I cancelled my cable TV service today, only retaining the 5-MB internet service. No more HDTV via cable, no more digital cable TV, not even basic analog cable TV. I decided to stop wasting about $60 per month on such services since I get almost all of my audiovisual entertainment these days from internet podcasts or Netflix DVD rentals, and increasingly can find the rare TV show worth watching via the internet, by renting a series on DVD, or through BitTorrent sites.
So I decided to revert to over-the-air broadcast television, which is free once you’ve installed your antenna and a receiver. But now it is digital broadcast television, which is a great improvement on the old analog system that will go off-air in February, 2009.
In my case, I already had a VHF/UHF television antenna pointed toward Tulsa strapped onto my home’s chimney. I put it up back in 1995 so I could pick up Star Trek Voyager, which wasn’t being carried on my local cable system but was on analog broadcast. It was quite a chore to pound the grounding rod eight feet into the ground and strap up and wire the antenna, but it did work. The effort seemed wasted when a week or two later they started carrying Voyager on cable; I never used the antenna much after that.
But this week I bought a refurbished Samsung digital TV receiver box from an online reseller and hooked it up to my old weather-beaten antenna. Now I can enjoy eleven useful digital stations on my TV – I won’t ever watch the six religious channels and one children’s channel I can also pick up on it.
The stations all come in very clear, which is a relief to us old farts who grew up on analog broadcasts with their ghosting and interference patterns. Digital transmissions include error correction, so pretty much either come in great or not at all.
Better yet, I can pick up NBC, CBS, PBS, FOX, and MyNetwork TV in 1080 high-definition, the same resolution as an advanced Blu-Ray or HD-DVD disc. (I haven’t found a way to pull in the ABC affiliate’s digital signal yet, which I believe is carried on a VHF instead of a UHF channel. Oh, and purists will note that the advanced video discs can output progressive video to a top-notch television, while the broadcast version is interlaced, but my older HDTV can’t show progressive 1080 signals anyway.)
I even get a weather channel, since NBC’s Tulsa affiliate runs a full-time sub-channel with constant news and weather info. And I get a free program guide, since digital shows include the necessary data for my set-top box to convert into the same kind of guide a cable box will create.
What is particularly interesting is that the broadcast high-definition shows I’ve received thus far appear to be of better quality than the high-definition channels I used to receive via cable. Why? The cable company may be squeezing down the bandwidth to fit more channels on their system, or they could be having trouble processing the signal for their system. On cable’s HDTV stations I’d often see macro-blocking , signal delays, freezing, and other visual annoyances. But so far the over-the-air broadcasts are quite clean and clear.
My next challenge is to figure out the best way to record the broadcast shows for time-shifted viewing. I really liked having a DVR on the old cable box and would hate to have to go back to recording tapes on my old VCR. I have an older DVD recorder, but it is ridiculously difficult to hookup and operate. So I plan to buy a little plug-in HDTV tuner for my laptop computer. Then I can also hook it up to my antenna and use the computer itself as a DVR. I already have a little converter to output the computer display to my television using component video. I can easily pay for the extra tuner with the $60 a month I’m saving.
This cost-saving measure comes after I recently ditched Ma Bell after a lifetime of usage. I cancelled my AT&T landline phone and replaced it with a limited-service Vonage internet phone. I can still use my cordless house phones, still have caller ID and voicemail and the rest, and my new number is unlisted so I never get interrupted by beggars from various charities or annoying politicos or marketers. And I don’t have to keep the cell phone charged and my Vonage phone has 911 location capability.
Being cheap never felt so good!