking about cutting the cord, there were some shows on our list that we had concerns about not being able to see on ‘the day they aired’ on cable/satellite. Shows like MythBusters, Burn Notice and The Venture Brothers were things I loved watching when they first aired. While many of them would eventually become available on Netflix, it could be a year or more before we got to see them. We’ve come to find out that those concerns were unfounded. Since we have so much content available at our fingertips, there’s always something available just waiting for us to watch. Over the air content, Netfli, Hulu and even webcasts have more than enough for us to view whenever we feel like ‘watching something’, that the whole issue became a moot point. Our Netflix Instant Queue alone is over 100 titles. While there are some shows we can’t watch as they’re released, we have more than enough to keep us occupied until they actually show up somewhere that we can watch.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the fact that just about anything that airs on cable/satellite can likely be found online within a few hours of its original air time you know where to look. While I won’t condone doing that, it’s an option for someone who isn’t worried about the legal ramifications of getting their content through "other" means.
One thing you can’t overlook is what content you can get for free with local ‘Over the Air’ broadcasts. With a High Definition antenna and a tuner card in your HTPC, you may very well have access to a High Definition signal for all the big networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) that’s even better than what you’d get from your cable/satellite company. Your cable/satellite company needs to compress the signal of all its television stations so it can cram them all down the pipe to your house where Over the Air is the opposite. Local stations can broadcast across the air waves in all their High Definition glory and if you can pick them up are an easy way to get all your Network and Local content for no cost.
When you supply either of the sites with a few pieces of information such as your Zip Code, Street Address and where the antenna will be located, they will give you a full report of what stations you should be able to pick up.
The map and information will list how many channels/stations you can pick up. Don’t be confused when the ‘Channels’ and ‘Over the Air Stations’ numbers don’t match. With the digital spectrum, stations can broadcast multiple signals and you may likely have 3 ‘channels’ for one station. Often the primary channel shows the station’s main content, while others show things like local weather, local events or even syndicated reruns of old shows. The map will also give you detailed information about the distance you are from the transmitter, and its compass heading from you. So if a station is listed as ‘15 miles at 310⁰’, you’ll want to point your antenna 310 degrees for the best signal. We’ll get more into specific antennas later, but for now, with Antenna Web, you can quickly get a list of what stations you’ll have access to for free over the air. Assuming you’re within a 40-50 mile radius of a fairly large city, you will likely be able to get all the big networks, some PBS and a perhaps even a few others.
My Experience: In my area, we’re anywhere from 20 to 40 miles from most of the transmitters. With a half way decent antenna we’ve been able to pick up most things without a problem. I’ve also come to discover that the days of the ‘crazy UHF’ channels are not dead, and there’s a few extra ‘antenna only’ TV stations we are able to pick up like MeTV and AntennaTV. These stations are chock full of great old TV shows from the 60’s through the 80’s and I actually find myself pretty frequently sitting down to catch old episodes of MASH, WKRP in Cincinnati, Cheers or even The Twilight Zone.