My quest to ditch Comcast
Like many people, I have a deep hatred of Comcast and their unbelievably high prices for services. For the past several years I have picked up various tricks/hacks to get my bill lowered. This usually involved calling and looking for package deals or 6 month promotional sign ups. Usually the Comcast rep would tell me no or turn me away, but if you keep calling back and are persistent about trying to lower your bill, you can get someone who will work something out. This resulted in me saving 40-50% off the full price of my cable. Last year, I worked out the most amazing deal I ever had and got Digital Preferred, DVR, home phone and internet (upgraded) for $89/month.
So you’d think I would be happy…. working out deals, getting my services for a reasonable price. I was, until the end of Dec. 2010. My unbelievably good deals ran out and my bill went from $89 to $160 in the blink of an eye. And the crazy part… this was for the same services and included a downgrade of my internet speed!!! I truly hate you Comcast. $160/month is so painful…. too painful. After 6-7 separate calls into Comcast to try and look for a deal, I am finally disheartened and it seems that Comcast has either changed some policies or just doesn’t care about their existing customers.
I have a friend that recently setup an HTPC (home theater pc) which is basically a computer that sits in your living room and is dedicated to watching media on your TV. I have long wanted to go this route but couldn’t really justify the cost of a PC just for watching television and not having access to all the shows available on cable.
The cost issue is pretty simple now, you can build a very nice HTPC for under $500 that can hookup to Netflix, the web and play any media you can throw at it. After 4 months, we would be in the green for saving money over having cable (this would include ditching our land line and just keeping the internet service). Now, the big question…. where do you get your media/shows to watch??
Step 1. HD OTA
Getting the major networks in HD is going to be key. Sports, major events, etc. are usually not easily available elsewhere on the web in HD so this is a must. I did some googling and found various sites (http://www.antennaweb.org/) that will help you determine what type of antenna you need to pickup the various HD channels that are being broadcast over the air. My issue is that I am cheap and wanted to be able to test out how well we would get the signals without putting in a lot of money.
Another consideration is how well I would get the signals inside the house. Having the antenna in the attic, and not outside, is going to be a big requirement. There is no way Julie would let me get away with a big antenna outside.
I found this site: http://www.tvantennaplans.com/ about building your own antenna and figured that since I had all the material in my garage, I’d spend the 1/2 hour and build it. It turns out that I needed to get the 300-75 ohm balun from Radio Shack, but it was only $5. So for just the $5, I was going to be able to do some simple tests to see if there was any hope in being able to move away from Comcast.
Results…. it worked! And the test I started with was just setting it up in my living room and seeing what I can get so the reception can only be better once I get it up in the attic and attach the proper reflectors on it. The drying racks I used to hack this thing together seemed to help, but they are not ideal and Julie would not be happy if I used them in my little project long term.
I ended up getting some channels really, really well in 1080i (like WGN) and some that flaked in and out like NBC, but on the whole, it proved to me it was possible. The next step, if we went this route would be to install the antenna in the attic, run some coax to the area near the TV and build an HTPC. You need the HTPC in this setup to perform the DVR functionality. Several applications exist that will allow you to bring up a channel guide and setup a season recording or record individual shows.
For now, this is all still a pipe dream in my head because Julie is not game. I’m hoping that as the monthly bill keeps rolling in, she will start asking more questions. I’m on the verge of a major change in our TV/entertainment options… just waiting for what the last straw will be…