About two months ago I fulfilled a New Year's promise to eliminate cable TV from our house. A 20% price increase in March was the final straw. With only a few hours a week spent watching the tube, it seemed an easy decision to make.
Not so fast.
Because there were still a few shows my wife and I enjoy, plus the occasional big news story (like Osama bin Laden's death) I didn't want to go without the ability to watch some live television programming. Because free broadcasts of all local stations are available with an antenna that was the route I chose. After doing some Internet research an amplified digital TV antenna was selected. I mounted the antenna in the living room, aimed it toward the antenna farm just south of downtown Phoenix and sat down to enjoy free programming.
Immediately, I realized I had forgotten an important step: programming the television to find my local stations. After locating the instruction book and poking around for a few minutes I found the steps to take. A few minutes later the TV told me it had found 42 signals. Wow! 42 signals and all free!
Yes, there are 42 signals but almost half of them are in Spanish, a language I do not speak or understand. OK, so now there are 24 signals. Of those, 4 show weather 24 hours a day. So, now I am down to 20 watchable signals. Well, not quite. Two of the digital channels assigned to the local PBS station aren't being used. And three of the channels that are used show up twice in the lineup of choices. Subtract all that and I have 15 watchable channels. The networks and a few independent stations are streaming into my set.
The first thing I notice is how incredible the pictures look. For the first time I am seeing High Definition quality pictures. Cable companies have to compress and squeeze what they send down the wires so much that what they call HD is not. The network pictures I am now seeing are stunning. I turn off the set and go about my day.
A few hours later, after dinner, I turn on the set ready to impress Betty with what we are getting. Suddenly, half of the channels that came in so clearly earlier in the day have disappeared. I move the antenna a few inches and they come back...while the ones we were just watching disappear. I jiggled some more, same thing. I finally find the exact spot to get the channel carrying the show we want to watch.
Halfway through the hour, the signal freezes, flutters, and sputters. I haven't touched the antenna, the house hasn't shifted, and as far as i know the antennas on South Mountain haven't fallen down. It is a bit windy. Could that be the reason?
Not one to give up that easily, I purchase 50 feet of coax cable, run it up the living room wall and over the second floor railing. Betty is thrilled with the new look. I put the antenna up on the second floor landing, re-program the TV set and find 38 signals. Half are Spanish, the weather channels are all there, and everything looks good. Twenty minutes later the signal disappears from the channel we are watching. I run upstairs and move the antenna an inch this way or that, re-locate the signal, and settle in to watch the rest of the show. The next night, the same routine is repeated, though this time I can only receive 3 usable signals.
My eldest daughter lives in the southeast part of the Phoenix metro area. From her home to the antennas is a straight shot with nothing in the way. She uses a small, inexpensive, digital antenna had rarely has any problems. She can receive everything I can, plus 6 more stations I have never picked up, as well as several from Tucson, 100 miles south of her. My home has a mountain and downtown Phoenix between me and the TV towers. I am beginning to sense a serious flaw in my plan.
For whatever reason, when the federal government required all TV signals to become digital they also insisted that the power of those signals be drastically reduced from what they had been during analog TV days. That means that digital TV signals are extremely finicky. This may be an exaggeration., but I think that even a large bird flying through the sky in front of my house can disrupt that signal. As I have noted if the antenna isn't aimed exactly right, no picture is received. And, I mean exactly. Move the antenna a fraction of an inch and a signal is suddenly there, or just as suddenly gone.
Bless her heart, Betty has (for the most part) quietly endured these problems. But, she did ask what my long range plan was. I am afraid this grand experiment is not working because of my home's location. So, my answer to her is simple; when I have been away from the cable connection long enough to be considered a new customer and there is an attractive offer to get me to sign up, I may rejoin the connected world. We have agreed to not go back to the 250 channels of television, movies, and music. But, when the company offers the basic 75 channel lineup at a rate that is attractive, our cord may become uncut. I may consider satellite TV but I'll have to do a bit more research on their picture quality and stability during storms.
Television programming is crammed full of commercials, promotional announcements for stuff we have no interest in watching, and fluff that is insulting and boorish. But, until I can move a mountain and get the federal government to increase allowable signal strength, there is just enough there that can't be watched any other way.
Or, maybe not. Suddenly I have found another option.
What if I keep the antenna aimed so it usually picks up a few of the important channels. Then, I use the web sites of the other networks, and specialty nets like HGTV, or Hulu, to fill in what is missing? By hooking the laptop to the TV the program is shown in excellent quality. Network shows may be a day or two late, but that doesn't bother us. HGTV or Discovery channel shows aren't time-sensitive so it doesn't matter when they were first aired.
Betty has agreed to give this new approach a chance. The story continues.