TV Cord Cutting for Dummys

If you arrived here via search engine, my first post about TV cord cutting addresses WHY you will want to do this.

Now here’s the nuts and bolts of cutting the TV cord.

If you want to cut the TV cord and retain the ability to watch live broadcast TV you need the first item – An Over-The-Air (OTA) TV Antenna.

For the antenna I use the Winegard 6550 Flatwave ‘Air’ antenna.    I chose the Winegard because it is HOA-friendly (about 12 inches by 12 inches)  The Winegard website has a good tool where you type in your address and it tells you which channels to expect, but YMMV.    My second choice would be the Amazon Basics Amplified Outdoor Antenna.

You can also use the OTA broadcast models on TVFool.com, which I think are more accurate.  Using the propagation models on  TVFool.com, you should be able to pull in stations with a Noise Margin (NM) of greater than 0dB without resorting to exotic means.  Here’s what a typical TVFool.com printout looks like after you type in your address:

TV Cord Cutting for Dummys
In my case, I expected to pull-in the first 19 rows of channels (NM > 0 dB), which was pretty accurate

Here’s what my roofline looked like before and after removing our Dish and replacing it with the Winegard Flatwave Air:


 

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With Dish (Before)
TV Cord Cutting for Dummys
Winegard Flatwave Air Installed
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Dish Removed

As you can see, I did a drop-in replacement by removing the Dish and inserting the Winegard Flatwave Air.  I even re-used the Coaxial wiring.  I had to use to some spacers/shims as the J-Pole mount on the eaves was designed for a fatter diameter tube (was 1.75 inches, the Winegard tube is 1.25 inches dia.).

Also in my case, the Dish was wired to a whole-home coax distribution panel, not some cheeseball installation where they drill a hole in the wall next to your favorite TV and then insert the coax cable through the hole in the wall (Don’t feel bad- I’ve been there with a previous home satellite installation).

So that takes care of the antenna.  The next item is a whole-home DVR.  If you want to cut the TV cord and retain the ability to DVR your favorite broadcast TV shows, you need a second item-  A DVR with an OTA TV tuner.

In my case I chose the Nuvyo Tablo whole-home DVR, with a Western Digital Elements 2TB Hard Drive for storage:

TV Cord Cutting for Dummys

 

Everything else in your home will be dictated by details based on your proximity to TV stations and how well your house is wired to distribute the signal from a TV antenna.

If you have a home that is not wired for Cable TV in every room (ie it’s not easy to distribute the feed from an OTA antenna throughout the whole home via Coaxial cable), here’s the setup I recommend:

TV Cord Cutting for Dummys
Tablo DVR Setup – Whole Home NOT wired to an exterior antenna (note Tablo Hard Drive omitted).

If your OTA antenna is not wired to a whole-home Coaxial network, Use the 4-Channel Tablo (above) as your ‘live’ TV Feed throughout the home.  Tablo hooks up directly to your OTA antenna, then ‘broadcasts’ the content of the Tablo DVR and Tablo Tuner throughout your home via ethernet or WiFi through your router.  There is no video (ie HDMI or Component Video) hookup between the Tablo to a TV.  Ever.  Also note that Tablo can be used as a ‘whole world’ DVR using TabloConnect over the Internet when you’re away from home.

 

If you have a nice setup where you can connect an outdoor OTA antenna directly to a Coax distribution panel and then pipe the OTA antenna feed to your whole home via wired coaxial cable, use a 2-channel Tablo DVR and set things up as below:

TV Cord Cutting for Dummys
Tablo DVR Setup – For a multiple rooms that have TV pre-wired to an outside antenna.

In this case, you only need a 2-Tuner Tablo DVR as you can watch live TV anywhere in the home using the ‘old school’ method of actually using a television’s built-in OTA tuner and tune to a TV channel (btw, it’s true- pure OTA Broadcast TV in its uncompressed form looks spectacular – Better than what you see over Cable or Satellite. You will be able to tell the difference right away).   In this setup, you’re only using the Tablo as a pure DVR and only as a TV tuner ‘in a pinch’ or if you want to watch live TV on a connected device other than a TV (like an iPad or Computer).

You’ll probably also need an in-home TV ‘distribution amplifier’ to boost the TV antenna signal through the 100 feet or so that runs between the outdoor antenna and each TV location (you lose 2 to 6 dB of signal in 100′ of Coax cable run).  My choice was the Channel Master CM-3414 8dB Distribution Amplifier:

TV Cord Cutting for Dummys

Again, YMMV.  You may not need a distribution amp at all or you might want to find a 10 dB amplifier.

Minutiae:

– It may take a few tries to figure out how to boost the OTA signal within the coax wiring in your home (keep your amplifier and antenna receipts).  Make sure your Tablo DVR is as close to the OTA antenna (ie shortest possible run of coaxial wiring) as you can place it.  Recording garbled signals instead of your favorite show on your DVR sucks.

– In my case, I did a ‘dry run’ by placing the antenna on a mop handle on my upstairs balcony and wiring the Coax Cable directly to the back of my TV (10 foot cable run) just to see what my best case scenario would be for channels.  Write down what channels you get so you have a ‘Benchmark’ when it’s time to try and push the OTA TV signal through the whole house via long coaxial cable runs.

– Tablo is a really slick product.  To figure out of the 2- or 4-Tuner Tablo version is best for you, here’s the Tablo help page that steers you towards the right choice.  Note that watching a previously recorded show inside your home (ie on your home network) does not use any of the Tablo built-in tuners.

– The Tablo Live TV browsing experience has some latency built-in (ie it is slow).  If you’re using Tablo as a TV Guide (and to watch Live TV), the ‘channel surfing’ experience you are used to with Cable/Satellite will be slower.

– I strongly recommend hard-wiring (Ethernet cable rather than WiFi) between your Tablo and the router. I also recommend you do the same (if possible) between your Roku devices and the Router.   If there’s no ethernet port on the Roku, you can do this using a USB-to-Ethernet converter like this one.  This prevents you from getting the long ‘buffering’ delays when you load a recorded show.  If you can’t hard-wire ethernet between a Roku and the router/Tablo, the next best choice is to connect Roku to your router using a 5GHz WiFi channel rather than the 2.4 GHz ‘junk’ band WiFi channels (2.4 GHz is slower and sometimes has more interference with your own devices and your neighbors’ connected 2.4GHz WiFi devices).


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