Smart Television: How to cut the cable cord yet get more for free

flat screen television

The center of the smarthome is often the SmartTV. Once your smarthome is safe and comfortable, you can relax and watch television in peace. As prices rise on everything from eggs to gasoline, many more people are getting serious about saving money on their cable and streaming bills. Even though you pay for cable to gain access to network television programs, when you try to save money by cutting your cable entirely, you find that you’ll need to purchase a subscription to YouTube TV, Fubo, SlingTV or Hulu to gain access to network programming, especially if you love football.

While these services are pretty good, they cost around $65-$95 per month (eliminating all of your savings of cutting cable in the first place), yet still show commercials over traditional broadcast networks like Fox, NBC, ABC and CBS. That got us thinking: with all our other paid services like Prime, Netflix, HBOMax, Disney+ and AppleTV+, why are we paying for the privilege of watching commercials on television programming which used to be free?

Our first attempt to gain access to free, over-the-air (OTA) network television consisted of building crude antennas using a coat hangar and two soda cans (spoiler alert: it works!) but required us to build and connect an antenna to each television and adjust its position for different channels like it was 1974. What we really wanted was the ability to watch live TV on every SmartTV in our house, pause live TV, and maybe even record live TV, just like any of those expensive paid services above.

After much homework, we discovered HDHomeRun, a device that allows you to stream free OTA live TV over your home network. It is a tiny box with multiple TV tuners that connects to a single TV antenna (maybe in your attic) and plugs into your home network via its Ethernet connection. Once the connection is established, you use the free HDHomeRun app to scan for available channels in your area.

The HDHomeRun app is available for many SmartTVs like LG and Samsung, and has free iOS, Android, Windows and MacOS apps so you can easily watch live TV on any device in your home such as smartphones, tablets, and computers. And all this is free so you never again need to pay an additional monthly fee for the privilege of watching live TV.

As a bonus, we’ve found that the OTA signal quality is often much better than what you previously paid cable to deliver. With advancements of ATSC 3.0 (aka NextGenTV) your picture quality will be better than anything you can buy today. Did I mention this was all free?

What about recording live tv?

HDHomeRun sells a subscription plan called HDHomeRun DVR, which costs a very reasonable $35 per year (that’s less than $3/month.)  In addition to watching over-the-air broadcasts, it enables recording of over-the-air and cable TV lineup using your home network. First, you connect an external storage device (such as a hard drive) to the HDHomeRun box. Then, you use the app to search for upcoming broadcasts and select which ones you want to record. HDHomeRun will then automatically record the selected broadcasts and store them on the external storage device.

After that, live and recorded content can be watched from any media device. The HDHomeRun DVR service doesn’t require an always-on PC (or media center software) and it even works with network attached storage (NAS) devices including the popular WD My Cloud products.

While there are less expensive versions, this HDHomeRun box has 4 tv tuners and 2 of them receive ATSC 3.0 signals. This means this one box can support 4 people simultaneously watching or recording different television programs at the same time and is the one we use ourselves everyday:

Full disclosure, I haven’t yet used the HDHomeRun DVR service because I’m using my lifetime Plex TV DVR service, but don’t yet have enough experience to recommend this combination.

How can you find what free channels are available in your area?

To find out what channels you can view using just an antenna in your area, check websites such as AntennaWeb, TVFool or TheFreeTVProject. These websites provide detailed information about which channels can be received in your area, as well as information about the signal strength of each channel. This can be useful in determining which channels you can view or which antenna you need to buy.

What are the advantages of OTA broadcasts vs cable or streaming services? 

Obviously, the main advantage of OTA broadcasts is that they are free. Unlike cable and streaming services, you don’t need to pay a monthly fee to access the channels. This can save a significant amount of money over the long term. Another advantage of OTA broadcasts is that they provide access to a wide range of local channels and sometimes programming which is unavailable any other way. For instance, I really did think I time-travelled to the 1970s when one of the first programs I watched for free on OTA channel 5.2 was an episode of Let’s Make a Deal starring Monty Hall. I now know I can watch all my local news and sports that are either not available on streaming services or cost too much to justify. Finally, with a good antenna, OTA broadcasts are reliable and don’t require an internet connection. This means you won’t have to worry about buffering or other issues that can arise with streaming services.

Sum it up for me!

In summary, you can cut the cable cord and still get access to everything you are looking for. HDHomeRun and a SmartTV allows users to access local channels and streaming services, giving them a comprehensive viewing experience without needing to pay for another monthly service package. Furthermore, the cost of both devices is significantly lower than the cost of cable, so users save money while still gaining access to their favorite shows. And did I mention the picture and audio quality is often much better…and it’s all free!?

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