Cutting the cord from satellite TV and saving $2.2K over three years

We have DISH for “cable” (satellite) television. It’s a reliable service with good equipment, and we’ve been happy with it. But in the last year, DISH’s price started gnawing at us. After some online research and talking to friends, we agreed to consider giving up satellite/cable broadcast TV altogether.

We researched our alternatives. Here’s what we plan to do.

The DISH status quo

We have DISH’s Top 200 package, HBO, Starz, and HD channels; and two DISH Hopper HD DVRs. We have two Hoppers for odd reasons that I won’t go into here — when we cut the cord, we’ll return to using just one receiver.

The “Top 200” package was the smallest one that gave us the channels we wanted. Thank you, cable channel bundling! We wanted HBO, and Starz came with it for free but we never watch it.

For all this, we pay DISH $125.13 monthly, including all fees and taxes. $12.00 of that is for the second Hopper, so for a fair comparison to the cord-cutting alternative, our service with only one receiver would cost us $113.13 monthly.

Cost and channels

This works out to an annual cost of $1,358. Over three years, the bill comes to $4,073. (I’ll be generous to DISH and assume they have no price increases during the next three years.)

What do we get for that money?

We have a Hopper “favorites” list containing all the channels we might want to watch. These channels pass a low bar: They might conceivably, sometimes, maybe, occasionally, have content we’d want to watch. Total count: 63 channels.

But hold on. Eight of them are HBO channels, which is an artifact of how broadcasting works. (There can only be one broadcast per channel, duh.) If we switch to an alternative that includes HBO GO, we can watch any HBO content at any time. So for the purposes of a channel count, we should consider the eight HBO broadcast channels to be one channel. Result: We effectively have 56 channels in our favorites, and out of those, we watch only six or so with any regularity.

So we’re paying $4,073 over three years for 56 channels, of which we regularly watch only six. They’re simply not worth the price.

Our Goals

If you start down this path, you might not find an alternative that gives 100% of the channels you now watch with 100% of the cable/satellite TV convenience. You might have to compromise and give up a couple of minor channels that you watch now, or put up with a more complicated menu or hardware configuration, in return for saving money.

The question you must ask is: Are those couple of channels, or is that convenience, worth what you’re paying? For us, the answer is No, but maybe for you it’ll be Yes.

Anyway, here are our goals for considering an alternative:

  1. We wanted the comparison to be as advantageous to the status quo as possible, so if the numbers are compelling to cut the cord, we’d be confident that we’re doing the right thing.
  2. We wanted to find a solution that allowed us to stop paying subscription fees, except for HBO. This means Over The Air (OTA) signals, just like Grandpa and Grandma used to receive.
  3. We would do the comparison for only three years, because we bet we’ll replace our equipment in three years. (Having said that, if the comparison indicates that years four and five are still a good comparison, great!)
  4. We also wanted a reasonable DVR capability for the OTA channels.

What can we receive OTA?

We live about two miles from downtown Seattle. I used TV Fool to estimate what channels we’d be able to receive over the air. Here’s the report for our address:

My address' OTA channels
My address’ OTA channels

The green stations, most of which are to our east, should be easy to receive. The yellow stations will be a little harder. We don’t expect to receive the red or gray stations. If we receive all the greens and only 50% of the yellows, we’ll receive about 22 local stations.

Our cord-cutting alternative

For HBO, we’ll use HBO GO when it’s independently available sometime this year.

We chose Channel Master for the OTA reception. They have a long and storied history of high-quality television and radio equipment, in particular antennas and antenna amplifiers. Theirs is the only compelling solution I found that didn’t need any subscription fees. And they sell all the equipment we’d need, including the HD TV antenna.

To eliminate the risk of equipment incompatibilities, I want to buy everything from one company, if possible. I’ve read some forum posts describing incompatibilities between receivers and antennas, and they may be apocryphal but I don’t want to take the chance. I’d maybe save only $20 by using another company’s antenna, and it again makes this comparison as favorable as possible to the status quo.

As a last note, we already own an Apple TV, so if we find ourselves wanting more movies, shows, or news, it’ll give us plenty of options. Some will come with a small monthly fee. E.g., we could use Hulu Plus through it if we need to.

Price Comparison

Here are the equipment and services I selected.

  1. Channel Master DVR+ 1TB. This includes a 1TB disk for recording. I bet I could find it cheaper elsewhere, and their other model that uses an external disk would be a cheaper solution, but this is a nice little package. $399.
  2. Channel Master USB WiFi adapter. The DVR+ could connect to the net with a cable, but this is easier. $39.
  3. Channel Master 2-year extended service plan. Almost all extended warranties aren’t worth their cost.  But I’m in a conservative mood. $39.
  4. Channel Master SMARTenna 35/50. Other antennas may be at least as good, and cheaper, but this removes a potential incompatibility. $59.
  5. Channel Master Titan 2 Medium Gain Preamplifier. I’ll buy this if and only if we need it. $65.
  6. Miscellaneous installation hardware. Maybe I’ll want to mount the antenna on the wall. $20.
  7. RTI T2x reprogramming. Our T2x universal remote control (which kicks ass) will need to be reprogrammed to control the Channel Master receiver. $500 worst-case.
  8. HBO GO. It’s not yet announced, but one article estimated $18/month. That’s $216 annual.

I’ll assume we need all this equipment, and add 12% to the hardware prices for sales tax and shipping. I’ll assume I’ll buy the hardware new, directly from Channel Master, and not from other sources (or used) like eBay. Again, this favors the status quo in the price comparison.

Remember that earlier I said that the status quo costs were $1,358 annually, and $4,073 over three years.

I project the cost of the alternative to be $1,412 in the first year. Over three years, $1,844.

There are a few caveats here. I’ve guessed at the HBO GO subscription fee, and maybe HBO GO will increase its fees over the three-year period. OTOH, I’m assuming worst-cast for the T2x reprogramming, and am including a preamplifier that I might not need. Lastly, adding 12% for shipping and tax is a swag.

All that aside, the breakeven point appears to be 13 months, and the savings over three years is $2,229.

Next steps

I’ll order the Channel Master hardware this week. If the reception’s bad or the hardware doesn’t work as I hope, I’ll return it. If this configuration works as I hoped, I’ll cancel our DISH subscription.

Either way, I’ll report back here on the results!

3 thoughts on “Cutting the cord from satellite TV and saving $2.2K over three years

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