Retrevo’s Complete Guide to Cord Cutting
If you can’t live without watching all the sporting events or latest HBO series on your HDTV set than this guide may not be for you because it’s still hard to get premium programming without paying a lot of money for it. On the other hand, if you want to eliminate, what is probably a sizeable cable or satellite bill and still watch most of what you are currently watching on your HDTV set then this guide will tell you what products or services you can use to get there.
Over the Air or Over the InternetTo receive programs on your TV without a cable or satellite service, you’ll need either a high speed Internet connection or a TV antenna. You can hook your TV up to the Internet using lots of different products including a computer or a “connected” Blu-ray player, DVD player, TV, game console or set-top box. Most connected devices now come with an HDMI port, which delivers high quality video and is one of the easiest ways to put HD programming on your TV. You can also stream programming to your TV using technology like Apple’s AirPlay, DLNA or, a variation on DLNA like Samsung’s AllShare.
Indoor or Outdoor Antennas for Over-the-Air (OTA) Reception

If you live in a metropolitan or even rural area, within line-of-sight of TV transmitters and without hills or buildings in the way, you should be able to use an antenna to receive signals from many different TV stations. In many cases, the HD signals stations broadcast over the air are superior to that coming in over cable or satellite. If you already have a UHF/VHF antenna on your roof it should be adequate to receive the new DTV signals that were put in place as part of the 2009 DTV transition. At the same time that many stations went digital, they also switched transmitting from VHF to UHF which requires a different type of antenna (sorry, rabbit ears won’t cut it anymore). Some new and affordable antennas like those from Leaf and Winegard have been designed to receive the newer HD signals.
Indoor or Outdoor Antennas for Over-the-Air (OTA) Reception

Although your chances of getting a better line-of-sight path to transmitters are better when you place the antenna on your roof or in the attic you can still get a good signal from an indoor antennas like the Mohu Leaf ($39.99) or Leaf Ultimate ($89.99) that adds an amplifier to help boost weak signals. Mohu’s brand new, amplified Sky HDTV Antenna ($169.99) is meant for the attic or roof and is based on technology developed for the United States military. Winegard is another big name in antennas. The Winegard SS-2000 SquareShooter outdoor HDTV antenna is an inconspicuous looking high performance antenna that costs around $125. The Winegard FlatWave indoor antenna is inexpensive ($39.99), very thin and can be attached to the wall. Antennas Direct sells a line of indoor/outdoor antennas called the ClearStream which claims to cover long range reception for around $100. They also offer a very useful FAQ all about antennas.
Check Out Channel Availability Before You Cut the Cord There are some good resources for determining what’s available over the air in your area. TVFool shows you compass lines to all the transmitters in your vicinity. Antennapoint also uses your location information to show available transmitters. Another good resource, provided by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is antennaweb.org.
TV Guides for OTA and Streaming Viewers With no cable or satellite service, you’ll have to find alternatives to the guides those services normally provide. Fortunately there are many good guides to choose from but you’ll have to access them on through a browser on your computer, an app on your tablet or smartphone, or through your “connected” device on your TV screen. Here are few to choose from:

  • TV Guide, the old standard for finding out what’s on the tube. Still one of the best guides
  • Sidereel, a popular TV directory, where you can sign up to track shows and receive alerts
  • Zap2it, a Tribune Company site offers lots of entertainment info along with their guide
  • Clicker, this Web TV Guide is now part of TV.com which is part of CNET who is owned by CBS
  • TitanTV, is a well established TV directory of on-air broadcasts
  • NextGuide, an iPad-based TV Guide with social networking components
Connected Devices Can Stream and Do Other ThingsThere are lots of devices that can get you streaming content on your TV. However, even though your TV or Blu-ray player has Internet connectivity, some older devices may not have the processing power to deal with a full HD signal. In that case, you might be better off with a new $99 Set-top box like the recently released Roku 3. On the other hand, for about $100 you can purchase a good Wi-Fi connected Blu-ray player like the Sony BDP-S390 which garners high marks for image quality and fast loading times. Game consoles like the Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, and even the Nintendo WII will all get you access to streaming content. Microsoft offers Xbox Live a free and subscription service that gets you multiplayer gaming, entertainment and more. Sony currently offers a similar service called PlayStation Plus. PCs running Windows Media Center offer all kinds of features for accessing and recording programs. The only hitch is you may find it desirable to dedicate a PC or laptop to the task which you may want to leave running. Of course, tablets and smartphones can now move content to a TV screen using technologies like DLNA or AirPlay or even connect directly with built-in HDMI ports.
Roku Is the Top Set-Top BoxSet-top boxes are very affordable devices that can bring in streaming and other media content from lots of sources. They offer a very good value for around $100 and are now capable of delivering high quality 1080p HD content, when it is available. The set-top box leader is Roku who has just started selling its brand new Roku 3 which offers dual-band wireless connectivity for better streaming. The Roku 3 has a neat feature where you can plug a pair of headphones into the remote. Roku also has some the best collection of independent channels that offer programming on everything from religion to hobbies. If there’s one thing we wish Roku did differently it would be to move the OK button into the arrow keys where it is on most remotes instead of below the arrow keys. Otherwise, we’re big Roku fans and think it’s an essential tool for cable cutters. Other set-top boxes include

  • WD TV Play, an affordable set-top box with a reputation for playing lots of different file formats
  • Apple TV, third gen came out March 2012 with recent rev, works great in Apple ecosystem
  • VIZIO Co-Star, runs Google TV, has a cool remote with keyboard, there’s also an app
  • Boxee Cloud DVR, Boxee has re-invented their social network set-top box as a personal DVR
  • Roku, offers a line of set-top boxes, the Roku 2 XD and Roku 3 stream 1080p video
Lots of Streaming Services to Choose FromA big part of the Internet-based cord cutting process involves a service that streams programming from all the usual broadcasters and premium channels. Hulu (basic) is an ad-based free service and is one of the more popular services. Their fee-based $7.99 Hulu Plus limits the ads and includes more channels. An application and service from Playon uses your PC as a media server which uses browser-based streams to get around a streaming limit that Hulu encounters. Here’s a list some of most popular streaming services:

  • Hulu Plus, lots of programming with “light” advertising for $7.99 a month
  • Blockbuster On Demand, movies for $1.99 to $3.99 with no monthly fees
  • Vudu, owned by Walmart, they charge $.99 - $5.99 to “rent” a movie
  • Amazon Instant Video, for a $79 annual Prime account you get free shipping and unlimited streaming
  • Redbox, now offers streaming movies and programs with some DVD rentals for less than $10 a month.
  • Netflix, $7.99 monthly fee for unlimited streaming of shows and somewhat limited movie selection
  • Snagfilms, good selection if indie films you can stream for free
  • Hitbliss, watch promotional material to earn currency that you use to pay for streaming content
Mooch Off Your Parents’ ServiceIf you’re a parent or a child of parent who has a cable or satellite service that might even include HBO there’s a way to get access to the services when you’re not home. Sling Media makes some affordable “placeshifter” products like the $299 Slingbox 500 or the $179 Slingbox 350 that streams whatever is on your TV to some other “connected” device like a laptop or tablet. You can even change the channel using their “virtual” remote control. HBO GO is included in a subscription to HBO and allows to watch HBO programming on connected devices. For example if your child is in a dorm at college with a good Internet connection they can stream an HBO program to their computer or other connected device by logging onto your account.
How-to Books and Other Resources for Cord and Cable Cutters

There are some good inexpensive books like these that you can buy and download from places like Amazon. Janko Roettgers over at GigaOm maintains a good quality section on cord cutting. There is lots of good information available for cord cutters on Retrevo like this report on cable cutting and this one on set-top boxes. You might also want to check out this recent guide to HDTV add-ons and wireless routers.

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Recommended directional/high-gain antennas and rotors

I live in a hilly, no-direct-path, beyond best signal area. Are there any info sources re hi-gain/directional antennae, masts, and rotators? Currently moving 40-degree directional, pre-amped antenna on a 30 foot mast by hand to limit multi-paths by off-beam direction. Lose reception at times. (And bye-bye marginal stations in rainy or helicopter-nearby conditions. )
Fuzzy AM-analog NTSB signal with many multi-path ghosts is better than signal-too-weak digital. But I do love HD when it works.

-- Larry

Any recommendations on a DVR box?

Getting the signal OTA is great, but many of us still want the ability to timeshift (record and play later - a DVR box). Any recommendations for a DVR box that can record what I receive through an antenna?

Good point

Yes, good point. Unfortunately there don't appear to be a lot of inexpensive options. One solution for OTA viewers isn't cheap but most users say it works well enough is theChannel Master CM-7000PAL DVR which costs around $350 and records 30 hours of HD programming. It's not as polished as a Tivo which costs around $20 a month (after an initial cost) but it offers two tuners and an on-air guide. Channel Master also makes other OTA/DVR products like the CM-7400 but recording off a cable or satellite DVR is still going to be easier in most cases.

don't actually cut the cord yet

Cute title for the story, but don't forget that some places don't offer a viable high speed internet without the very cable you are hoping to metaphorically if not literally cut. Here in madison wi mu neighbors across the streeet can get tv and internet from att but I can't. So I still pay the most evil company in modern times their 58 a month fee. Then I pay netflix and huluplus for content. I'm still far under the minimum cost for cable tv as here in madison they will not sell you a tv content package with internet for less than 120. The still market their land line bundle as if anybody under 50 years old (I'm 53) has any use for the damn thing.