After thinking about cutting the cord for a few months I decided to finally do it. Most of the shows my family watches are available on networks we can get via antenna at my home according to TVfool.com:
I was mainly interested in the networks: ABC (UHF 38), NBC (UHF 48), CBS (UHF 51), FOX (VHF 13), CW (VHF 11) and PBS (VHF 9). A lot of these carry not only network programming , but additional programming on subchannels. I also wanted independent UHF channels KZJO (UHF 25) for Antenna TV and KFFV (UHF 44) for MeTV, Movies, Heroes & Icons and Decades networks.
Looking at the charts above I faced a few challenges. Most of the channels I wanted were broadcasting from the same compass location (a good thing), but Channel 13 was not. Also channel 44 was listed as red, which meant it could be difficult to pick up at my address. I also live in deep suburban Western Washington, with a lot of hills, not a RF friendly environment.
I tested different antennas and mounting locations over the last few weeks to get the right blend of performance with athletics. I started with a basic $36 RCA yagi antenna purchased at a local Walmart hooked up to a single TV as a proof of concept. Not much thought went into it, other than it was the only antenna available locally on the night I wanted to dive in:
It only pulled in 27 out of the 59 possible channels, about half of which were ones I wasn’t interested in: foreign language, shopping and religious channels. I was not getting CW, PBS, FOX (all VHF channels), CBS or UHF channels 25 and 44 even when I manually aimed it in the direction of the transmission towers. This antenna that might work well in a flat area, or much closer to the transmitters, but wasn’t suitable for my location. It did confirm that I could get reception at my house and that broadcast HD looked good.
I then took the plunge and purchased a Winegard 8200 based on reviews. It’s what I would consider a “classic” roof antenna, a 14″ long combination UHF/VHF.
This was not the fault of the antenna, but the fact that I couldn’t aim it properly due to my roof trusses. I’m sure based on reviews that I would get much better performance if it were mounted on a pole on the roof properly aimed. Unfortunately this won’t pass my wife’s curb appeal test.
I then bought the Antennas Direct DB8e as its their best performing UHF antenna, and its compact form factor would allow me to install and aim it in the attic.
Its essentially two of their DB4e antennas with a combiner. In addition to having twice the coverage of the DB4e, if you are trying to pick up stations from different directions you can aim each of the two panels independently. I installed it at the far North end of the attic closest to the transmitters.
Because I was able to aim the elements I was able to pick up the additional UHF channels I was looking for, but the signal was hit or miss depending on the weather or time of day. This antenna was UHF only so I didn’t get any VHF stations. I talked to Antennas DIrect support and they recommended I try their $20 VHF Retrofit Kit antenna to get Fox, CW and PBS.
I wasn’t able to get any of them in my attic with the Retofit Kit. The transmitters were too far away. My only other option was the ClearStream 5 dedicated VHF antenna.
I tried installing it in the attic aimed toward the channel 13 transmitter. I picked up a weak signal on channels 9 and 11, but nothing on 13. I realized that our roof mounted solar panels could be interfering with the signal, so I hooked up a 100ft long piece of coax between the antenna and a TV with the signal strength meter visible and took it up on the roof. There was still no signal, so that eliminated the solar panels as a problem. On the roof I noticed that there were two clusters of large trees at the end of my street. I moved the antenna onto the backside of our garage roof which was lower and was able to find a spot where I could line up between the trees and get a great signal. It was very close to the where our satellite dish was mounted on the side of the house.
This turned out to be an ideal location, as there was a grounded mount and coax cable already there. It was also on the back side of our garage roof so it wasn’t really visible from the front of the house. The satellite mount J pipe had a 2″ outside diameter. I found an adapter that would allow me to connect a 1 3/8 pipe (used as a chain link fence top rail) to the mount. I bought a fence rail covered in black vinyl at Lowes, removed the dish and installed the adapter and pipe.
I test mounted the two antennas and a Stellar labs UHF/VHF combiner to the pole and after fine tuning the aiming, ended up with 59 channels, including all the ones I wanted. A thunderstorm rolled in during the process and I was pleased to see that I kept great signal strength throughout the storm.
After testing, I pulled the pole and antennas down to install new coax between the antennas and combiner with the waterproof boots and to trim the top of the pole with my Sawzall .
Only the very top of the upper antenna is visible from the front of the house so my wife is happy, its hidden from the neighbors behind the hedge so they are happy, and I have all the channels I was hoping to get so I am happy. The only loser is DirecTV who will no longer be getting our money.
I took all the coax that was connected to the DirecTV splitter and connected it to an Antennas Direct distribution amplifier.
I wanted a DVR so we could still record and skip commercials. I was initially looking at the Tivo Bolt, but wasn’t thrilled about having a monthly fee and the expensive hardware. I asked other HTF users what they use and ended up going with the 4 tuner 1 TB Amazon FireTV Recast paired with Fire TV Stick 4ks. I’ve been using the setup for a week now and it works great. I can even stream live or recorded TV to my phone using the Fire TV iOS app. The only downside is that you can only stream to two Fire Sticks at a time. Normally that is not a problem in our house, but that is why I made direct antenna connections to each TV as well. That way if there is a major event: Superbowl, Oscars, etc, we can have the live signal on more than two TVs.
Cutting the cord is easier with streaming entertainment. We have Hulu (which I will probably drop later this summer), Amazon Prime and just got Netflix for free (thanks to T-Mobile), so we aren’t missing DirecTV at all. My only regret is not doing this sooner.
Have you cut the cord, or are considering doing it? Did your experience match mine?