February 22, 2015

cutting the cable cord using an antenna, SlingTV, & FireStick - couldn't be happier

So we finally did it-- we got rid of TWC cable service. We were never really big watchers, but had gotten Standard cable because we wanted ESPN. But when I looked over our last bill and realized that it had creeped up to $140/mth (including an $8/mth fee for renting a modem and $10/mth fee for the cable box), it really was time to do something-- how could we possibly justify paying that much because we wanted ESPN?!

I took a closer look at we sometimes or actually watched:
  • PBS (very important)
  • TNT
  • ESPN
  • Food Network
  • AMC (for things like the Walking Dead, Madmen)
  • Syfy
So how to get these same channels without paying for TWC? It turns out it's easier than one would think! Here's a collection of some of the posts I read as I was preparing to cancel TWC. What follows below is a post about some of the nuts and bolts, trials and tribulations of the whole setup process...

After doing a little Internet research, I realized that a simple antenna would probably give us quite a few channels. I am particularly indebted to this post. I decided on the MoHu Curve 30 from Amazon. After it arrived, the setup was as easy as plugging the included cable into the TV and then the antenna. I turned on the TV and used auto search to find channels. Initially, it found only 6 channels and I got worried (it did not find PBS which was one of the main reasons for buying the antenna in the first place!). After a little more reading online, I learned that moving the antenna around might do the trick. After switching to Channel 13 (PBS) and seeing the usual snow and static, I moved the antenna around until I found the spot where Channel 13 came in perfectly-- it turned out that the antenna had optimal reception when it was near a window and higher up above the TV. I managed to set it up in this higher position and rescanned for channels. This time it found 68 HD channels including PBS, all the major network channels, and quite a few others (keep in mind that we're located in NYC and where you are may affect what channels the antenna will find). In short he MoHu Curve 30 was more than powerful enough for our needs.

Next, we took advantage of SlingTV's promotion to prepay for 3 months of SlingTV and get a Amazon FireStick for free (you can also choose a Roku stick or Fire TV box or Roku box). To get the promotion, go to SlingTV site and scroll to the bottom to find the promotions. If you had already signed up SlingTV, you'll have to call them and ask them to give you the promotion-- that happened to me, but the process was relatively painless. They basically cancelled my existing subscription and resubscribed me with the promotion. You then receive an email with a promotion code that you enter when you go to order the FireStick or FireTV (presumably, ordering Roku works the same way). We wanted SlingTV because we wanted keep getting ESPN (an antenna alone won't give you ESPN). For $20/mth, SlingTV will also give you the following channels:
  • AMC (just recently announced), ESPN, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, and others. Featuring SportsCenter, NBA on TNT, Chopped, Property Brothers, Adventure Time, and others.
We're not sure we'll keep SlingTV but it's worth it to try it out for 3 months and get a free FireStick.

So why did we get the FireStick? Well, the stick allows you to access services such as Hulu+, Netflix, AmazonPrime streaming, and SlingTV! Prior to actually getting the stick, we used our PS3 to access these services and I wasn't actually sure how it all worked on a stick so here's the description. You plug the stick into a usb port on your TV. After setting up access to our WiFi, the stick immediately recognized our Amazon account (since we ordered from Amazon, I assume that Amazon knew we had it). Next, we added apps such as Hulu+, Netflix, and SlingTV. We logged into each of these accounts and the service and was immediately connected. Here's a pretty good video about the FireStick:

Adding the PBS app was a little hinky. This step is easier if you have an additional tablet or laptop handy. Here are the steps.
  1. download the PBS app onto the FireStick
  2. click on the app and it will give you a code
  3. using your laptop or tablet (that is connected to the same WiFi, go to http://www.pbs.org/activate
  4. enter the code from Step #2
  5. then, PBS will ask you to sign into your PBS account or create a new one (for those who balk at having to give extra information, I would point out that there's probably worse that you could do than to create an account on PBS).
In a nice surprise, we found that there was an arte app for the FireStick-- that alone made me glad that we choose FireStick! Arte may also be available for some other services, but after looking at all the services, we decided that FireStick fit our needs. 

So far, it's been about a week and I love the set up. If we want to watch the PBS Newshour as it broadcasts, we just turn on the TV and use the antenna (as an aside, I love the ability to do that, just turn on the TV and see regular channels- to me the behavior is more like how I remember watching TV in the good old days...). If we missed a broadcast of something from PBS, we just switch to the FireStick, click on the PBS app and play whatever we missed. Navigating the FireStick is easy and all the other services work perfectly. So here's a breakdown:

TWC Internet
TWC Cable

Notice that we still pay $70/mth for Internet service and yes, paying the additional $70/mth for TWC cable would get us a lot more channels, but the reality is that we just didn't watch that many channels. In short, based on our viewing habits, our current set-up is more than adequate and it saves us about $50/mth or $600/year!

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