I‘ve written on this site quite a few times about how to cut back on your entertainment expenses. I’ve written about how to cut the cord altogether to avoid paying high cable or satellite TV costs, or how to get the best deal if you do decide to pay for cable.
If you’re planning on going down the road of cutting the cord, however, you’ll likely still want to have a good amount of entertainment choices. Thankfully there are a lot of free or affordable options for you to find the entertainment you want. For me, the best value you’re going to get is just buying and setting up a digital over the air HDTV antenna. Not only will you get amazing 1080p picture quality for a lot of stations, but you’ll get it all for free after the cost of the antenna.
Today I thought I would look at just how easy it is to setup a digital over-the-air HDTV antenna, and get amazing HD programming without paying a monthly subscription fee. In our case we chose to use the Mohu Leaf® 50 from Mohu – one of the best HDTV antennas available. So let’s take a look.
Can You Get Local TV Stations Without Cable?
One thing that a lot of people think is that they’ll be forgoing a ton of great shows by opting out of cable or satellite entertainment. The fact is, a majority of the top shows are on over-the-air network television. In fact, 94 of the top 100 watched shows are available over-the-air in 1080p HD! That means for many of your favorite shows you may be getting a higher definition signal by using an over-the-air antenna than you would using your cable provider, most of which use a 720p signal.
Depending on where you’re located there may be more or fewer over-the-air TV signals available to you. To find out what stations are available to you in your area, do the following:
- Go to GoMohu.com
- On the homepage enter your zip in the “find the right antenna” box near the top.
- On the page that comes up you can view a full list of channels that should be available in your area, and which antenna might be the best fit for your location.
For me, when I run the test it says I should be able to receive up to 36 channels from 17 over-the-air stations in my location.
You can also run your zip code and address through other sites as well. For me the others sites gave much the same answer. I should be able to receive somewhere around 35 channels including all of the big networks, public television, and various other channels.
Unboxing The Mohu Leaf
After reading some of my content on cutting the cord on this site, the folks at Mohu were kind enough to send out one of their digital antennas for me to review. They sent out the Leaf® 50 HDTV Antenna, a paper thin USB powered and amplified antenna. As long as you’re within 50 miles of the TV towers, you should be able to get a decent amount of shows using this antenna. Some bullet points from Mohu:
- Modeled after a discrete mud flap antenna designed for the U.S. Military
- Reversible and paintable to match décor
- Easy to install
- Original amplified paper-thin antenna
- 16 ft high performance cable included
- Multi-directional: No “pointing” needed
- 50 mile range
- 1 year part and labor warranty
After receiving the box in the mail from Mohu, I opened it up to see what was inside. Here’s a quick unboxing video to show everything that comes in the package.
Inside the box you’ll find the following:
- 1 paintable & reversible Mohu Leaf® 50 HDTV Antenna
- 16 ft antenna cable (that you attach to the back of your TV, and the antenna)
- USB power cord (to plug into your TV)
- USB wall plug, in case your TV doesn’t have USB
- Antenna hanging kit. It includes your choice of pushpins and velcro stickers to hang your antenna.
One thing I really like about this antenna is the fact that it is USB powered. That means you won’t have any phantom power pull for the amplifier because you can plug it into an open USB port on your TV, and it will only draw power when the TV is on.
Another thing I love about this antenna is that it is super light, paper thin and easy to mount. The included antenna hanging kit make it even easier to hang, depending on where you’re mounting it. The fact that it’s also paintable means that it can fit into any room’s decor as well.
Check out the complete unboxing gallery on my Google Plus page.
Setting Up Your Digital Antenna
Now that we have unboxed the antenna, it’s time to set it up. The question is, just how easy is it to setup your TV service using a digital antenna? The answer for me was that it only took 5 to 10 minutes. It was super easy!
After removing all of the elements from the box, the first step I had to complete was assembling the antenna. To do that you just have to screw on the antenna cable onto the antenna, and then onto the two pronged USB/coaxial cable. That’s basically all you’ll need to do for assembly.
Next you’ll need to hook up the antenna to the back of your TV or other Digital TV tuning device. In my case I plugged the antenna and USB cable into my Dell all-in-one PC because it has a built-in digital TV tuner. It also has Windows Media Center that enables you to watch TV, record shows, and so forth.
After plugging in the power and antenna I placed the antenna behind my 2 monitor setup where it couldn’t be seen. I’d worry about placing it in the perfect position later.
After everything was installed, I booted up Windows Media Center and clicked on “Live TV’. It asked me to scan for channels, which I did. I was expecting it to get about 35 channels or so, as the wizard told me, and to my surprise the channel scan came up with 49 channels! After looking a bit closer, 10-12 channels had a pretty low signal, however, so that means the estimate of 35 or 36 was just about right – give or take 10 or so low power channels that don’t come in that great.
After setting the TV signal up, I was set to go. It took me no more than 10 minutes and I was up and running – sans cable TV!
What About The Shows I Can’t Get Over-The-Air?
Having a digital antenna is a great option for most people who are looking to drop expensive pay TV services. You’ll get high quality HD programming at no cost!
What if you’re like me, however, and you have a few must-watch TV shows that you can’t get on network TV? What are your options?
Options For Watching Cable Shows Not Available Over-The-Air
There are usually plenty of options to find your favorite shows if they’re not available for free on one of the major networks.
- Watch it on the network’s website: some shows are available to watch for free on the network’s website a day or two after they air.
- Watch it on a streaming service: Pay for a video streaming service like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu Plus. Often your favorite shows will become available for free streaming on these premium services. Just buy a $35 Google Chromecast streeaming device, plug it in and start watching!
- Pay for a season pass: If you really want to watch a show and it’s not available for free online anywhere, you might consider paying for a season pass for that show. You can purchase a season pass on iTunes, Amazon and other places to watch the show once it’s aired. I did this for a season of Walking Dead. The only problem? As soon as I had paid for it, it became available for free a couple of months later on Netflix.
For most people, even if they end up having to pay for a season pass for a show or two, they’ll end up coming out hundreds of dollars ahead at the end of the year. $20 for a season pass for a show here and there is still a lot less than paying for cable.
The only caveat is if you love watching live sports, like I do. Certain sports aren’t always available over-the-air, and you may have to consider other options. For example, my Vikings football games I get just fine over-the-air, they’re all on regular network television. If, however, I want to watch the local NBA, MLB or NHL teams, their games are for the most part on cable TV. Some leagues will allow you to sign up for streaming video packages to watch the games online, but even then in some cases there are local game blackouts. So if you’re a lover of sports, you may be stuck with cable TV to watch your favorite teams. At the very least you may have to listen to the games on the radio, and then watch the highlights after the game.
A Digital Over-The-Air HDTV Antenna Will Save You Money
As time goes on the amount of entertainment options available to us as cord cutters is growing. Pay TV is no longer the only option. We now have the option of buying a digital TV antenna and getting tens of free HD channels, at no cost whatever. You can pay for cheap or very affordable video streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime, and get access to a wealth of TV shows, movies and other entertainment. You can also pay for individual shows if you want to, instead of having to pay hundreds per month for an expensive premium TV package. In short, you don’t have to pay a ton of money for premium TV, unless you want to.
If you’re planning on getting away from cable or satellite TV, paying the small up front investment for a digital HDTV antenna like the Mohu Leaf only makes sense.
Have you cut the cord? Do you use an antenna to get free HD programming? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
Get your own Mohu Leaf and start the cord cutting process here
Very interesting, I will save this info for later. I currently have a basic package with Dish network for $28 a month, and then I use a Roku box to stream Netflix and Hulu Plus on my tv for $8 a month each. I have tried a digital antenna before but couldn’t get it to work – maybe it was wrong for my area.
I have been very happy with my setup, I only miss being able to watch my college football team. I keep Dish network because I like the HGTV channel that I leave on in the background while I do things around my house, and I like having a DVR. There are probably other ways to do both of those and then I could cut my costs even further.
Peter Anderson says
If you have a computer, you can setup a DVR using Windows Media Center, or a stand alone software like Playon. There are quite a few solutions.
Depending on where you are, you may need to get an amplified antenna like we reviewed, or if you’re extremely far out it may need to be an external antenna. Good luck!
Jim A says
One way to get a DVR with the Mohu setup would be to connect it to a Simple TV device. Besides DVR, this also gives access to watching on PCs, tablets, and smartphones anywhere in the house, as well as on the main TV through Roku. Peter, maybe as a follow-up you could review this possibility?
Peter Anderson says
Jim, Simple TV definitely sounds interesting. I have reached out to them and see if they’ll send me a review unit. I think it would pair well with my new Mohu Leaf antenna! For those who don’t know, it sounds like Simple TV device is basically a DVR that records your over-the-air shows and then streams them to you on your connected device – Chromecast, Roku, Android or iOS device, etc. Very interesting. Simple.TV details here. (And a 20% off coupon!)
I’ve also heard of another over-the-air DVR competitor, the Tablo DVR – that also streams to your connected Roku, Chromecast, tablet or phone. Very similar idea. I’ve also reached out to them about getting a review unit, and they’ve been receptive. Stay tuned!
UPDATE: Tablo sent out a review unit for me to try, and I definitely like it. Full TabloTV review here.
Jim A says
Great Peter, will definitely “stay tuned” (pun intended) for your upcoming reviews ;)
Hi my name is michelle ,
I am one of the dummy moms that pay a ton for bundle service. I had at 1st directtv that was $100 a month for satellite tv and Internet. Well one day a time WarnerCable devil came to my home and convince me on a fabulous deal triple deal cable , Internet, phone long distance included bla bla bla. For $100 a month . Lie lie lie $320 month is what a pay for a year now . See my mother is living with us and she needs home phone , my kids internet and i love cable tv. So im stuck my monthly service is 100 but > tax plus 17.99 for each box+tax a month rental, ( he dint mention that) 5 boxes. Plus channel charges it adds up. I tried fighting it . He lied [the seller door to door] he was a 3rd person seller not even employee of twc he was a employee of a guy who is employed by twc . Anyways he came and apologize and tried to get fix lie after lie . Im upset hope you can advice what options I have. My area is limited to other carriers.
Peter Anderson says
For home phone I suggest using Ooma (Ooma Review Here). We use it and pay about $5/month for our home phone service, paying only taxes. The initial startup cost for us was about $100 or so. Note: Decent internet is required to use Ooma s it’s VOIP home phone service.
I would do what you can to get out of that cable service, figure out what your contract says, and find what will allow you to get out of your contract – or downgrde service. Depending on what options you have, you may or may not have many other options for affordable cable. Cutting the cord is what I suggest.
Cord Cutters Manual
My retired mom is on a fixed income. She gave up her cable a couple of years ago. I got her a Mohu leaf and she’s satisfied with it but misses being able to record a show if she is not home or asleep. I have looked for recorders to get for her but am a bit confused as to which will work best with antenna. Any thoughts?
Peter Anderson says
For over-the-air DVRS, I’d probably recommend a Tablo DVR like we have, or if a little less technologically inclined – a Channel Master DVR+. Both work well in my experience.