I was just fine until I saw the numbers.

Cable and satellite television was something that I’d been using for so long, I never even thought about it. Not until that moment of clarity when my wife revealed, through complex math and budget sorcery, that in the 12 years we’ve had DirecTV, we’ve paid somewhere north of $10,000.

Ten grand! And all for what — to me — amounted to little more than white noise in the background. A “Twilight Zone” marathon here, a few hours of “Three’s Company” reruns there and a whole long of mindless nothing in between.

Clearly, it was time to break up with cable. But how to go about such a life-changing thing?

As I started to ponder the move, I kept bumping into two kinds of people: those who want to part ways with cable TV and those who have already done it. There’s a lot to be learned from both groups because, as it turns out, most people don’t go cold turkey; they do a heck of a lot of research before kicking cable to the curb.

To be fair, there’s a lot to like about cable and satellite. The millions of channels, the picture clarity, the reliability, the access in remote areas — users all have their reasons. But then there’s that price, and the regular increases once your “trial period” surely runs out.


Most people are not willing to just stop watching TV altogether. They don’t want to sacrifice their entertainment needs entirely. The good news is that you don’t have to. All you need to do is get familiar with some new technology and some that’s been around forever.

TV from the air: Using an ‘old-fashioned’ antenna

We’re not talking about streaming programs here, we’re talking about swiping signals from the sky to get local and network programming. Around Lewiston-Auburn, it’s not unusual to get 16 or more channels with the right antenna, thanks to most providers carrying three or four channels of programming. For instance, MPBN’s Channel 10 locally offers four actual channels of programming. WGME Channel 13 offers three.

The antennas of today are light years ahead of those rabbit ears of old, but when you get right down to it, the idea of catching broadcast signals from the air is the same — and some of the best antennas are those exact same aerial antennas that used to be on everybody’s roofs.

A decent antenna can be had for as little as $40 or as much as a couple hundred. It’s generally a one-time cost: Once you buy your antenna, you’re done with it. No subscription fees or hidden costs. However, there are several things to consider before you rush out and buy the first antenna you see at Walmart.

Amplified or non-amplified? Outdoor or indoor? Directional or multi-directional?


It looks confusing at a glance, but it all comes down to where you live. Are you close to the broadcast tower you want? Are you up on a hill or down in a valley?

“My advice,” says Leigh Stevens of Livermore Falls, “especially if one is on a budget, is to do a great deal of research before making a purchase. One may think they need a substantial antenna when something simple may work, or vice versa.”

Stevens has been at it longer than most, having started his research in 2002 when his family was living in Leeds. He’s been through all kinds of antennas and relies on extremely useful databases like TVfool.com and rabbitears.info, which provide information on available TV reception based on the user’s exact location.

You’re not going to catch the latest episodes of cable and internet programs like “Jessica Jones” or “Better Call Saul” with even the fanciest TV antenna – you need a streaming service for that. But the right antenna can keep you connected to familiar stations like ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and FOX at the very least, while providing a few extras to ease the pain of your cable breakup.

“New broadcast digital TV networks are popping up all the time, further diversifying what is available over the air,” Stevens says. “Over-the-air broadcast has evolved exponentially in the last few years and is worth the effort to explore.”

A good place to start? Channelmaster.com


TV from the internet: Using ‘streaming services’

We know how it is. Our appetites for entertainment can be fickle. You want to watch new episodes of “The Walking Dead” so you can keep up with water cooler chatter, but you also hanker for classics like “Cheers,” “The Office” or “Malcolm in the Middle.”

We’re not here to judge you, just to offer some suggestions. The internet can provide all that. And one of the easiest ways is through a service that will send or “stream” the programming to your TV. (More on how you do that in a minute.)

Among the most recognizable streaming services out there right now are Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. The first two will set you back right around $10 a month, while an Amazon Prime subscription costs $99 a year.

All streaming services offer different programming. If you like a good mix of new shows and old ones, Netflix tends to have the right stuff. I stream “Better Call Saul” each week, but I also indulge in the occasional episode of “MASH” too. Netflix also offers original content in shows like “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.”

Hulu has a great selection of current TV programming and some original content. It also has exclusive content, like “Seinfeld,” and tons of BBC programming. With Hulu, you still get commercials, even with a paid subscription.


Amazon Prime tends to lack brand-new content, but does provide some decent original shows, like “The Man in the High Castle.” Prime, available only with a yearly subscription, also has benefits beyond entertainment, such as free two-day shipping on Amazon purchases and a free Kindle book per month.

Many cable stations, like AMC, are now streaming their own programming directly to the viewer. For some shows, you need an account, for some you don’t. Sometimes you have to wait a day for a new show, sometimes you have to wait a week.

Meanwhile, if you want to stream professional sports, packages like MLB.TV, NFL Live and NBA League pass will get you there. The services tend to be pricey – up to $200 a year – although if you mainly follow a particular team, it’s possible to get a shorter subscription and pay a smaller monthly amount.

Then there are the many free services that stream content. YouTube, for instance, offers a wide world of content, although most people wouldn’t compare it to traditional TV programming in many cases. Among the more traditional freebies is Crackle, which will make you sit through commercials while you enjoy cheesy action movies, anime and some bizarre original content.

There are dedicated streaming services too. “Funny or Die,” “Twitch” and “Vevo” are available for comedy, gaming and music fans, respectively.

Package the right streaming service with a good antenna and you won’t shed a single tear for cable TV, many cable-cutters say.


“Amplified antenna, Amazon TV box, Netflix,” declares Daniel Tanguay of Lewiston. “Can stream anything I can/want to find on my tablet by flicking it up to the TV. Loving it, and wouldn’t bother to look back. The $2,600 a year I’m saving is well used elsewhere.”

For more, check out: A guide to streaming services 

Connecting your TV to the internet: Using streaming devices

Do you need a device to watch programs on the internet?

Not necessarily. All of the above services can be accessed through your computer, if you’re comfortable watching on your computer screen.

But if you want to stream internet content to your TV, you have two basic choices:


* If you’ve purchased a TV in the past couple years, chances are good that it’s a “smart” model. That is, it may have software for all the major streaming services bundled right in. With a smart TV, you can use your remote (or even your smartphone) to surf your preferred streaming service and start watching your favorite shows immediately, provided they’re free or you’ve paid for an account.

* If your current television is less-than-smart, technology has you covered. You can plug in a device that bridges the distance between your computer and your TV. The major players include: Roku, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, Apple TV and gaming consoles like the PS4 or the Wii.

The devices, which range from about $35 to hundreds of dollars, plug into one of your TV’s “ports” — don’t worry, if you have a flat-screen, modern TV you have at least one. They range from simple devices that offer basic connectivity to the internet to very sophisticated devices that talk to you and offer a host of services.

Furthermore, several of the devices also allow you to “stream” whatever you have on your computer, tablet or smartphone — such as your personal pictures, YouTube videos, Facebook page or even ESPN sports programming — right to your TV.

As with the antenna, what device and service you opt for is going to come down to personal choice. In Rangeley, Janice Washington decided to ditch cable and see what she could get out of her smart TV. She signed up for both Netflix and Hulu Plus and she already had Amazon Prime. She also uses the service VUDU to rent movies, and pays a small fee to watch CBS programming through her computer. Some would call it overkill, but it works for Washington.

“We get more than 9,000 shows and movies at a cost of $28 per month compared to $80 or more,” she says. “Thank you, smart TV and internet.”


For more, see a comparison of streaming devices

What about Son of Cable?

Yes, there is such a thing. Services like SlingTV, HBO Now and PlayStation Vue offer up a bundle of channels or content similar to that of cable, except they stream it through your internet connection. Cable without cable.

Is it a bargain? It depends on your needs.

* SlingTV is $20 a month for 19 channels, including ESPN and ESPN 2. Additional channels can be purchased through add-on packages.

* HBO Now, at $14.99 a month, is a way to hang on to HBO’s movie offerings after ditching cable.


* CBS All Access: If you’re a fan of CBS programming but can’t get over-the-air reception, $6 a month is what it will take to keep shows like “Big Bang Theory” after cutting ties with cable.

* PlayStation’s Vue is more expensive and is not yet available outside major cities like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.

To ditch or not to ditch?

Clearly there are plenty of options if you want to continue getting your entertainment fix after saying goodbye to cable. Me, I’ve watched more television since cutting the cord than I ever did before. Two of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen, “Breaking Bad” and “Weeds,” I binge-watched through Netflix and now I’m onto “Orange is the New Black.”

Does that mean that going with one of the cable alternatives will turn you into a drooling couch potato? Not necessarily. Some people pull the plug and find their TV habits completely refined, leaving them extra time for other entertainment pursuits.

“We use rabbit ears and get plenty of TV,” says Linda Doucette Scott, a Lewiston woman whose family ditched cable years ago. “And guess what? We actually read books in the Scott house for entertainment. Novel idea huh!”


Heh, heh. Nice pun Linda. And proof that without cable, you may find yourself with a little too much time on your hands.

Recording your shows after the breakup

For some, the ability to record programs makes them wary of ending the cable relationship. Keeping a backlog of recorded programs allows the viewer to watch on his or her own schedule and to blaze through commercials.

As it turns out, there are plenty of ways to continue recording your favorite shows if you cut the cable. It comes down to a choice between hardware and online services.

Hardware options include the DVR — gadgets like TiVo, Tablo and the ChannelMaster DVR. Each has a channel guide from which you can find and record shows. Each costs in the area of $200.

The DVR is not likely as slick as the recording capabilities that came with your cable contract. The ChannelMaster, for instance, can only handle one TV at a time and won’t broadcast to mobile devices.

The Tablo can record two shows at once and programs can be viewed on up to six devices, but you probably have to pay for external storage and there are monthly feeds if you want a programming guide.


Then there are online services like Plex, which requires a monthly, yearly or lifetime fee (it comes down to around $5 a month) and PlayOn, which will set you back $30 a year.

Both services claim the ability to organize, stream and record shows from hundreds of internet-supplied channels, although reviews are mixed. I’ve been trying out PlayOn for the past month and find it clunky, poorly laid out and unreliable. Tech support is spotty and clearly overwhelmed, although they do try.

Several of our readers mentioned Kodi, a free open-source software media center that will play your videos, music and games from local and network storage and from the Internet.

Kodi also offers various plug-ins that allow the user access to streaming media content from online services.

More sources before you cut the cable

For antennas

Channel Master Antenna Guide:


Best Buy Antenna Guide

For streaming

Tom’s Guide to Streaming

For a cable-like experience


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