A few months ago, the subject of cutting the cord and getting rid of cable came up again in our house. We’d tried this one before, when we first moved from Nashville to Tampa, but it didn’t work out that well. We moved just before the football season was about to gear up, and couldn’t deal with the lack of sports content that we were able to get over the air.
Since then (almost 6 years ago), a lot has changed in the cable and TV world, and it’s a much better environment for cord cutters out there. Back in February, we officially cut the cord, and haven’t looked back. I’m optimistic that we’re done with cable subscriptions forever now, despite still wanting to stay up-to-date with current shows and sports.
Throughout the process, we discovered three things that made all the difference, and make the whole experience easy.
Try Before You Buy
We didn’t just cut the cord, hoping it’d all work out. With all the nonsense you have to go through with the cable company, the last thing we wanted was to cancel our service, regret it, then have to go groveling back and pay for reconnection fees, etc. So, we faked it. For two weeks, we pretended that we’d cut the cord. We unhooked our cable boxes, hooked up an antenna to the TV, and did trial runs with SlingTV and PlayStation Vue (more on that in a minute) for two weeks. The idea here was to get all the experience with cutting the cord, with none of the actual commitment. After those two weeks, we knew we could handle it, and cutting was a no-brainer.
Hook Up The Antenna to the House, Not the TV
One of our biggest gripes with cutting the cord was the crappy reception we got from the antenna we had attached to the TV in the living room. Now, we live pretty close to the city (~10 miles outside the city center), so signal strength wasn’t an issue. But, our living room is in the center of the house, surrounded by walls and roofs and other things that make houses stand up. All that interfered enough with the signal that we’d get only a handful of stations over the air, and those were spotty at times. One thing we knew: being able to get major networks live was a deal-killer. If we couldn’t get ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX live - we weren’t going to pull the plug.
Then I had an epiphany.
If the cable signal comes into the house from the street, and goes to all the TVs, well…what if that signal was from the antenna instead of the street? My theory was that I could intercept the line coming into the house from the street, hook the antenna to it, and boom, the antenna would feed the TVs in the same way the cable does.
This would have two huge advantages: first, we’d only need one antenna for the entire house. Secondly, the antenna could be outside in the garage, much closer to the exterior of the house, and far less likely to be susceptible to interference.
Long story short, this worked amazingly. If you’re interested in giving it a shot, here’s what you need to do (obviously, YMMV based on how your cable is hooked up, but I suspect this is similar to many houses):
First, find the junction box on the side of your house that holds all your cable goodies in it. Here’s what mind looks like:
Now, this little guy is normally locked with a thing called a terminator lock that requires a special tool to open. Lucky for you, some nice people on the internet have made videos helping you to open these with a fork. Once you’ve got it open, you’ll see a mess of cables like this:
This is a wreck, and difficult to see what’s going on, so here’s a diagram explaining basically what’s going on:
As you can see, there’s a line coming in from the street, which carries your cable and internet signal on it. This feeds into a splitter, which splits that signal out to separate lines for each room in your house (you know how the cable company charges you to “activiate” a jack? Yeah, they’re just hooking that one up to the splitter and charging you $35 for it). So, all we have to do is intercept that signal coming into the splitter, replace it with the antenna signal, and boom - antenna to the entire house:
Now, there’s a catch here, and a pretty big one. The first time I did this, I ran inside, giddy about my accomplishment, only to find out that I no longer had internet either. Duh. That signal from the street that I cut off was also carrying the internet, which was now dangling, unhooked, in the junction box.
So, slight iteration. I found the line from the splitter that went to our bedroom (this takes some trial and error, hooking and unhooking until you figure out which is which), and rehooked that directly to the street line. Because we don’t have a TV in our bedroom, we didn’t need the antenna signal there anyway. So, the signal from the street went directly to our bedroom, and the antenna went into the splitter, which went to all the other jacks in the house.
Voila! Full strength antenna signal to all the TVs we had in the house, plus internet to the router in our bedroom. When we set up the TVs to scan the channels, we pulled in nearly 80 channels over the air, all HD quality. Not bad.
PlayStation Vue vs. SlingTV
The final piece in the puzzle to making this all work was to fill the TV void a bit with a service that’d give us a limited listing of channels. We have a 2.5 year old and a 14 month old, so Disney is important. Luckily, two services exist to give you streaming channels, live like they’re on cable, via the internet: PlayStation Vue and SlingTV. Each of them comes with an array of channels, and different packages based on the number of channels you want. Importantly, they both have a variety of sports channels, and Disney channels, something we knew would make life without cable go more smoothly.
So, which one to choose? We tried each for a week on their free trials, during our “pretend” phase of cord cutting (see above). First, SlingTV, then PlayStation Vue. Long story short, PlayStation Vue won out by a mile, based on the programming available. Obviously, this will depend heavily on what you like to watch, but I recommend trying each to see what you think.
The Final Verdict
So far, we’ve been without cable for three months, and I really haven’t noticed any loss in quality of life. We still get the “live TV” experience between the over the air signals and the live streaming with PSVue, and we get it for a fraction of the cost. PSVue costs us about $35/mo, compared to the $160/mo we were paying with cable. With the few tricks we learned that I’ve mentioned in this post, cutting the cord was a non-issue, and something I’d recommend everyone look into.
Do you have any secrets from your cord cutting experience? Share them in the comments!