Fellow Cord-cutters: Tell Me About Your Ota (over-the-air) Setup

Discussion in Phone, Internet & TV started by Caffe • May 20, 2016.

  1. Caffe

    CaffeNew Member

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    We cut the cord completely about three and a half years ago, and do not miss cable TV at all. More than that, we really do not miss paying three figures a month for hundreds of channels we never watched,

    Of course, putting together the "perfect" OTA system has been a challenge, but one I enjoy working on, immensely. I'm always searching for new ways to enhance our setup, and always fiddling with new configurations. I'd love to hear how your system is set up; I hope we can exchange a few ideas.

    Here is what we have today:

    1) One flat-screen smart TV (which we keep "dumb," as we have no desire to become slaves to the "Internet of Things") connected to its own antenna (an inexpensive, flat RCA wall model, which, for reasons I cannot explain, works better than the first flat wall antenna I ever purchased, a more expensive Mohu Leaf).

    2) Separately, a small outdoor antenna which we keep indoors, near the ceiling (it's so windy where we live, it would never last outdoors). To enhance the signal further, I have attached a spider-like array of copper tubing. This antenna is connected to a desktop computer, which runs NPVR (formerly NextPVR), a very sophisticated, but totally free, easy-to-use software program that is essentially a DVR for PCs (thus, "PVR"). NPVR allows us to to watch TV live (on the PC monitor, or I can direct the signal to our smart TV via the hardwired LAN that connects all the computers in The House), and, most importantly, record TV digitally to one of the PC's hard drives.

    (I keep separate antennas for the TV and the PC so we can always watch TV, one way or the other, in case something goes haywire with the PC.)

    With an EPG (Electronic Programming Guide, broadcast over the air -- which, admittedly, is only as good as each TV station broadcasting it), NPVR lets me see what's on ahead of time, and schedule recordings based on the EPG. Or, if I can't find what I'm looking for via the EPG, I can manually set NPVR to record a program I know is on at a specific time (much like the way we used to do it with old-school VCRs).

    Those are the basics. How do you have your OTA/free-to-air system set up? Do you use NPVR, or some other free (or low-cost) software for your "DVR-ing"?
     
  2. Pat

    PatWell-Known Member

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    I just got a digital box for the tv with an antenna joined Netflix and I am good. The internet on the computer keeps me current with the few things I do like to watch on tv. I don't look at much tv so do not see the need for cable and the bill that comes with it.
     
  3. Caffe

    CaffeNew Member

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    You certainly can't beat Netflix on price! We had a Netflix account when we still lived in the suburbs, but now that we are in a rural area, our Internet access is through NetZero (via one of those tiny, wireless, portable modems). While NetZero is our most affordable option, we've had to sacrifice a lot of heavy bandwidth usage, so streaming online is, for the moment, out.

    I understand that Netflix is working hard on decreasing the amount of bandwidth used, while T-Mobile offers a more or less unlimited-bandwidth plan specifically for streaming video. That's out for us as well, as we use (and love) what we call The Old People's Phone Plan: Consumer Cellular. (Plus, we can't imagine watching more than a few minutes of video on a cell phone -- and I haven't yet bothered to figure out how to direct a video stream from a phone to our main TV.)

    However, we feel the lack of streaming options is compensated by the TV networks we can pull in over the air, including several good movie channels, such as Get TV, This TV, and, most recently, Comet TV. The movies are chopped up and bleeped, but we're pretty good at figuring out what the censors are bleeping. :)
     
  4. Diane Lane

    Diane LaneWell-Known Member

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    Ugh @Caffe@Caffe you hit a nerve with the censoring thing. I wish there were two versions of television, one without bleeps and one with them, for those who choose to be censored. I find it very distracting to have all of the 'objectionable' language bleeped out when watching movies on network television.

    I still haven't cut the cord, although I'm still planning to. I had a plan in place, but then a medical emergency depleted my funds, and it'll be a while before I can get set up the way I want to, prior to cutting the cord. Which antenna are you using? I have some older ones, but I'm not sure they'll be sufficient, although like your area, mine experiences a lot of wind gusts that mean I'll also use an antenna indoors, rather than outside, mounted on the house or roof.
     
  5. Caffe

    CaffeNew Member

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    I hear that, @Diane Lane@Diane Lane! Are you old enough to remember a time before the so-called "Family Viewing Hour" the FCC mandated in the mid-1970s? I am (I say, as I hide my grey hair under my hat). I believe that all started with the Linda Blair made-for-TV exploitation flick, Born Innocent. Yet, it was after that, that PBS screened "Scared Straight" -- which knocked me off my chair with profanity I had not heard since my unawares parents took me to see The French Connection when it hit theatres in '71.

    But I digress (as usual).

    My sincere sympathy (and empathy) to you -- I know all too well what "medical emergency" plus "depleted funds" add up to.

    Still, maybe this would be the best time of all to cut the cord -- and to get creative. Since cutting the cord, and after doing a lot of reading about antennas, it occurred to me that I had all the equipment I needed to build a slick antenna, without ever having to buy a thing. Which leads me to...

    I'll bet you already have everything you need, especially if you already have a few unused antennas hanging around.

    At first, I bought a Mohu Leaf, which worked very well when we still lived in the suburbs. When we moved to the country, the Mohu didn't work so well, so I fell back on an RCA multi-directional, flat digital indoor antenna. RCA has released several new models since I bought mine about three years ago, but the cost for a new one today shouldn't be much more than fifteen dollars.

    The RCA antenna is connected to our TV; I bolted it to a wall about seven feet off the floor, and it works just fine -- as long as I have it pointed in the right direction -- for us, about NNE. (More about directions in a moment.)

    Our PC-TV system (which does all our recording) is connected to a cheap outdoor antenna (which remains indoors), to which I attached some spare copper tubing -- and here is what might give you some creative ideas for your own indoor antenna, at no cost:

    Copper is great; silver is excellent; gold is the best of all. Of course, most of us do not have access to enough gold to build an entire antenna. But think about what sort of silver (or even aluminum) you may have lying around the house. My first homemade antenna, I made out of half a dozen forks (yes, as in silverware) from the stash of a dearly-departed great aunt. I bound the handles together with spare, copper speaker wire I'd had lying around for many years, in a sort of clock (or dartboard) pattern.

    When the silver forks were secure, I wound some extra copper wire around the handles and then through the tines, and then finally ran a strand of copper wire from this crazy configuration directly into the coaxial receptor in the TV.

    The quality of the reception was beyond my expectations. We were able to pick up consistent signals from up to 60 miles away -- and, on a skip in inclement weather, as much as 250 miles away.

    Since then, I have incorporated the fork-and-copper-wire design into the cheap-o outdoor antenna (which we keep indoors, again, due to the wind), and we couldn't be happier. We do have to re-scan channels as the weather changes, but that's a small bother, especially when we remember how much money we're saving with over-the-air.

    Oh, yes! I almost forgot to mention getting your antenna in the right direction. For this, I highly recommend the site TVFool.com. As much as it would help to know your exact longitude and latitude (there are many sites that will find it for you; just Google), you can just enter your Zip code, and TVFool.com will show you the OTA channels you can get, depending on the height of your antenna (and how many mountains or other obstacles may be in your way).

    All you need to do is experiment -- and enjoy!
     
  6. Diane Lane

    Diane LaneWell-Known Member

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    Haha @Caffe@Caffe You way overestimate my technological capabilities. I would probably end up electrocuting myself if I tried to make my own antenna. I think my antennas are Terk antennas, probably from about 6 years ago.

    You're right, I may just end up cutting off the TV before I go much further. I had yet another conversation with them the other day. I'd forgotten to request a refund for 3 days of no service. I let them know I didn't appreciate having to make the call, that refund should have been automatic when they realized they'd charged me and accepted payment for services they hadn't provided. I again asked about discounts, and their response was to give me free HD for a month. I don't have HD, because that's an extra monthly charge. Basically, all they did was improve my signal, which is nice, but doesn't pay the bills.

    They make it very difficult to compare options. I used to be able to go to the site and the plans and costs of them were visible, but now it's all hidden, and you have to call and actually speak to someone, for hours it seems, just to determine which changes you want to make to your plan. I'm really over it. I've actually been reading more lately anyway, and am thinking I might just do without it for a while. It concerns me that it's Hurricane Season, but I'm sure I'll get breaking news reports online if something comes into the Gulf.
     
  7. Caffe

    CaffeNew Member

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    @Diane Lane@Diane Lane

    Ah, but what if you're underestimating yourself? :)

    Really, about the only way you're going to electrocute yourself with an antenna is if you're standing outside with it during a lightning storm. Even I'm not that brave. LOL

    In truth, I understand your apprehension. Everything electrical comes naturally to me, while I am a complete idiot when it comes to plumbing. I love being independent, and I hate having to hire a plumber for anything, but I'd rather do that that run the risk of flooding the house. Still, I think I could probably do most minor plumbing jobs... if I could convince myself I could.

    Ugh! Thanks for reminding me of yet another reason (besides the cost) I'm so glad I don't have to deal with a cable company any longer. It's a game they play -- they seem to expect to hear from a certain percentage of customers every X months, and the call-center flunkies are allowed to sweeten the deal with free HD, or a six-month reduction in rates, or whatever else isn't going to break the company, just to keep stringing the customer along... like a drug dealer. ("The first one is free, but then it's gonna cost ya...")

    And there's radio, too. For emergencies, we depend on radio as well as online news, including a Facebook site a local set up so townspeople can connect and keep one another informed of anything unusual going on (because our three local TV news stations are absolute rubbish, even if there's an imminent flood, or a raging wildfire coming our way).

    BTW, it does my little heart good to hear someone out there still reads! :)
     
    #7Jun 1, 2016
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2016
  8. Diane Lane

    Diane LaneWell-Known Member

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    Yes, and have you seen that they will be limiting data on home internet now, the way cell phone companies have been controlling content for years? AT&T just joined Xfinity in doing that, in an attempt to keep people tethered to their cable packages.

    Well, you've inspired me @Caffe@Caffe, I dug out the antennas yesterday. I have one in each room up here now, hooked them up to see if they still worked, and how many channels I could get. I can't get CBS, but I did get ABC, NBC, Fox, CW, and a few others. I still need another for downstairs, but for now, I could do without that, since I have a blu-ray player down there for Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, etc. I'd rather have at least another antenna and one more roku first, but I'm still really irritated with the provider, so it could happen any day now.

    Yes, I love to read, always have. I never even bothered to subscribe to cable TV until it pretty much became mandatory, after things switched over to digital. I think perhaps NBC has beefed up their signal, because it used to be difficult to receive via antenna here, but I'm not seeing anything at all from CBS, which is disappointing. I've found that the more television I watch, the less I read, and the more I read, the less television I want to consume, so cutting the cord could be a gray cell booster. I've been 'buying' free books for my Kindle app, and they're piling up, and my brain is itching to be more stimulated, so it's probably only a matter of time.
     
  9. Caffe

    CaffeNew Member

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    Oh, yes, they've been doing that for a long, long time. That's why we were paying outrage fees for "unlimited" Internet access -- which translated to: "unlimited, until you use up a certain amount of bandwidth (and we're not going to tell you how much bandwidth that is -- isn't this fun?), after which, we'll throttle your speed down to... well, do you remember 1200-baud dial-up modems? Have a nice day!"

    Our big mistake, when we were still tethered to the only cable/Internet monopoly in the 'burbs, was switching from Comcast (read: BAD) to AT&T U-Verse (WORSE), solely to knock down the monthly price.

    On the bright side, maybe it wasn't a mistake at all, because AT&T's "service" was so much worse, it triggered me to go off the deep end and announce to my family (I didn't ask my loved ones, but told them -- and thank heavens my family trusts me so much) that we were cutting off the cable parasites completely, and going to 1) OTA for TV and 2) a cheap wifi alternative for Internet. (At first, we went with Clear for $25/month; now, since we've moved out into the boondocks, we're using NetZero, which is almost as cheap, but lets us buy more bandwidth if we need it.)

    If I could find an applauding emoticon, I would use it! Kudos, Diane! :D

    Now, you're in Texas, right, in the Gulf? I bet dollars to doughnuts you'll be able to pick up all the major networks (including CBS), if you can get your antennas (er, antennae?) pointed in the right direction -- assuming, of course, you don't have any major obstacles between you and the television towers. Again, do check out TVFool.com -- and grab a handheld compass -- you may be surprised at how shifting your antenna set-up just a degree or two one way or the other will suddenly bring you signals you never knew you could receive!

    You realize now, I hope, that since you've embarked on this adventure, I am so gonna be cheering you on, and wanting to hear about your latest OTA discoveries... right? ;)

    As one who buys and sells books (printed books) for a big chunk of my income, "Kindle" is a dirty word -- unless you're buying "free" Kindle books. LOL My better half has a Kindle, and we too take advantage of what we can get for free -- but I just can't derive the same satisfaction from the Kindle as I do from turning actual pages in a printed book. But I'm an old, stubborn cuss, so... It's not you, it's me. LOL