Cutting the paid TV cord Parts 1-4, July 7 – August 14, 2022


Cutting the paid TV cord Part 1

Cutting the paid TV cord Part 2

Cutting the paid TV cord Part 3

Cutting the paid TV cord Part 4


Cutting the paid TV cord Part 1

July 7, 2022

This is gonna be a long one so I’m breaking it into multiple columns because there are LOTS of ways to “cut the cord” (i.e. drop your satellite/cable provider). There are free services (IPTV is just one of many alternatives), paid services, and there are still the old over-the-air (OTA, i.e. use an antenna) alternatives. And, with all of these alternatives, there are ways to record shows. We’ll try to get into ALL that but it will take a while and a fair bit of reading on your part.

First, I want to go back to last week’s column and maybe clarify a few things. My apologies for being so late getting my column’s links onto my website. The folks that I pay to “host” my website (i.e. they provide the computers and storage and Internet access from one of their installations) went down HARD for about 5 days which means I didn’t have access to my site to enter all the info. I’ll be changing providers in the near future so, hopefully, that won’t happen again.

Next, I have some favorite Bluetooth headphones/headsets/earbuds. I have quite a few because, well, it’s like a hobby for me. And the ones I have I tend to use for a specific purpose. My favorites for TV

https://go.ttot.link/TVOpenEar1
https://go.ttot.link/TVOpenEar2
https://go.ttot.link/TVOpenEar3 and
https://go.ttot.link/TVHeadphones

I prefer any of the first three because I can still hear what’s going on around me but often use the 4th simply because of latency (yes, it can be an issue even with headphones made for low latency).

When it comes to headsets for telephone/Zoom/Skype/Facetime/etc I prefer https://go.ttot.link/Plantronics5200 but it’s kinda pricey. Nearly as good but a bit more fragile and a LOT less expensive is https://go.ttot.link/5200WorkAlike.

For music I rotate among the various quality headsets I have but my current favorite in earbuds is https://go.ttot.link/AnkerLiberty3. They’re sorta expensive but they go on sale often.

Resuming cutting the cord – there are a number of ways to watch what you want.TV stations have moved to a digital transmission format which travels farther and is of better quality than the old over-the-air (OTA) transmissions. I’ll discuss that a bit next week but this week I’m going to discuss free streaming movie and TV services.

Undoubtedly you’ve heard of most of the big subscription-based streaming movie and TV services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Paramount+, Hulu, Sling TV, YouTube TV. But did you know there are a LOT of free streaming services? They typically don’t provide the ability to record any programs – you either watch live or watch one of their on demand movies or shows but if a program is playing or is gonna play and they DON’T have that particular item available on demand, you’re out of luck if you can’t watch it live.

One of my favorite free services is Plex TV (https://go.ttot.link/PlexTV). There’s a lot to see there so be prepared to explore. Among others, they have The Hallmark Channel, an NBC News channel, Bloomberg Television, Reuters, Today All Day, and a TON of local channels from all over the country plus movies both on demand and movie channels that shows movies on a schedule (Hallmark tends to be one of those). And they have one of my favorite channels – AXS TV. It’s a channel about music that shows concerts, interviews (Dan Rather interviewing Crosby, Stills, and Nash is excellent!), shows, and movies about music and artists.

Another one of my favorites is Pluto TV (https://go.ttot.link/PlutoTV). It has quite a few live TV channels including news from CBS, CNN, and Sky News. Also, Sports, Music, Classic TV (Dick Van Dyke, Happy Days, etc) PLUS On Demand movies and TV shows. If you create a free account you can pick your favorite channels and they’ll be easily available.

While live Pluto TV seems to concentrate on CBS stations, Tubi TV (https://go.ttot.link/TubiTV) presents Fox and ABC in their live TV section. For live sports they have Fox, NFL and MLB plus a few others. If you’re a sports fan, you might want to check them out, And, of course, they have a selection of movies and older TV series along with some original content.

Those are 3 of my favorites. All have apps or you can use their website and if you explore them fully you’ll be busy for quite a while. But there are many many others which you can find by searching for “free TV streaming”. One article that is a good starting place is https://go.ttot.link/CNetFreeTV – I also referenced that article in my IPTV column back in May.

You’re all probably aware of some of the paid streaming services but did you know that some also have a free tier? They’re ad supported so you’ll have to sit through ads every so often but they can be a great free alternative since they are all legitimate, established streaming services. Some are mentioned in the above-linked article and I’ll mention a few here, too.

Sling TV has a free, ad-supported service at https://go.ttot.link/SlingTVFree with live news from, among other sources, ABC and CBS, plus QVC, AFV (America’s Funniest Videos), Bon Apetit. Again, lots to choose from. And, yes, they have an app or you can watch on their website (and you can cast from the app – remember Chromecast?)

Freevee (https://go.ttot.link/Freevee) is a free streaming service from Amazon (it used to be known as IMDB TV prior to Amazon buying them). Being from Amazon, you’d think you could escape the commercials with an Amazon Prime account…but you can’t – ads pop up every so often and you can’t skip them. Freevee’s shows are all on demand – no program guide. You select what you want to watch and watch it. The selection is a bit limited as there are some movies/shows that are free if you have Amazon Prime (but you still have to watch ads), otherwise you have to purchase them. But the free selections aren’t bad. Old TV series like Bewitched and All in the Family and newer ones like Chicago Fire. The newer ones tend to only give you one episode for free so be aware of that before you get involved with a show.

Peacock (https://go.ttot.link/PeacockTV) is another paid service that has a free tier. It’s NBC so they have NBC shows/channels like Saturday Night Live and Dateline, plus channels for classic TV (e.g. Columbo), and even a Hell’s Kitchen channel. Many of the channels are also available on demand but, again, be aware that some may only give you one or a few episodes for free.

Can you replace your paid cable or satellite service with totally free services? I’ll give a qualified ‘yes” but you’ll have to work at it and likely have to wait if you want to see many of the currently broadcast shows.

Next week I’ll continue “cutting the cord” – options for replacing your cable provider with one or more free or paid services. There are a LOT of options including installing an HDTV antenna to pick up over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts from your local TV stations. I’ll discuss that next week.

That’s it for this week. Note that my intent with these columns is to spark your curiosity, give you enough information to get started, and arm you with the necessary keywords (or buzzwords) so you’ll understand the basics and are equipped to search for more detailed information.

Email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, whatever at tony@TonysTakeOnTech.com and don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L – it should be updated shortly after this column appears online.


Cutting the paid TV cord Part 2

July 14, 2022

Last week I only covered a few of the many many free TV streaming services. If you have a Samsung TV, smartphone, or tablet you can download Samsung TV Plus (https://go.ttot.link/TVPlusDownload) or you can watch on the web at https://go.ttot.link/TVPlus. It has over 100 channels – the list for US customers is at https://go.ttot.link/TVPlusChannels and it includes CBS and ABC news, Bloomberg TV, HSN, QVC, and Hell’s Kitchen.

Crackle TV at https://go.ttot.link/CrackleTV is another free streaming service. It has older TV series like Alf and Barney Miller and some British series like Sherlock (with Benedict Cumberbatch) and older as well as lesser known (to me at least) movies.

Roku, the streaming device maker, even has a free channel you can watch on the web at https://go.ttot.link/FreeRokuChannel. Like these other free services, you’re not gonna get the latest and greatest content but they have a decent selection of the older stuff for free.

This week I’m writing about probably the least expensive ways to watch not only your local channels but quite a selection of other channels. How? With an ANTENNA! I’M SERIOUS! Stop laughing! Since June 13, 2009, TV stations have been required to switch to digital broadcasts. And if your TV was made in 2006 or later, you can probably pick up those digital broadcasts right there on your TV. Digital has the benefit of not degrading quality as you get further from the broadcast tower – if you can receive the signal it should be just as good for you as for someone living much closer to the tower. You may need to invest in an antenna and, often, an indoor antenna is all that’s required but if you want to get fancy and maybe pick up more stations you can install an outdoor antenna.

Why do I say you can get a selection of channels besides your usual local stations? Digital broadcasts require less of their allotted frequencies so many stations use that extra space to broadcast additional channels on from 1 to 18 “virtual channels” or “subchannels.” So, in addition to WKRC from Cincinnati, you will also get The CW https://go.ttot.link/TheCW, Antenna TV https://go.ttot.link/AntennaTV, and Comet TV https://go.ttot.link/CometTV as they’re all broadcast by WKRC on subchannels. They’re typically shown as – or .>subchannel>. WKRC is channel 12, the CW is 12-2, Antenna TV is 64-2 (WKRC provides some services to WSTR which is on channel 64 which might explain why Antenna TV shows up there).

What stations can you pick up? There are several sites where you can enter your address and it will tell you what you can likely receive, often along with a signal strength and antenna recommendation. AntennaWeb at https://go.ttot.link/AntennaWeb can do it as can OTADTV at https://go.ttot.link/OTADTVTowers. Just enter your street address and the site will do all the work for you and even include a map! Note that TV stations list as their address the location of their studio, not the location of the tower they use to broadcast their signal. Here in the San Francisco bay area, the towers for some stations in San Francisco and Oakland are actually on top of a small mountain well outside of San Francisco and Oakland so don’t dismiss broadcast TV just because you think you’re too far from the station! Use one of the websites I’ve listed and see what it says.

Your TV can’t pick up digital signals? No worries! You can get a digital tuner that plugs in to your TV for not a lot of money. Magnavox makes one for just under $70 at https://go.ttot.link/DigitalConverter but there are many that cost half that – just search for “digital TV converter.” Some even have recording capabilities so you can record your favorite show and watch it later. If you don’t want to plug it into your TV you can get adapters for your PC (https://go.ttot.link/TVTunerForWindows) and even YOUR ANDROID PHONE (see https://go.ttot.link/AndroidTVTuner). I’ve just ordered the Android item and will try to give a brief rundown on its usefulness next week. For fun, here’s a review of that phone accessory https://go.ttot.link/AndroidTunerReview. Also, AARP has a decent article on digital TV including some antenna recommendations. See https://go.ttot.link/AARPGuide.

If you’re really interested in getting rid of cable/paid TV and you don’t mind dealing with nerds, I suggest you give https://go.ttot.link/RedditCordcutters a look. Reddit is a good place to follow lots of topics including tech. I follow quite a few “subreddits” which is what they call the areas devoted to specific topics like “cordcutters.” Of course it’s an online community and, like all online communities, they have their share of disruptive individuals, commonly called trolls, but each subreddit has people who have volunteered to act as moderators and eject the trolls.

Going back to the question I asked at the end of last week’s column, can you replace your paid cable or satellite service with totally free services? Being able to pick up your local broadcast channels for free certainly helps! I still give it a qualified “yes” but with broadcast digital it becomes easier, don’t you think?

Next week I’ll again continue “cutting the paid TV cord” and discuss some well known and even some not so well known paid services.

That’s it for this week. Note that my intent with these columns is to spark your curiosity, give you enough information to get started, and arm you with the necessary keywords (or buzzwords) so you’ll understand the basics and are equipped to search for more detailed information.

Email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, whatever at tony@TonysTakeOnTech.com and don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L – it should be updated shortly after this column appears online. My links tell me that I’m getting some international readers – France, Belgium, and Germany in particular. If you’re an international reader, drop me a quick note and say HI!


Cutting the paid TV cord Part 3

July 28, 2022

First, let me apologize for not producing a column last week. My current web site hosting provider was not performing to my expectations. My site was unreachable a lot of the time or just very very slow to respond. Since my site is where I keep the live or clickable links referenced in my columns, it meant that you needed to type in the short link and, to my mind, that was unacceptable. So I undertook a move to a new hosting provider. Normally that’s not a bit deal but for some reason it’s taking much longer than expected. Rather than delay my column another week, I’ve decided to go ahead with this week’s column and hope my old provider remains up and stable.

Let’s review what we’ve covered so far in cutting the paid TV cord. While I didn’t relate it specifically to cutting the paid TV cord, IPTV in the first column certainly applies. The next column discussed how to watch those channels on your TV as opposed to your computer/phone/tablet. The column on June 9 listed a few options for streaming video to other devices (Amazon Echo and Google Displays). The July 7 column is where we really started digging in to cutting the paid TV cord, discussing totally free services and a few services that are paid services with free tiers (often with reduced content or advertising or both) along with ways to listen without bothering your partner. The July 14 column addressed Over-The-Air (OTA) TV – broadcast TV that can be picked up with an antenna. And it’s not just your local channels! Many stations also broadcast other content alongside their primary station.

In this column we’ll explore some PAID (gasp!) services. Why? Well, honestly, I feel that some of these services provide good value for money. Many have the ability to record shows for later viewing, even setting up recurring recordings so you don’t have to remember to record Jeopardy!

There are paid services that specialize in live content. They often provide you local broadcast channels along with other channels that are typically considered cable only (i.e. not broadcast over the air but delivered by your cable provider). A few examples are ESPN and its associated networks, The Food Network, Nickelodeon, and The Weather Channel.

There are paid services that tend to specialize in movies and older broadcast TV. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are two examples. They have some original content and some offer TV series from other countries (which I often find very interesting!).

Then there are services that are owned by ‘stations” or “channels” like HBO. They tend to feature movies that are only available on that service (Game of Thrones on HBO Max, for instance). Some other examples are Peacock TV (NBC), Disney+ (Disney).

So, what should you sign up for? Of course, it’s up to you but I recommend evaluating your favorite TV and movies and going with a selection of services that covers your interests. If you’re a fan of Marvel and Star Wars then consider Disney+. If you’re a sports fan maybe consider a service that includes ESPN. And always remember you can cancel and restart services so you’re not locked into a whole year of a service because you only like one or two shows.

OK, let’s dig in to a few services. One that’s popular is Sling TV (https://go.ttot.link/SlingTV). It has 3 “packages,” 2 which include a few different channels (ESPN, for example) and a third package that includes ALL the channels. And all packages come with 50 hours of DVR storage so you can record your favorites to watch later. It does NOT include local broadcast channels except (some markets include Fox and NBC) so you’ll need an antenna or some other method to watch your local news shows. If you want to add Showtime, it’ll cost you an additional $10/month. And, as I said earlier, they have a totally free tier so you can sample their quality. For a good review and rundown of Sling’s services, check out https://go.ttot.link/SlingReview. That article has links to good reviews of some other services, too.

Another popular, but more expensive service is YouTube (review at https://go.ttot.link/YoutubeTVReview). At $65/month with unlimited DVR it’s probably what I would choose with Sling a strong second but they don’t have AXS TV (https://www.axs.tv/), a channel that broadcasts concerts and music-related shows which i watch a LOT so if I went with YouTube TV I’d have to find a way to add that channel using yet another service.

The last one I’m going to cover this week is Hulu with Live TV (good review at https://go.ttot.link/HuluLiveTVReview). At nearly $70/month it’s more expensive than YouTube TV but comes with Disney+ and ESPN Plus BUT it includes commercials ($5/month removes them). 200 hours of DVR storage is included and the recorded shows won’t disappear for 9 months.

Are these all of the cable replacement options available? Heavens no! They’re 3 of the most popular. There are plenty more and I encourage you to revisit that first link in this column (https://go.ttot.link/SlingReview) and read some of the other reviews and comparisons.

Next week I’ll again continue “cutting the paid TV cord” and discuss a few non-live services like Netflix and HBO Max and talk about how to keep all these shows from all these different services straight.

That’s it for this week. Note that my intent with these columns is to spark your curiosity, give you enough information to get started, and arm you with the necessary keywords (or buzzwords) so you’ll understand the basics and are equipped to search for more detailed information.

Email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, whatever at tony@TonysTakeOnTech.com and don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L – it should be updated shortly after this column appears online. My links tell me that I’m getting some international readers – France, Belgium, and Germany in particular. If you’re an international reader, drop me a quick note and say HI!


Cutting the paid TV cord Part 4

August 18, 2022

I want to thank you all for bearing with me while i changed hosting providers. It took a LOT longer than anticipated but, hopefully, downtime is a thing of the past.

On the subject of free broadcast OTA (Over-The-Air) TV, Nextgen TV (also known as ATSC 3.0) has been rolling out nationally. It enhances the quality of digital OTA broadcasts by adding 4K broadcasts, HDR (High Dynamic Range) which allows for a wider range of colors, deeper blacks and whiter whites. See https://go.ttot.link/NextGenTV for a more complete explanation of ATSC 3.0

Recently I was away from home for a week so I took that opportunity to actually USE many of the services I’ve written about in the past few weeks. All functioned as expected, including the free ones, but I found that trying to keep track of where to watch the networks and shows I wanted was … difficult at best. No single free service provided access to everything I wanted to watch. And I could find no app nor website that brought together all the program guides from all the free services into a single searchable program guide. I have not cut the paid TV cord myself and that is the main reason I haven’t. If you’re a very casual TV viewer who watches news, PBS, old movies and maybe one or two old series you might be able to get by but, for many of us, TV is something we rely on for entertainment. There ARE services that help keep track of movies and series across broadcast and subscription services, including the iconic TV Guide (yes, it exists as an app now). In general you tell the app how you receive TV (over-the-air or one of the paid TV options like Dish or our cable provider) and which streaming services you use. The app “knows” which channels are available and allows you a limited amount of customization (delete, rearrange, and favorite channels) and presents the program guide, typically in channel order listing shows by the hour or half hour. For the “on demand” services like Netflix which don’t have fixed program schedules, the apps tend to show you the most popular titles. You can set up a “watchlist” and if a program is broadcast at a particular time you can often set up to be notified before it starts.

This is all fine if you have a broadcast provider (e.g. OTA or cable) but if you use a streaming service like Pluto TV (from the July 7 column https://go.ttot.link/PlutoTV) which streams certain shows at certain times you’re out of luck. The ONLY place that I could find to see the program guide and schedule was in the Pluto TV app. If you’re satisfied with using just one service it’s not a problem but if you use 2 or more you’ll need to find a way to keep track on your own of what is on which service and channel. That is what I dealt with during my time away from home and it was incredibly frustrating.

Moving on to my intended topics for the week which are 1) on demand services (e.g. Netflix, HBO Max, Apple TV+) and 2) how to keep track of what’s on which service.

It can be really difficult to decide which on demand service to subscribe to. I’ve found movies and series that interest me on just about every service. My favorites? Apple TV+, Paramount+, and Disney+. They’re my favorites because I can almost always find a series or movie I want to see. Disney+ has Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar/Disney. Paramount+ has blockbuster movies plus the new Star Trek series as well as new CBS content; And as far as I’m concerned, Apple TV+ has some of the best original content available anywhere (For All Mankind, Ted Lasso, The Morning Show, Foundation).

Apple TV+ costs $4.99/month which you can cancel anytime. Here’s a good rundown of the service https://go.ttot.link/AppleTV

Paramount+ has two plans – $4.99 per month with ads or $9.99 per month commercial free. You get a discount for a yearly subscription but if you’re really looking to save money you’ll likely want to subscribe and cancel as shows come and go. Here’s a good rundown of the service – https://go.ttot.link/ParamountPlus.

Disney+ announced a rate hike beginning in December of this year. With ads becomes $7.99 per month and ad free becomes $10.99. I still think it’s worth it because I’m a Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars fan. And they have “bundles” – you can add Hulu or ESPN+ for a discount over subscribing to them individually. Yes, there are discounts for a yearly subscription if you’re interested but, again, if you really want to save money you’ll subscribe and cancel. Here’s a good review https://go.ttot.link/DisneyPlus.

Now that you’ve signed up or are planning to sign up for several on demand services, how do you keep track of what’s available on which service? And when you hear about a new series or movie, how can you remember to watch it? Yes, there are apps! Google TV (https://go.ttot.link/GetGoogleTV), as an app, can keep track of movies and series you are interested in with a “watchlist.” I find its interface to be too cluttered with graphics for me but it’s a good, free app that’s available for Android and iOS.

I have two that I use regularly – they each have their strengths and weaknesses and both have apps for Android and iOS. TV Time (https://go.ttot.link/TVTime) has a good, clean interface with a calendar so you can easily see when a new episode will be available and you can mark individual episodes as seen. It has a number of “social” features which allow you to see what friends are watching but, honestly, I don’t use those features. You search for shows and movies, put them on your watchlist and can keep track of what you’ve seen and what you still want to see.

The other one I use is actually an online database with multiple apps that make use of it.The site is Trakt TV. It’s free but if you pay $30 per year you get VIP benefits (https://go.ttot.link/TraktVIP) which may or may not interest you. I’ve signed up for VIP and am quite happy with it., You can use their website or use one (or several) of their many apps (https://go.ttot.link/TraktApps) that use their database. I use TV Show Tracker (iOS https://go.ttot.link/TrackeriOS Android https://go.ttot.link/TrackerAndroid). I find it easier to navigate and feel it has a cleaner, less cluttered interface. The nice thing about using a central database is that you can move from app to app and still have all of your shows, watched and otherwise, available.

That about does it for cutting the paid TV cord. If I’ve missed something or you have questions or requests, please let me know.

Next week I’ll start discussing ways to keep yourself safe online. Did you know that the pictures you publish can contain precise location information?

That’s it for this week. Note that my intent with these columns is to spark your curiosity, give you enough information to get started, and arm you with the necessary keywords (or buzzwords) so you’ll understand the basics and are equipped to search for more detailed information.

Email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, whatever at tony@TonysTakeOnTech.com and don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L – it should be updated shortly after this column appears online. My links tell me that I’m getting some international readers – France, Belgium, and Germany in particular. If you’re an international reader, drop me a quick note and say HI!