Cutting the Cord Part 2 — How to replace Cable TV for a few dollars a month

Raun's BlogLast week, I told you about our decision to cut cable TV.  I did a lot of research to determine what our options are.  It turns out that there are lots of possibilities.

There are a couple of qualifications I want to make before digging deeper:

  1. We are keeping high speed internet service.
  2. We are keeping the TV.

From this point, we have a few choices to make.  We could completely avoid any additional investments, we could purchase equipment and/or services for a one-time fee, or we could sign up for monthly subscriptions.  I’ll start with no new investments and work up from there.

No additional investments

We could watch YouTube videos or standard Hulu programming on the computer. We could plug the computer into the TV by HDMI and watch from there.  That is an option, but it could be a bit cumbersome.

Some networks allow you to stream entire episodes of shows onto your computer.

We decided these options weren’t going to cut it, but if you really don’t have any budget to work with, this is probably better than nothing.

One time investments

This is where options really start to unfold.  Most of us forgot about over the air stations long ago, but they are still there.  When Congress required OTA stations to broadcast in digital rather than analog, many stations added additional subchannels. In order to receive channels, you’ll need a digital tuner and an antenna.  Any TV built after March 2008 is required to have a digital tuner built in.  Larger TV’s built in 2005 or later probably have them as well.

Depending on where you are in relation to transmission towers, you may be able to pick up quite a few channels just from the TV.  We needed an antenna.  I searched and read reviews of several different types and brands of antennas. A great resource to help you determine what type of antenna you need and what channel options you’ll have is  You simply enter your zip code and it gives you a list of channels you should be able to receive and a map of where the towers are along with the distance between you and them.

We’re only 6 miles away from our local towers so we only needed a small indoor antenna.

We settled on the Mohu Leaf Paper-Thin Indoor HDTV Antenna.  We picked it up on Amazon for under $40.  This thing is amazing! Like the name says, it is paper thin.  It’s white on one side and black on the other to be able to hide it in your decor.  It is also paintable to make it blend in even better.  It is about the size of a sheet of paper as well.

Mohu Leaf Digital TV Antenna

Mohu Leaf Digital TV Antenna

Putting aesthetics aside, it actually works too!  We are able to pick up 43 channels in full HD.  We didn’t have HD service with cable, so this is a step up.  The best part is there are no ongoing costs for this.  We’ve been pleasantly surprised with how many good programs we’ve been able to watch that we didn’t even know existed before.

We also decided to jump into the content streaming market.  There are several devices on the market that stream video content directly onto your television including Apple TV, the Boxee Box, and Roku.  We chose to go with Roku.  We picked up a Roku 3 Streaming Media Player directly from Roku for $100.  There are other models that may work for you for as little as $50.  There are no ongoing costs for this either.  Dozens or maybe hundreds of channels are available (some have a monthly subscription cost).  Some are very good, others not so much.

My favorite free Roku channels:

  • VideoBuzz — This channel allows you to easily stream YouTube videos directly onto your TV. [UPDATE:  VideoBuzz is no longer available, so if you have any suggestions on a new way to watch YouTube videos on TV, please leave a comment below]
  • TED Talks — This channel shows videos of hundreds of presentations from TED conferences.  I find many of them to be fascinating.
  • TWiT — This Week In Tech Channel has tons of shows available all about technology and computing.  You can also live stream some of their shows.
  • — This one could be a stretch as far as free goes.  You can buy a yearly membership to get a bunch of advanced options.  I need my baseball fix once in a while and gives you access to a free game every day.  They choose the game, but it is still baseball and it is still free.  Local blackouts apply, so if the free game features my home team I can’t watch it until it’s over.

Subscription Options

Along with the free channels, there are many channels with paid subscriptions.  The most popular channels are Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video.

I think Netflix has the best selection of content and at $7.99 per month, it could be a great deal for you.  It is the only paid service we have subscribed to.  I have found lots of shows that are worth watching.  It will take me years to go through it all if they don’t add another bit of content to the library, which isn’t the case.

Hulu Plus is also $7.99 per month and does have a lot of content available.  I’m not particularly interested in most of it.  They also have some weird restrictions that prevent you from watching certain shows on the TV.  You can stream them on your computer, though.  Seems strange to me.

Amazon Instant Video comes with a paid Amazon Prime membership.  This gives you access to lots of free content and gives you the opportunity to pay for individual episodes or full seasons of several shows.  We thought about doing this, but I just can’t see enough value to pay the $80 per year to the Prime membership.  Maybe someday, but not now.

Cost Breakdown

We bought an antenna, and Roku 3, and a new cable modem (so we don’t have to rent one from the cable company.  These 3 items cost a total of $200.

Our high speed internet access costs $50 per month.  We purchased a Netflix subscription for $7.99 per month.  Our total monthly cash outlay is less than $60.

Our monthly TV and Internet bill dropped from $165 to $58.  The new equipment will have paid for itself in only a couple of months.  Not too bad!

Are you thinking of cutting the cord?  What’s stopping you? 

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About Raun Lauterbach

Optimistic realist, life enthusiast, outdoor cook, Midwest traveler, husband, father... Follow me: Twitter | Facebook | Get updates in your email
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  • John Hogan

    A cheap computer with an HDMI port running XBMC media center software, a $20 usb remote, and an HDMI cable.

    XBMC has Add-ons that aggregate content from other websites into 1 interface. A few common add-ons are Youtube, Best of Youtube, TedTalks, Vivo, Hulu, Reddit, Liveleak, TWiT, MLB, NBA, CBS News, Fox News, and a few hundred more.

    Do some searching on youtube for XBMC if you want to have a look at how it works there are a ton of videos and tutorials out there.

  • Raun Lauterbach

    Thanks John! That’s great information. I did a quick search as you suggested and it looks pretty slick.

  • Allan Dubon

    I love this trend. When my wife and I made the switch we were almost shunned by our friends lol. We were so weird. We dropped our $80/mo dish bill and moved to $8/mo NetFlicks account and an antenna. We love it. Now we are doing a lot of “consulting” on the matter to our friends and relatives 😀

  • Raun Lauterbach

    That’s awesome, Allan! Keep consulting! So far, we’re very pleased with the transition. What has come as quite a surprise to me is that we’ve spent a lot more time watching regular over-the-air channels, especially PBS. We’d been missing out by having cable!

  • Josh Bulloc

    We have never been big spenders for cable but I feel we are getting fleeced for the internet though and there is very little competition in a market because each company has to lay their own lines. Hopefully I can get google fiber soon and have TV and normal internet speeds free for 7 years if I pay the $300 install fee.

  • Raun Lauterbach

    That would be a sweet deal. I agree that the cost of high speed internet seems high. I could switch to one other company that would cost a bit less, but I also hear they are less reliable, so that doesn’t necessarily seem like a great idea.

  • Josh Bulloc
  • Raun Lauterbach

    Very interesting…

  • Anonymous

    Hey thanks for posting this – I absolutely am cutting the cord. I have a question for you, do I need to get an antenna? I bought 3 of the Roku’s and will buy a cable modem to save that charge. Any modem suggestions? Thanks – posted this on facebook and got all my friends talking about doing the same thing!

  • Raun Lauterbach

    The answer to that is “it depends.” Some TV’s, especially newer ones, come with the capability to receive over the air channels. If yours do, then you don’t need one. If you don’t plan on watching over the air channels, you don’t need an antenna. You can always try switching your TV to “antenna” mode and scan for channels. It’s entirely possible that it will pick up something. You’ll have to decide if that’s good enough for you. If not, get an antenna. They can be pretty inexpensive.

    As far as cable modems go, check with your Internet Service Provider. We have Comcast locally. They have a website that gives a bunch of different options for cable modems. I looked through the options and found one I liked. I bought a “like new” one on Amazon for about 50 bucks if I remember correctly.

  • Anonymous

    Hi – well I am getting an antenna – the same one you got for $40 on Amazon. I got Netflix and Amazon Prime and did not need a modem because my cable company supply’s it complimentary with the service. I have read a lot about this now but yours was the first and the inspiration! I am saving $1200 a year by doing this – as a single mom that is significant! Thanks again for taking the time to write it all out! Love my Roku!

  • Raun Lauterbach

    Very cool! I’m glad you found a good solution! Enjoy!

  • UncleDave

    We are looking seriously at ‘cutting the cord’ as you have done. Can you tell us why you chose Roku over Apple TV? Is there simply a comfort zone? Or do you shun the Apple environment for what it is?

  • Raun Lauterbach

    I did look at the Apple TV, but didn’t find anything particularly compelling to make me choose it. I don’t have anything against Apple. My wife and I both have IPods that we enjoy. I basically just liked what I saw with Roku and saw they had a new model out that looked pretty good.

    We cut the cord at the end of March and I don’t foresee us going back. I keep finding new Roku channels that have lots of good content. My current favorite one is the PBS channel. Lots of good shows on demand. I’m also looking at the possibility of getting an Amazon Prime subscription, but I’m on the fence about that.

    Let me know what you decide to do!

  • Stephen

    If you buy a handfull of items from Amazon, as my wife and I do, prime will pay for itself in shipping upgrade costs with video being an added bonus.
    Thanks for posting this it’s been a great starting point for our own cord cutting.

  • Raun Lauterbach

    That is a good point, Stephen. Prime can pay for itself pretty quickly. One of these days, I’ll probably go for it. :)

  • Cheryl Carter-Shotts

    Grandma NEEDING to save money by cutting cable. Checked out the Roku 3 but don’t see CNN, MSNBC & HGTV on Roku. Will an antenna pull them in? What about ABC, CBS & NBC – I assume an antenna pulls them in? Am I correct – each TV in the home needs a Roku & an antenna? Thanks, Cheryl

  • Raun Lauterbach

    No, CNN, MSNBC, and HGTV will not be pulled in by Roku or an antenna. It’s possible that they’ll add channels to the Roku system at some point, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.

    ABC, CBS, and NBC should all come in with the antenna depending on how far you are from the transmitter. Check out to verify that you’d get those networks. There are also several other over the air stations that we pick up and you might as well.

    The antenna we have is for a single tv. You may be able to find a whole house antenna, but I’m not well versed in those. Good luck to you, Cheryl!

  • Mark Judd

    Cutting the cord sounds so tempting. What about commercials? Does the ROKU still have commercials? We are addicted to our TIVO and the ability to fast forward through commercials. If there are commercials can I fast forward through them? We are also addicted to the morning news shows, is there a way to stream CBS using ROKU? I called the local TV station trying to get a way to stream their TV over my internet connection and they said there was no way. The old type antenna is great, but I can’t fast forward, record, rewind or skip commercials with it.

  • Raun Lauterbach

    Hi Mark! Thanks for stopping by. Are there commercials on Roku? Well… yes and no. It depends on which Roku Channels you subscribe to. For example, Netflix doesn’t have any commercials. The PBS Roku channel has the normal pre- and post-show sponsor ads. Some of the independent channels do have some commercials, but they are typically run before the show starts and then there are no interruptions.

    The major networks do appear to have their own Roku channels [!browse/news-and-weather/by-popular] — what you get with those, I’m not sure. I would suspect short clips from the shows, but not necessarily the whole thing.

  • Matt

    Any suggestion for live football? That and FX are the main reasons we haven’t left Directv yet, if we can find a viable workaround we will drop it like it’s hot (which we probably will anyway).

  • Raun Lauterbach

    If you’re an NFL Ticket kind of guy, you’re probably out of luck. I watch a game or two on Sundays using the antenna. Thursday night and Monday night are unavailable. FX has some shows on Amazon Instant Video, so your favorites might be there.

  • ThinkPink414

    Since you wrote this a few months back I thought it’d be worth mentioning hulu plus at $8 a month has a ton new programs added. I was going to cancel my subscription and they told me “just bare with us for another month and you’ll be happy with the changes.” I decided to bare with them and glad I did because there is almost always something worth watching. They’ve even added quite a bit for kids. Maybe worth some of you checking out again.

    Also there is “chromecast” by google. Its a wifi dongle/ connector that hooks up to tv through hdmi port and connects tv to wireless router. It enable your tv to connect wireless to internet and watch unlimited netflix, hulu, youtube, and amazon on tv while using smart phone, pc, or special remote to control it. You can also use it to search the internet on your tv.

    You asked about youtube… Ps3, ps4, xbox1, xbox 360, wii-u, chromecast, and a dvi to hdmi convertor for pc to tv connect- with wireless keyboard/mouse, are all options to enjoy youtube, amazon, netflix, hulu, etc.

    There is also a tivo type box out or coming out that will record live ota channels but I cant remember the name.

  • Raun Lauterbach

    That’s some great information! Thanks for sharing! We just added Amazon Instant Video and have enjoyed it so far. The user interface leaves something to be desired, but it’s alright. I’ll have to take another look at Hulu plus. I just saw a commercial for Chromecast last night — now I’m curious. :)

  • M. Jones

    Thank you so much for creating this posting site. I am the more financially conscious one in my family so cutting the cord is something I am passionate about. Recently we went from $160.00/month for phone internet and cable to $200. I am trying to convince my husband that cutting the cord is feasible and he will adjust in no time. His biggest free was the lack of football. I made a deal with him to use a small portion of our annual savings towards a date night fund so we are able to watch our beloved Cowboys at any local sports bar of his choosing. Hopefully, I will be reporting soon that we are cord free and loving it. Thanks again this was excellent information and easy to understand for a non tech savvy person such as myself who was some what confused about where to begin. :)

  • Raun Lauterbach

    That’s an awesome solution with multiple benefits! Be sure to let me know how it goes for you. :)

  • T. Willis

    There is also a private channel called “Aereo” that you can sync with all devices that will give you network channels for $8 if you are out of range of an antenna.

  • Dave

    You did not mention TiVo -I have been looking at used units. Why didn’t you mention it? Is it that different than roku?

  • santino parfiono

    You didn’t mention using your android phone for watching movies and TV for free and it’s legal bc its paid for by advertisements b4 each show or movie. You have alot of options but I use showbox and movie hd as a backup. All you have to do is purchase an android hdmi cable and hook it up to your tv. Download showbox.apk or movie hd.apk or playbox.apk and install. Your nternet provider will not throttle your bandwidth bc you are not stealing and/or downloading torrents. I also recommend that you use a wifi box in your home so you can stream unlimited without additional fees from your cell company