Monday, February 17, 2020

Cutting the cord for $0 per month for TV.

As cable TV prices continue to skyrocket I'm having more people come to me asking how they can get their cable bill down.  Sometimes they are asking how they can cut the cord, others they just want to shave their bill and keep as much programming as possible.  I've been doing some research since my last post on this topic and I've set a goal for myself.  Design a system in which you spend absolutely nothing out of pocket per month but gives you access to as much programming as possible.

This will have up front costs.  You will need to buy equipment (if you don't already have it!) but nothing I'm suggesting is exceedingly expensive.  In fact I'm going to try to keep the total expense under six months of your typical on contract cable bill with three TV's and the associated equipment ($150 per month, so $900.  This is just TV, no internet).  I'll be designing a system using generic devices you may already have and equipment you already have.  As many of us have a old computer sitting around doing nothing as we've mostly all moved on to tablets and smart phones, or you have a desktop that has some spare processing power I will omit this cost from the total, however I will include a generic device for those who don't have a PC handy that can do the job.  I'll also design a setup assuming you have nothing available to you and need to buy everything, and prefer something that works out of the box.  I will also state that I won't include Netflix or Amazon Prime services in the total cost as many cable TV users have these services over the top already and they are in addition to their existing cable bill.

Now to do this you will need internet access.  As such I will start off with...


For this solution you don't need an extremely fast internet service.  You just need something over 50mbps to be reliable for two tv's.  Now every area is different as to what ISPs you have available.  Here are my suggestions:

Community fiber or AT&T Fiber (in that order):  

If you have this available to you use it.  Skip all other options.  Some of these systems provide you everything you need including wifi.  Others just give you a connection that you need to hook up to your own router.  You'll need to pay for a plan that offers at least 100/100 mbps and you'll love the results.  Here's a good wifi router if you need it.

Cable Internet:

Now most of us will be using cable internet.  No matter if you have Comcast Xfinity, Charter Spectrum, WOW!, or some other provider here's my suggestions.

  • Do not pay the "Existing Customer" pricing from any cable company.  Comcast and WOW are better at allowing existing customers negotiate lower rates after their contract ends.  Spectrum rarely allows existing customers negotiate their rate down because most of their customer base is stuck with them as their only ISP.  However you can usually skirt these "Existing Customer" prices with a little trick.  If you have some other adult living in your home (Spouse, parent, sibling, adult child) you can cancel your service and have the other adult sign up.  You'll need to pay the connection fee most likely, but they have no way to reject this other person as a new customer.  After two years switch back.  This is a hassle, but with a monthly cost jump of between $25-$36 you will make up for it in the two year contract.

  • Bring your own modem and wifi router.  Specifically a combined device.  While some ISPs offer a free modem, and a few offer free wifi as part of the contract it's better for you to own your device outright.  Cable companies are offering you these devices for free because they're using these modems to expand their wifi footprint for mobile customers.  Some of the electricity you pay for is benefiting your ISP and they're burying this in the contract fine print.  Better bring your own device and not only deny them this but avoid paying as much as $15 per month for wifi and $10 per month for the cable modem. 

    I used to tell people not to buy a combined device.  While cable modems didn't change much over time the wifi standard was changing every two or three years.  You were better off buying separate devices.  Now everything has stabilized.  Buy a unified device to make setup easier.  Here's a good device.

  • DO NOT LET THEM TALK YOU INTO A PACKAGE DEAL!  YOU WANT INTERNET ONLY!  NO PHONE, NO TV, AND NO SECURITY (dear god don't get security services from your isp!) 
  • You want the base service you can get for $50ish per month.  Usually this would be 100-200mbps service depending on your area.  
  • Ask if your ISP caps your monthly usage.  Most cable ISPs don't however there are a few.  A monthly cap could cause issues for you with excessive streaming.  Try to get an ISP that doesn't have a monthly cap if you can.

DSL internet (sometimes called Uverse):

If you can't get the above you will most likely be limited to your phone company's offering.  Be aware these are usually speed limited.  Some areas have speeds as low as 25mbps which will work for one stream, but you will see issues.  Others have speeds as high as 75mbps.  If you have a low speed be sure to call your phone company and complain and get your neighbors to do the same.  Also look into getting a community fiber network set up.  If your phone company and cable company won't support you then you are better doing this yourself.

AT&T provides their own modem and wifi for free with your service.  I can't recommend getting your own device as they're modem is proprietary.  If your phone company is not AT&T ask if they're providing their modem and / or wifi for free.  If not here is a good device.

With this your internet is secured.  You monthly cost currently will be between $35 - $60.  From here on out there will be no other monthly costs.

Television Service

From here on out I'm going to split this up between a simple solution and a more complex solution.  Both provide DVR services for recording TV.  The more complex solution provides you additional functionality allowing you to centrally store your personal movie, music, and photo collections and stream them anywhere.

Both solutions use over the air TV as well as Pluto TV.  We're all mostly familiar with antenna TV.  However those of us who've been on cable TV for 20 years might not know how good antenna TV has gotten.  Where we used to get just ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CW, and PBS you now can get as many as 70 stations with an antenna.  Each station broadcasts multiple channels so instead of just "Channel 2" you now get "2-1, 2-2, 2-3, and 2-4" all showing different shows.  You just need an antenna.  Not even a new antenna.  Any old TV Antenna including the old 70's rabbit ears in your basement or the hideous thing on your roof you considered taking down can be used.  An outdoor antenna is better, and a directional antenna is best.  Here's a great antenna that can be used either indoors or outdoors.

Now for additional stations you just need to set up an account on is a service from Viacom that streams many popular TV and internet TV channels for free including some very well known channels (Fox Sports, MSNBC, Nickelodeon, etc).  By creating an account you unlock extra channels.  This is all free and it's ad supported just like your standard antenna TV.

Now it's not perfect.  I've seen some hiccups on a slow connection.  However this lets you keep your favorite channels for free vs a $150 cable bill.  As such I'm willing to make some allowances.  Also will be separate from the DVR from your antenna TV.  As long as you don't mind exiting your TV app and going to your app you shouldn't notice anything.  For $150 a month I think this is a fair trade. doesn't offer a DVR per say, however you do have some "On Demand" programming in their service.

Simple Solution With DVR

The simple solution requires you to buy Amazon Fire sticks for each TV, and a Amazon Recast device to act as a DVR.  While the recast comes with a antenna many times it's a cheap indoor antenna.  You're welcome to try it however you will get much better performance out of the one above.

So get one of these for each TV in your house.

Then get one of these for your entire house.

That's it.  Install these per their instructions or hire someone to help you out.  Set up your Pluto TV account on each TV's Fire stick.

So for a house with three tv's you're looking at the following costs:

Equipment Cost Quantity Total
Modem / Modem + Router       $141.97 1 $141.97
Antenna $82.70 1 $82.70
Fire Sticks $49.99 3 $149.97
Fire Recast $279.99 1 $279.99
Total $654.63‬

I'm under what you'd spend for 6 months of cable TV.  You will need an Amazon Prime account for these devices to work, however you probably already have this.  It enables the TV guide on the Recast and provides a ton of movies and programming as part of your membership.

More complex solution

Now if you'd like to not only have a DVR for your antenna TV, but also want to use your existing smart TV, video game console, Rokus, or other devices and have an old computer sitting around this is the option for you.

To start us off lets start with the software.  Plex is free to download and install on your computer.  You install it and then point at your library folders (Music, photos, Movies, Recorded TV) and it finds everything.  Your smart devices most likely have a Plex app already available.  All current video game systems do, as does the Roku and your phone!  You can take your personal media on the go with you streaming from your own home server.  Now for a guide to allow downloading TV programming you will need to get Plex Pass.  You can either subscribe for a monthly cost, or you can just pay once and own it outright.  The cost is typically $119.  I have seen them go on sale as low as $75 on  I will use the standard price in the final tally below.

You will need each TV to either be a Smart TV, have an attached Game system like a Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, or PS3, or just have something like a Roku.  If you have a TV that has nothing and you're not willing or unable to relocate a device from another TV (like a home theater with multiple game systems) then buy one of these per TV.

Now you will want to add some storage space to your computer.  I'd strongly recommend building a RAID or a Windows Storage Space in your computer.  This means you use multiple inexpensive drives in tandem to make one big drive that is more reliable and tolerant of failure. I'd recommend 4 drives.

You will also need a TV tuner.  The best on the market is the HDHomeRun Connect Quatro.  It acts as a TV tuner for your Plex server.

Now if you have an existing computer you can add the drives to great!  If you're not interested in modifying a computer or just want an easier solution you can use this instead of the four drives above.

Now you can use your computer, or if you used the NAS device you can use another laptop or computer to rip your CDs, DVDs, Blurays, and even scan your photos into your Plex folders.  This media will be scanned into Plex allowing you to access it from any of your devices with the Plex app.  This is all on your own storage media so you're not paying a monthly fee or renting movies.  This is your stuff.  It's great for people with big media collections who want an easier way to access it all.  Plex will even backup your camera phone to your home server over the internet.

Lets look at total costs here in a worst case scenario.  The price here will look high, but that's because I'm assuming you have no equipment to reuse and want this solution. In almost all scenarios you'll come up to a much lower price.

Equipment Cost Quantity Total
Modem / Modem + Router       $141.97 1 $141.97
Antenna $82.70 1 $82.70
Roku Stick $46.22 3 $138.66
NAS with Drives $769.00 1 $769.00
HDHomeRun Quatro $129.98 1 $129.98
Total $1,262.31‬

Again this price looks high, and is more than 6 months of cable TV service.  However you own all your equipment and will have no more monthly bills for TV.  Again if you have any unused or unloved computer equipment and smart devices this price goes down quickly.  In this scenario you'll have the ability to stream your personal media anywhere in your home and also anywhere in the world with your other devices.  It does require some skill to set up, but the folks at Plex have made this much easier than it used to be. 

Anyway I hope this helps some people.  I offer these designs up for free because I rather like putting the screws to cable companies.

1 comment:

  1. You can get desktop PC"s for under $100 at
    Marked as 'refurb' but every one I've seen appears to have simply been sitting too long in a warehouse. Laptops for under $200. 1-year warranties.
    Thanks for your article.