First, Find a Rabbit...

 Cheap rabbit ears. Ugly, but Functional.

Cheap rabbit ears. Ugly, but Functional.

...and borrow his ears.

So let's look at one really inexpensive alternative - Get some rabbit ears.

Everything I say here depends on your location. You may be able to get more or fewer channels.  A friend of mine has installed a rooftop antenna with a rotor. He receives channels from about 150 miles in all directions. That's too much effort for me. If I can't do this with a cheap indoor antenna, I'll stick to cable.

Rummaging around in the garage and basement I found some old TV antennas. I found two pairs of rabbit ears and a couple of those old "bow-tie" UHF antennas that used to come with the old analog TVs.  I also bought a "FlaTenna" from ChannelMaster.com for $10.

After connecting the rabbit ears to the TV and running a channel scan here's what I found. 

  • KMTV (CBS) and two SD (standard definition) sub-channels, LAFF-TV and Escape, that are mainly old re-runs.
  • WOWT (NBC) and two SD sub-channels. WX is 24-hour weather and re-runs of the WOW news. WOWTA, old reruns.
  • KETV (ABC) and one SD sub-channel, METV. Again old re-reruns.
  • CW15 (CW) and two SD sub-channels, ThisTV and Grit, old reruns.
  • NET (PBS) Channel 26 and 1 HD and 1 SD sub-channel, all Public TV programs.
  • Fox42 (FOX) and two SD sub-channels of old re-runs, MyNet and Comet.

The Good:

  • 17 Channels, including all major networks, with good reliable signals for the cost of a cheap antenna.
  • The major channels look better using the antenna than they do on the cable box.

The Maybe Good/Maybe Bad:

  • The sub-channels are mostly not HD. So you'll need to live with the old standard definition. 
  • The movies and re-runs are old, but each channel has it's theme. You may actually like them.
  • There is no program guide, so you'll need to use something like the TV Guide app on your phone. You could also use the guide published in the newspaper. (Remember that?)
  • Of course there is no DVR. This is appointment TV. You need to be there when the show is broadcast. (I"ll post my experience with a nice, over-the-air, DVR after I've had more time to evaluate it.)

Not-So-Good:

  • Indoor antennas are finicky. Those of us that remember the days before cable tv will remember all of the playing around with rabbit ears. The number and quality of channels will depend on antenna placement.  Sometimes moving the antenna only a few inches will determine if you'll receive a channel.  With digital TV, there is no "fuzzy reception." You either get the channel or you don't. 
  • The FlaTenna ($10) or the pricier Leaf antenna ($40 and up) work as well or slightly better than the rabbit ears and are easier to conceal. 
  • An outdoor antenna will likely work quite well, but most of us aren't going to go through that trouble and expense. There are also some better, more expensive, indoor antennas. But really, this option is about cheap and easy, so I'm not going down that road.

Bottom Line:

If you don't need a DVR, it won't cost you much to play with this option. This will work for the TV in my office. When this experiment is over, at least one cable box is heading back to it's provider.

As I said in "Goodbye to CableTV?" this isn't primarily about cost. But I'm not opposed to saving a bit of money. That's one box rental fee (roughly $100/year) that comes off the cable bill.