The cost of cable and satellite TV service continues to rise. You may have hundreds of channels to choose from, but how many do you watch? Can you cut the cord?
That's the question a young couple in Detroit asked themselves as they prepared to move into their first house. Like many Americans, Brandt and Ashley Malone were looking for ways to reduce their monthly expenses. Cable seemed like a good prospect, but the couple wondered if they'd be happy without cable TV.
They decided to make the switch to Internet TV.
"It's a change in media consumption. You go from having a cable company or television company dictate your viewing habits to actively choosing what you want to watch," Brandt Malone said.
The Malones could have bought a pricey Internet-connected TV, but took a do-it-yourself approach instead.
"At one point I was poking my head behind our TV and noticed there was a VGA jack, similar to what we have on our computer," Malone said. "I brought the desktop out and hooked it up to the TV, and magically we had turned our 1080p 46-inch flat screen into a huge computer monitor."
After Malone made the connection between the computer and TV, he and his wife began watching free content from YouTube, Hulu, ABC.com, and movies Malone had downloaded to the computer's hard drive. They added a Netflix subscription for $8 a month.
Watching sports has been their biggest challenge, but they've learned to be resourceful.
"We've gone to sports bars to watch playoff games, gone to friends' houses, and I've had to listen to radio," he said.
While Internet-only may work for some families, there is a middle-ground approach.
You may be surprised to learn that new indoor antennas are cheap, easy to install and offer the reception of old-fashioned rooftop monstrosities.
For instance, the Mohu Leaf is a plug-and-play antenna that screws into the antenna/coaxial jack on a TV, mounts to the wall and then just scans for over-the-air channels on the TV. It is currently available on Amazon.com for $44 and will be rolled out to major retailers this fall.
The Leaf is about the size of a piece of computer paper and just as slim. It can be concealed behind a picture, bookcase or just about anything placed against a wall within six feet of the TV connection.
Headquartered in Raleigh, NC, Mohu is a spinoff of GreenWave Scientific, a company that builds antenna systems for Ground Mobile and Unmanned Ground Vehicle platforms for the U.S. Navy and Joint Forces. Similar technology is used in the Leaf.
Check for channels
Before you cancel your cable service, you'll want to check for channels that you'll be able to receive with an antenna. The Leaf is comparable to an outdoor antenna mounted 30 feet in the air, according to Mohu.
Go to Antennaweb.org, click "Choose an antenna" and fill in all of the address information for the most accurate results. Select whether or not your house is close to four-story or higher structures. If you live in a single family house, choose "Single Story." If you live in an apartment or other multi-storied building and your unit is not located on the first floor, choose "Multiple Stories." Click "Submit" and "Continue" if the location is correct.
A list of stations will appear. Note that only primary stations are displayed. Most stations also broadcast secondary stations, so you will most likely receive many more stations than those listed.
For best reception, place the Leaf on the wall where signals will be received. To check, click on "View Street Level Map" on the station list page referenced above. You'll see the same Google map page with your house, plus letters that indicate where broadcasting stations are located along with lines that connect the stations with your house. Place your antenna and TV on the wall indicated by the point where the lines converge.
Like any antenna, whether it's for television or a wireless router, it should be placed off the floor.
Once you've connected the antenna, your last step is to use your remote and scan for channels. You'll find this in your HDTV's setup menu. Look for "scan for channels" or "auto tune" and your TV will reprogram itself with available channels.
The average monthly cable bill in the U.S. is $75 -- that's $900 a year. High-speed 4G home Internet service costs $45 a month from Clear, add a Netflix subscription and you'll still end up saving around $264 a year.
Of course, some families who already have high-speed Internet will enjoy the full savings from cutting the cable cord.
And if you've got kids in the house, you may be pleasantly surprised at how pleased they will be with the Internet TV-antenna combination.
Ogden-based TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question for TopTenREVIEWS? E-mail Leslie Meredith at firstname.lastname@example.org.