Best Alternatives to Satellite TV and Cable
Life without Satellite TV or Cable
Television has come a long way in the past several decades, and it seems impossible to go without cable or satellite these days. Some people younger than 40 may have trouble believing it, but there was a time not so long ago when most homes only got the three main networks, and maybe public broadcasting.
There was no cable TV, and the signal came via an antenna mounted on top of your house. Sometimes if you wanted to change the channel, you had to move the antenna too!
Then came cable, and suddenly we had dozens of channels instead of four. It seemed to snowball from there, to the present day where most homes get hundreds of channels via a satellite or complicated cable setup.
This is great for some people, especially families with kids of different ages who are all interested in different channels. But for others it might be a little overwhelming.
The Decision to Leave the Dish Behind
In my home it is just my wife and I. We had a popular satellite system installed a few years back, and grew increasingly frustrated with it as the months passed. It’s great at what it does, but we only watched a handful of our 18-bazillion channels.
In other words, we were paying for a lot of channels we didn’t watch or want. In some cases we were paying for channels that went against our personal beliefs and lifestyle, and would never have financially supported if given a choice.
There were other channels we would have liked but did not get, and to see those channels meant signing up for a more expensive package, which, of course, meant paying for even more channels we did not want or need.
We were simply paying way too much for too many channels we did not want, and not getting access to what we did want. Unfortunately, there really is no alternative to the huge packages satellite and major cable TV networks force you to sign up for if you want to use their service.
It would be nice if you could pick the twenty or so channels you actually want and just pay for them, but it doesn’t work that way. They lock you into a contract, and you get what they give you and you like it.
When our contract was up we decided we’d had enough. But how could we still have some kind of access to the shows, news and sports we wanted?
This is how we did it.
Did you know there is free TV floating around out there right now, just bouncing around for anyone who wants it?
It’s not like the grainy, sketchy over-the-air signals you might remember, from way back in the olden days.
This is high-definition television.
If you have a high-definition TV, in most areas all you need to receive over-the-air programming is the proper antenna.
Some people who live close to broadcasting towers can get by with a small antenna in their living room. Others, like me, might have to mount a more powerful antenna on the exterior of their home or roof.
With our antenna we get around 20 channels: CBS, NBC, FOX, ABC, all of our local stations, several PBS stations, a kid’s network, a shopping channel and a few other channels with general programming.
And it is all 100% free, in high definition.
Of course we had to buy the antenna and the cable, but it was only a fraction of what we were paying for one month of our satellite package.
With the antenna you’ll get your local news and weather, plus the major network TV programming. If you’re worried about being cut off from the world if you get rid of your cable or satellite, it doesn’t have to be that way!
This is the antenna we ended up using. It gets a clear HD signal from towers 20+ miles away from our home.
This indoor antenna will work well if you live within a few miles of a broadcast tower. It's easy to set up and comes with an amplifier to boost signal.
Setting Up the Clearstream 2 HDTV Antenna is Super Easy!
What About My Favorite Shows and Movies?
Without your fancy TV hookup you might miss the movies, documentaries and reality programming available on some of the networks that do not broadcast over the air.
This was one of our major hang-ups as well. We don’t really watch a lot of major network TV, but we do love shows on networks like the Discovery Channel. How would we get our MythBusters fix?
Fortunately there is a cool device called the Roku that saved the day. It’s a tiny little box that connects wirelessly to your household internet service, and with it you can receive hundreds of special channels on your television.
Using the Roku, we subscribed to services like NetFlix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. They’re inexpensive to join, and you get access to thousands of movies, and hundreds of TV shows you would see on the major networks or cable networks.
You can also sign up for Sling TV. which will give you access to many of the channels you'll miss without satellite or a cable connection. More on that in a bit!
Many of the channels on the Roku are free and do not require a subscription, so you don’t have to sign up for anything if you don’t want to. You can still watch movies and shows through free channels like Crackle.
You can also watch programming from FOX News and NBC News (though not in real-time) without having to subscribe to anything, and there are cool channels like NASA TV, TED and Pandora Radio that don’t cost a dime.
The Roku is a fantastic little device, and even if we were going to keep the satellite we probably would have got one. Without the satellite or cable, it really fills the void.
Even if you decide to keep the cable or satellite, Roku is great for watching movies and shows. And it costs a whole lot less than a year of cable or satellite service.
Learn What You Can Do With Roku
Once you've got your Roku or other streaming device set up you may want to check out Sling TV. We've been using it for a few months as I write this, and I am definitely happy with it. Sling TV is live, streaming television. You can get channels like History, ESPN, NFL Network, Travel Channel and CNN in real time, so you can watch sports, news and much of your favorite cable programming.
While I like Sling TV quite a bit, there are cons here. There is a cost to it, so if you are looking to go totally free this isn't the way. But it is much, much less expensive than most satellite and cable services. You are also relying on your internet connection for service, so if you lose internet you lose your access to Sling TV. And, if you don't have a great internet connection to begin with, the quality of your picture won't be so great.
I do think the positives greatly outweigh the negatives, though, at least for me. Sling TV comes at a great price for what you get. As of this writing prices start at $20 a month for their Orange package. We get both packages for $40 a month and that gives us around 50 channels. Including our HD antenna channels, we get something like 70 channels in total, no satellite or cable required.
You also get (mostly) channels you'll actually watch. Unlike satellite, where for every one channel you've heard of there are three shoved at you that you don't want. Sling gives you very few oddball channels you've never heard of, and many of the big names you know you'll watch.
For me, the combination of the HD antenna, Roku and Sling TV gets me about 95% of what I need from satellite for a much less expensive cost.
More Ways to Watch Sports without Cable
Finding a way to watch sports was a big issue for me, NFL football especially. With the antenna I’ll get the NFL games broadcast on the major networks every Sunday, but that still leaves a few games every week I won’t be able to see. If you’re not a huge NFL fan you might not get the problem here, but surely many football fans see where I’m coming from.
As for other sports, the antenna is actually better than the satellite for my local teams. So many games were blacked out with the satellite, and they did not have the rights to the channel that broadcasts all of my favorite baseball team’s games.
To see my favorite hockey team I had to upgrade to a special package, and if any of my teams happened to play on a channel I did get the game was blacked out.
Sling TV solved this problem almost entirely for me, but in the past I had subscribed to NFL Game Rewind on NFL.com. You get to see every NFL game on your computer, including the post-season, but you can’t watch the games until a designated period after they are over.
So, if you absolutely must be the first person at the watercooler talking about a game this might not be the package for you, but for my purposes it is perfect.
MLB.com has a similar product called MLB.tv I may try next season for baseball, and that one is actually available through the Roku. NFL Game Rewind and MLB.tv aren’t cheap, but you get a lot for your subscription.
And, a year subscription to each individually costs less than a month of what we were paying for our satellite service.
Don’t forget, there is also ESPN online where you can keep up with all the latest sports and watch clips from SportsCenter and other shows. Plus, just about every major network, and every sport, has a website packed with news, clips and scores.
If you’re a big sports fan it might make you nervous to be without cable or the satellite, but there are ways to cope if you have other good reasons to ditch the satellite.
Taking the Plunge
It’s easy to feel trapped by the policies of major satellite and cable companies, and the whole industry seems to be working together to make sure consumers get squeezed for every buck. It would be nice to see a company give the consumer better options and pricing, so we could get more of what we wanted and not have to pay for things we don’t.
I don’t think that will happen as long as people are willing to pay jacked-up prices and accept what is given to them. And, there may be reasons it isn’t even possible.
For my wife and me, our decision was not made for financial reasons but we’re still seeing a benefit. Even with the cost of the antenna, Roku and various subscriptions, we’re still going to save close to a thousand bucks over the course of the next year. And, we have the peace of mind of knowing we’re only paying for what we want, and can quit at any time.
Satellite TV and cable might be exactly what you need when it comes to home entertainment, and you might find it worth the price. When it comes down to it, we’re all responsible for ourselves. Only we can decide if their system is in our best interest, and worth the cost.
There is nothing wrong with satellite and cable. Just know there are other choices.