For several years I had considered cutting the cord. I mean, I rarely watch anything on TV that couldn’t be streamed from the Internet. I’m not really into sports, but I don’t mind an occasional football game (mostly the Super Bowl), and that is available from an over-the-air antenna. There are really only a small handful of shows that I watch: The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, The Big Bang Theory, The Last Man on Earth, and Better Call Saul.  I always record those on the DVR and watch them later, so I honestly have no need for “live” TV. I can wait a day or two to see them.

So in fact, I honestly only had one reason to have “live” TV at all.  The local news. We like to watch the local news in the morning while we’re getting ready for work, and we like to have live news during severe weather events. And that too is all freely available via an over-the-air antenna. So why do we have cable TV? I guess I was just too lazy to go through the process of changing. So I kept paying the $250 a month cable bill and putting cutting the cord on hold.

Verizon Selling to Frontier was My Reason for Finally Cutting the Cord

I live in Keller, TX. We were the first community in the nation to get Verizon FiOS back in 2004. FiOS is a fiber to the home service, that delivers blazing fast Internet, cable TV, and telephone all over a single fiber cable that is connected to an Optical Network Terminal on the side of the home. When FiOS came to town I couldn’t wait to jump on the bandwagon. We had unreliable 1.5 Mb/s DSL, and FiOS was 15 Mb speed demon with rock solid reliability. There was nothing else on the market that could come close.

One of the awesome things I loved about FiOS was that I could use my XBOXs and Smart TVs as receivers for the FiOS cable TV service. This meant I didn’t have to pay for ridiculously expensive leases on cable boxes for the kids rooms, game room, or other rooms that didn’t get used too often like the workout room.

Verizon apparently ran into some financial issues in 2014 and began selling off their services in some states. In March of 2016 Verizon completed the sale of all FiOS service in Texas to Frontier Communications. Frontier immediately discontinued many of the services Verizon offered, including the XBOX app and Smart TV apps. The Internet service also took a hit. Ping times to big sites went down, transfer rates seemed to choke at hand offs to other carriers in the cloud, etc.

I called Frontier and asked them if they would be willing to compensate me since they changed and reduced my service in the middle of a two year contract without my consent, something I didn’t think they were legally allowed to do. They told me the solution was to lease additional receivers for those rooms at a cost of $7ea to $15ea per month! I told them that I thought they were breaking the law. They pretty much told me to sue them, because they had the right to change the deal at anytime, but that I had no right to exit the contract no matter what they changed. The voice of Darth Vader rang out in my head with “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.” Frontier was the Empire I could not fight. Or could I?

How I Cut the Cord - 0001So right there on the phone, I paid them a $150 early termination fee and cancelled my cable TV service. I figured I’d make that back in less than 30 days. I walked to the other room, put all of my receivers in a box, drove them down to the local UPS store and shipped them back to Frontier. I was done. They gave me the reason that I had been needing to finally cut the cord.  Thank you Frontier Communications. I honestly appreciate the fact that you suck and that you bullied me. Cutting the cord was now complete!

My Cord Cutting Adventure

Now that I had no more shitty Frontier cable TV service I had also had no TV service at all. We built the house we’re living in about a year ago, and it has no antenna installed. My TVs just had snow on them. It was time to come up with an over-the-air solution. Cutting the cord adventure, phase two!

I Wanted a Decent “cable-box” Experience from Over-the-Air

One of the things I really liked about cable TV was the guide, and the ability to pause and rewind live TV. Some of my TVs had guides. They weren’t great, but the were OK. None of them however had the ability to rewind or pause live TV. So I set out to see if there was a unifying solution to fix this problem.

I asked around on forums, talked to friends, and tried to find others who had already done this whole cord cutting thing. Some people thought I was being ridiculous and thought I should just get cable from another company, or even switch to something like DirecTV. I was adamant that I didn’t need cable. I was going to make the combination of OTA (over-the-air) and streaming work for our family!

Microsoft XBOX to the Rescue

How I Cut the Cord - 0002It was around this time that one of my friends mentioned to me that the XBOX has a whole media center built into it. In fact, he said for about $40 you can get a digital TV tuner for the XBOX. It has a guide, a DVR, and the ability to pause and rewind live TV. This couldn’t have been better news, since there was already an XBOX One plugged into my TV in the Family Room, and One in the Theater Room!  These were the only two TVs that I needed to have this functionality for. The rest could use the built in guides!

So purchased two XBOX Digital TV Adapters from Amazon and installed them on my XBOXs. Problem solved!  Sort of. I still needed an antenna for the whole home.

Finding the Right Antenna for Cutting the Cord

I didn’t have an antenna in the house at all, and when we built the house we didn’t plan for an antenna. We did do structured wiring and we do have an audio-video-network closet on the second floor that also leads to the attic. So at least I wouldn’t have to do any major cabling.  I knew right off the bat I wanted the antenna in the attic, but I also knew that was going to be difficult since we had installed Radiant Barrier during construction. For those of you who don’t know, Radiant Barrier is a thin metal sheeting that lies between the decking and the rafters. This metal sheeting blocks radiation from the sun, helping to lower your cooling bills during the summer. Its also like a faraday cage for radio and TV signals. That’s a big problem! The good news is that I had two fairly easily accessible faux windows in the attic that faced the direction of our local TV towers. So I could position the antenna behind one of those windows to bypass the radiant barrier, far enough back to keep it from being visible from the street.

Checking the FCC Distance Maps for Antenna Specs

The first thing I needed to do was spec an antenna, so I headed over the FCC DTV Transmission Mapping site. On this site, you put in your address, or zip-code and it will tell you what to expect from your local area. It lists out signal strengths and the distances to the local towers. In my case the towers were 28.5 miles away, and I should expect to get full signal strength on all but one channel (that I didn’t care about) and even it was expected to be at 85% strength.

The next good news is that at our elevation there are no hills or tall buildings between our home and the towers. It’s a line of sight shot!  So just about any antenna should work according to those numbers!  Not so fast.

First I Tried the Mohu Leaf

How I Cut the Cord - 0003

Mohu Leaf 50

It seemed like every search for antenna would lead me the Mohu Leaf. The Mohu Leaf is a relatively new antenna on the market that has arrived to great reviews. It is tiny and flat, and is designed to be mounted on the wall behind the TV, or stuck flat to the surface of a window. It comes with great claims of a 50 mile range, almost double the distance I was working with.

I brought the Mohu Leaf from Amazon for $60 and gave it a shot.  I plugged it directly into the TV in the living room. Nothing. Not one single channel. All I got was snow. I thought something must be wrong! At the very least I should be able to get one channel, or at least intermittent reception.

So I grabbed a 50 foot coaxial cable I had bought for this project and rolled it to the outside of the house. I held the Mohu Leaf over my head while outside and rescanned the channels.  This time, I was able to get three or four of the 20 or so channels to come in, but they were completely unwatchable. Jitter, distortion, stopping and starting. This was a complete failure.  The Mohu Leaf was simply not going to work. I put it back in the box and returned it to Amazon.  Is the Mohu Leaf junk? Keep reading. Cutting the Cord was fighting me!

Next I Tried the Mohu Sky 60

How I Cut the Cord - 0004

Mohu Sky 60

After reading the reviews on Amazon, many were complaining that the Mohu Leaf was terrible and if you wanted a real antenna from Mohu, you should be looking a the Mohu Sky 60. The Mohu Sky 60 claims 60 mile range and had a bunch of incredible reviews (but as I learned later most are from unverified purchasers)! So I dropped it in the cart and selected free same day delivery.

A couple of hours later the Mohu Sky 60 landed on my door step and I plugged it into the living room TV.  I was able to get about four or five channels right off the bat. They were pretty jittery, almost watchable. With this I suspected once the antenna was in the attic everything would be fine.  I proceeded to run an RG-6 coaxial cable between the audio-video-network closet to the highest faux window in our attic. I mounted the Mohu Sky 60 about 12 inches back from the glass.  In the AVN closet I plugged in the Mohu power adapter and connected it to the 8-1 splitter that was installed by Verizon during the FiOS install.

Some channels came in pretty decent, but some of the channels were just down right too jittery to enjoy.  With constant break up and pixelation. We lived with this configuration for about three weeks before my wife told me flat out to either fix it, or get cable back.

With all the great reviews of the Mohu Sky 60, I thought I had to be doing something wrong. In one of the forums I posted to, someone suggest that my problem was the splitter.  That with 8 devices I needed a powered splitter. This would change the decibel drop from -11db per port to a +4db on each port!  I thought for sure that would bring the signal to a quality where we would find it acceptable. So off to Amazon again to purchase a Channel Master 8 port powered splitter.

After installing the powered splitter, nothing changed. Not even the slightest. My mind remembered a phrase from my childhood that my mother used to say “Garbage in. Garbage Out.” I’d just succeeded in amplifying a crappy signal.  Of course nothing changed.

Finally, I Tried the ClearStream 4V

How I Cut the Cord - 0005

ClearStream 4V

At this point I was done with Mohu. Either the signal at my house was absolutely horrible, or Mohu products were  just shitty. I was about to find out because a friend of mine said he had installed the ClearStream 4V at his house (that is 50+ miles from the towers) and was getting perfect reception an all 20 stations. Back to Amazon I went and ordered the Clearstream 4V!  Will my cord cutting adventure finally work out?  Because at this point I really am starting to believe I made a mistake cutting the cord!

A few days later I climbed into the attic with my son. First I unscrewed the Mohu Sky 60 and tossed it down the attic stairs. Then I used the same mounting holes and installed the ClearStream 4V and positioned it in the same position that the Mohu Sky 60 had been in. I went to the AVN closet and removed the Mohu’s power adapter and connected the ClearStream 4V directly to the Channel Master powered 8-1 splitter.

I told my son to cross his fingers as we walked down stairs. I turned on the Family Room TV. All 20 channels were coming in perfect. Not even a hint of pixelation. No jitter. It was heaven. The ClearStream was working exactly as advertised! Cutting the cord win!!!!

Mohu Products are Marketing BS and Junk

One final thought on the Mohu Leaf and Mohu Sky 60. After doing some additional research, it appears that Mohu is the result of a very expensive and successful marketing campaign. Their products consistently underperform in all of the online tests and reviews. The consensus seems to be that Mohu has paid teams of writers to write good reviews on sites like Amazon. Selecting the filter “Show me Verified Purchasers Only” dramatically lowers the ratings of Mohu products.  Do yourself a favor. Buy something else.

On to Cord Cutting Streaming Options

Cutting the cord phase 1 was complete! I now had a very good solution for live broadcasts of the news, national football, etc and had the option to pause and rewind live TV in the family room and theater room! Now it was time to decide what to do about streaming so that I could get my cable only shows. Note: For those of you who need sports streaming, there are options that include ESPN and other sports channels, such as SlingTV.  I’m not going to cover those here as they aren’t relevant to me.

How I Cut the Cord - 0006After cutting the cord, most people immediately go to three sources for their shows: Netflix Streaming, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Instant Video. And quite honestly, these are great choices. The problem many face is that they don’t offer content from major shows in some cases for weeks to months after the season has finished airing. This is because the networks want you to watch it on their channel or app and pay for access (or watch their advertisements). For some people, this wait is more than acceptable. For others its torture.

For me, now that MythBusters is cancelled, there are only two shows I really can’t wait to see: The Walking Dead and Doctor Who. Both shows are cable shows, so over-the-air DVR is not going to work for them, and without a cable subscription you can’t watch them on the SyFy app or the AMC app without paying (this may have changed since writing this article).

My options are now limited to two services. iTunes or the Microsoft Store. I’ll have to pay about $30 a season to watch these shows real time (well, 24 hours after they air on the networks which is more than acceptable to me). But honestly, thats a steal when you think about it! For less than 25% of one month’s cable bill I can buy both shows for $60 a year and still save $2400 a year by not having cable!  $2400 vs $60 is a no-brainer!

Cutting the Cord Savings Calculations

Cutting the cord can offer some really big savings! I was paying $250 a month for cable TV, plus internet service. Much of that was paying the monthly lease on cable boxes, and had frontier gotten their way, I would have been paying even more to add additional cable boxes! By cancelling my cable service and keeping only the internet access (75 mb/s data service), I was able to lower my monthly bill from $250 down to $50 a month. That’s a $2400 annual decrease in spending. When you add back the additional $60 I have to spend buying TV seasons of a couple of shows, I am still $2340 in annual savings.

What about the cost of Netflix and Prime?

Some of you will say the savings are not as big, because I still have to pay $99 a year for Amazon Prime and $108 a year for Netflix Streaming. For some people, this might be true, but you’d still be $2133 ahead annually!  And even if you had five or six shows you had to buy on iTunes, you’d be a couple grand richer every year! But the truth is, I was already paying for Netflix Streaming and Amazon Prime before I cut the cord! Its not like I added them because of cutting the cord, so I don’t count those in my cost savings worksheets.

Cutting the Cord Means Thinking Differently

Cutting the cord changes how you watch TV. At first, things are going to seem disappointing.  You’re going to “miss” turning on the cable box, popping open the guide and looking for something to watch.  The whole notion of “seeing what’s on” is missing. But you’ve got to understand that that experience is simply someone else deciding what you’ll watch today. 99% of “what is on” is simply a rerun that you could be watching from Netflix Streaming or Amazon Instant Video. In fact, I would venture to say you’ll be far better off picking what you want to watch, rather than being force fed something from the guide. Open Netflix and let it make some recommendations based on your usage history. You’ll be glad you did.

Watch My Cord Cutting Video

A Word about Piracy

How I Cut the Cord - 0007Many of you will likely comment on this article that you can avoid additional fees and save even more money by using a torrent service and pirating your content from free sources.

I made the commitment years ago that if I liked someones content enough to watch it, that they should be compensated for their effort in creating it, and I have only one exception to that rule (keep reading). That being said, I believe piracy is theft and wrong. Content creators work hard to create the content we love and we should be willing to give them compensation for it. I wouldn’t just drive off at the drive-through without paying for my burger and I am not going to rip off the people who make the content I love!

The One Exception: Some asshole directors and producers have decided that they want to either artificially prop up their old business model, or refuse to participate in the digital streaming world. These organizations do not offer me a way to pay them for a digital version of their material. True Lies for example (as of this writing) is not available on any digital streaming services. It is unavailable for purchase from iTunes, MS Store, or anywhere else. The only option is to buy a DVD online, and that comes in only standard definition, even though they’ve been broadcasting True Lies on HD in full 1080p for almost a decade. So in these cases I will torrent your movie, and when you do offer it for sale in a digital format you can kiss my ass, because its too late at that point.

Products Used in this Project

Let Me Hear from You

I want to hear from you about your experience cutting the cord!  Leave a comment below and let me know how it has worked out for you! Cutting the cord for me has been frustrating and learning experience, but it has also been worth the effort! Leave your feedback in the comments below!

24 Responses

  1. Gary Young

    Thank you for an informative report. I’m not ready to make the “sacrifice”, but I could have to. My antenna situation is worse than yours, yet the info is all applicable.

    Today, I submitted my own report to MacInTouch.com which relates somewhat to your report but it focuses more on proposed changes by the FCC and things to anticipate.

    Recently, I encountered a product (family) on Amazon where the reviews are clearly and blatantly rigged by a team. I’ve informed Amazon twice and they haven’t done anything about it, but it’s only been a month.

    Reply
  2. Brian Jones

    Hi, I’m in the UK and had a somewhat similar experience. I don’t have XBOX, but instead bought a HUMAX DVR for about the cost of one month’s cable. It has all the functionality of my cable supplier’s box and 500 hours recording capacity. It also has internet apps and I can connect direct to Netflix etc through its menus. Like this:

    http://tinyurl.com/zyf7v6l

    You are so right about deciding what you want to watch. Aside from live news, and some movies, I prerecord the shows I enjoy and watch them when it suits. While I may miss out on some mainstream live stuff occasionally, it is nothing compared to how good not having a monthly bill feels.

    I got a call recently from the retention team at the cable co. Still calling me two years later?They were frustrated I would not give a reason why I was leaving when I cut the cable. Give a reason, and they have an answer for you, so giving no reason leaves them stuck. They still asked me, two years later, why I left. “I don’t remember,” I said. “And I don’t miss it.” He hung up then.

    Reply
  3. greglumpkin

    This is amazing. You just went through exactly what I am starting. Thank you for your experience and willingness to share.

    Reply
  4. Steve

    I have one word for you: KODI
    Since you didn’t mention it, you may want to investigate, especially since you kept your internet service.
    You can not only watch Movies, Live TV, old TV, Pay Per View Sports, etc., I believe you can also get your local TV over the internet.
    All for FREE.
    I don’t consider it piracy, but maybe you do?

    Reply
    • Jim

      KODI is great, however I fear the version you describe may indeed involve some piracy. Nothing in life is free my friend.

      Reply
      • Mike Murray
        Mike Murray

        I didn’t mention it because 1) its not stable, and a pile of spaghetti code, and 2) this article was about something the average Joe can setup and use.

  5. tommy

    For local news, most stations have their local newscast online, often live. My 2 local stations both have their newscast running on livestream.com (there is a Kodi addon for those who use that). They run the newscasts live and replay the most recent newscast the rest of the time. I’m not in a very big area so chances are good they have yours.,

    Reply
  6. Mark Ringo

    Mike, thanks for the story. My wife and I are in Colleyville with the same situation. I will be dropping off Frontier soon. I think I’m going with the Tivo Bolt instead of the Xbox route. Tivo seems like a better integrated solution IMHO. I’ll be picking up that antenna when I finish posting this comment

    Reply
  7. Danny B.

    Mike,
    Totally feel the same about Mohu products…complete crap…I use Clearstream as welll. Have you looked into HDHomerun? Works great with cord cutters and tie it with the apps like Emby and you can have full fledged universal DVR. Its extremely easy to setup.

    Best of Luck

    Reply
    • Mike Murray
      Mike Murray

      Hmmm.. I was not familiar with the HDHomeRun device. I looked at the site, and I just don’t see the need for it. Every TV already has a tuner in it.

      Reply
  8. mark

    I just did the same. I live in Keller also.
    sharpness and clarity of picture has improved over cable.
    however there is some jitter particularly on sports and the news with streaming stocks on the bottom.
    Ivey tried different settings on my Samsung with no improvement

    Reply
  9. Ben

    I am considering beginning the cord cutting adventure… but my wife has specific shows that she dvrs, not all that are on the usual OTA channels ( food network, DYI, stuff like that). She does have her shows on CBS and ABC, so I guess those could dvr or purchase seasons on apple ( we don’t own an XBOX or apple tv so not sure best cord cutting dvr solution). I’ve noticed that a lot of non-cable company dvr solutions don’t allow multiple recordings at once( can’t record a CBS show and ABC show while watching live tv). I also have my sports, that I could get sling tv for ,along with her shows( as additional packages), but then it comes back to the need to DVR alot.. sorry for the long meesage, just want to get all the info needed for cord-cutting to make a informative decision.

    Reply
    • Mark Ringo

      Ben, I bought the Tivo Bolt and have LOVED it. It can record/collect/index content from online and OTA. Very pleased.

      Reply
  10. Rob

    Hi I’m just wondering how I can get internet service if I am not connected to cable? I don’t see wifi discussed here or internet service. Please advise.

    Reply
    • Mike Murray
      Mike Murray

      It’s not a literal cutting of the cord. You will still need Internet service, you’re just “cutting the cord” to your cable TV subscription.

      Reply
  11. Jim

    Great writeup and story, much appreciated that you tackled this difficult topic! Per your request I am sharing our families approach.

    We “cut the cord” over 8 years ago. At that time we used the 1st Gen AppleTV and iTunes for TV. We were quite happy, though we missed sports and real-time news. We had kids during this time, got busy, and lived with it. Best part was our children have never seen commercials, and still to this day think they only exist in hotels 🙂

    Over the years I tried a lot of approaches, with various levels of geekiness. Without writing an entire history, this is our present day setup.

    We have cable based internet, and happily discovered ClearQAM. I still do not understand all the nuances, however as I understand during the digital over-the-air (OTA) transition cable companies were mandated to provide local channels in HD via your cable coax using the “ClearQAM” protocol. Essentially if you have a device that can decipher this protocol and a have a cable based internet connection, you get OTA signals without needing an antenna. We proved this by plugging the coax line into a TV that included a ClearQAM tuner, and wham we had over a dozen HD channels, including all major broadcast networks.

    Being a geek, this was not good enough, I wanted more functionality. After searching I settled on the ClearQAM capable HDHomeRun device (previously mentioned by a commenter). This allows multiple streams of the ClearQAM, and the ability to add a DVR device to receive those signals. We tested a LOT of DVR solutions, but ultimately have settled on the “Channels” eco-system available at getchannels.com (nobody paid me to endorse them, they are just pretty cool). They have a unique combination of supporting ClearQAM, DVR, and the iOS world. On a 4th gen AppleTV the overall experience is incredible.

    Just like the author of the article we did have to make some concessions to get all the programming our family wanted. We subscribe to Netflix, HBO Go, Sling, Amazon Prime, PBS Passport, and use VPN to access BBC content (probably not completely legal, but we just love BBC programming. We will happily pay the fine to the UK if need be). We do spend money on these services, but in most cases we were spending that cash already.

    I do not know if we are actually “saving money” with our configuration. However I know we have flexibility and choice. We also enjoy paying for our content directly, without seeing ads. I would much rather give money directly to a great network like HBO then suffer through crappy ads.

    Apologize for the long post, however I assumed anyone who read this far would appreciate the details. Good luck with your setup/approach, and look forward to hearing from you.

    Reply
  12. Damian Potesta

    What are your thoughts on using a TIVO as your DVR service? It’s cheaper then the Xbox (though missing gaming fucntionality) and has the ability to expand using their mini boxes. I’m considering dumping DirectTV for all the same reasons as everybody else. But can only do so if I’m certain 1) I get all the locals we enjoy and 2) We can record them for viewing later.

    The link in your written description for the FCC reception map is dead. May want to update it.

    Reply
    • Mike Murray
      Mike Murray

      I feel like Tivo is a dead technology. The XBOX or even the Roku or Apple TV are far superior devices. Maybe you should look at DirecTV Now, which you can install on Apple TV and watch all of your shows without a dish. DirecTV Now also has locals in many areas. This wasn’t available when I originally wrote this article.

      Reply

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