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?
So 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
It 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
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
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
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.
After 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
Many 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!