Video Rebel, Part 3: Kill your cable, get HD for free over the air

How could I possibly abandon cable TV? Outside of satellite, isn’t that the only way to get clean HDTV signals into the home? Light bulb over the head! Why not get out an old antenna and see if our HD- and antenna-friendly TiVo Series 3 can receive any of those digital television (DTV) channels in the airwaves? The TiVo is equipped with two DTV tuners in addition to its two CableCARD tuners, so might as well put them to good use. (If you’re not a TiVo user, any modern TV can receive DTV signals.)

I’ll show you what happened in my grand experiment to abandon cable TV. Would receiving TV broadcasts the old-fashioned way work out? Could I save $45 per month and get better-quality TV reception at the same time? Hit the Continue jump to see how this picture looks.

First, determine if you’re a candidate for off-air viewing. Think of the TV channels you actually watch. After taking a look at what we video rebels actually watch around here, I realized I don’t watch many cable TV stations, especially ratings-starved propaganda channels such as Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, those dumb home shopping channels, or the constant drone of MTV or VH1.

philips_antenna_right.jpgNext, I rummaged around and found this Philips PHDTV1 antenna pictured at right, a $22 jewel that isn’t amplified but acts like it is (if you don’t like this one, almost any antenna, even rabbit ears, will do). To my delight, eight digital broadcast channels came in so perfectly clear, at first I thought I was dreaming (if you want to see how good your reception will be, AntennaWeb can give you a good idea). I could immediately see the astonishing difference between what the networks were sending out free to everyone via our publicly owned airwaves, compared with the mess Time Warner was spewing forth through those money-sucking coaxial pipes. Off-air signals gave me crystal-clear HDTV reception with no more blocky compression artifacts, dropped frames or glitches.

Better picture, free reception, less compression? Bye bye, Time Warner Cable. Bolstered by the confidence that I could still find lots of the cable shows we do watch available for download online for free, I decided to take the plunge. Plenty of original cable shows are available online anyway, something I found out last week as I browsed the Net looking for free HD.

But as plentiful as online video gets, my experience has convinced me there will always be a place for off-air broadcasting. For big events like the Super Bowl, it's much more practical to send out the show across the airwaves to everyone simultaneously rather than offer individual streams. Yes, there’s still a future for broadcast, if you can receive it.

We’re not done with our quest for life without cable or spinning removable discs, either. Stay tuned for the next Video Rebel episode, where we cobble together a home theater PC to bring the Internet into our home theater.

Video Rebel, Part 1: Cable TV, you’re fired! Netflix, you too
Video Rebel, Part 2: Free HD download guide
Video Rebel, Part 3: Kill your cable, get HD for free over the air
Video Rebel, Part 4: How to turn an old PC into a home theater monster
Video Rebel, Part 5: Download mania! Netflix, Apple TV, Xbox, Amazon Unbox and Vudu compared
Video Rebel, Part 6: BitTorrent and the dark side of downloading