Cutting The Cable

Say 'Cutting the Cable', not 'Cord-Cutting'

Why You May Not Need An Antenna Or DVR (Read First!) What Channels Will I Get With An Antenna?
Which Antenna Should I Get? Which DVR Should I Get?
What IS A Streaming Media Player, Anyway? Can I Use My Smart TV?
Which Streaming Media Player Should I Get? Important Considerations For Streaming
Where To Go From Here  

 
Note: There's a lot of information presented here. Please consider reading
through it more than once for better comprehension and understanding.
 

Why You May Not Need An Antenna Or DVR At All

Generally speaking, there are 3 types of customers who should get an antenna:

  1. Super Savers - Those who want the lowest possible monthly bill and don’t care about any cable channels whatsoever - the basic local channels and subchannels (see here) are good enough, possibly with the addition of popular subscription services like Netflix and/or Amazon Prime Video (free with Amazon Prime membership), the excellent (but limited), commercial-free Kanopy (free to anyone with a Pima County library card!) and various free (commercial supported) services such as PlutoTV, the Roku Channel, Xumo, Tubi, Crackle, SnagFilms, etc.) NOTE: there is so much free/commercial supported streaming content available that I encourage everyone to give serious consideration to starting out at this level.
  2. Thrifty Consumers - Those who want a very low monthly bill ($15-25) and want to continue to receive the most popular cable channels available. (AT&T WatchTV = $15/month for 35 of the most popular cable channels; Philo = $20/month for 58 channels including cloud DVR; Sling TV = $25/month, cloud DVR costs extra.) NOTE: for those who start at the Super Saver level, this is a smooth, simple, inexpensive upgrade at any point in the future.
  3. U of A sports fanatics who have to have the Pac-12 Network — the only streaming service to offer this (as of this writing) is Sling, which does not offer local channels for streaming.

If you're more of a TV Connoiseur and you require a bigger channel selection than the above categories provide (or maybe one of your 'must-have' channels isn't available on the budget services mentioned above), then you'll want to look into services like Hulu or YouTube TV. While these services cost more ($50-70/month), they offer a more complete selection of channels. And since they also include the local channels and cloud DVR service, you won't need an antenna or a DVR if you opt for one of these services.

YouTube TV, with approximately 90 channels - including local networks (even PBS which is coming by the end of this year) and unlimited cloud DVR for $50/month is my top pick for a full-featured streaming service.

MENU
 

What Channels Will I Get With An Antenna?

Major National Networks- CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, and FOX

You’ll get the major national networks - CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and PBS along with a few lesser networks - The CW, MyTV, and the Home Shopping Network. Additionally, you’ll get numerous ‘subchannels’ (such as GRIT, Cozi, Laff, MeTV, Justice, Quest, Antenna TV, MOVIES, Bounce, getTV, Heroes & Icons, and more. These subchannels show mostly syndicated content - reruns of TV shows and movies from the 50s - 90s. Finally, you'll get several Spanish-language channels including Telemundo, Univision, Unimas, Azteca, Estrella, Telemax, and Exitos. For a complete list of available channels, please visit this page.

MENU
 

Which Antenna Should I Get?

There are hundreds of different TV antennas available. Let’s start with the ones you absolutely don’t want… You don’t want an indoor antenna if you live south of Tucson (Sahuarita, Green Valley, Amado, Rio Rico, etc.) If you live in Tucson, you may be OK with an indoor antenna. You also don’t want any antenna that says it’s ‘amplified’. HDTV amplifiers are a band-aid; they are used because the antenna’s performance is inadequate. Typically, such amplifiers have no effect whatsoever - the quality is that poor. In a worst-case scenario, it adds noise to signals that are already weak.

GE HDTV AntennaTech Genius Mobile now exclusively recommends, stocks, and sells antennas from General Electric. As you probably know, GE provides communications equipment to the U.S. government and military - from radar to sonar, from UHF,VHF, and ULF to microwave and even satellite — GE builds more/sells more/knows more about antennas than any company on the planet. The HDTV antenna you buy from Tech Genius Mobile has proven itself to be a top-notch performer throughout Southern Arizona. I have installed these antennas everywhere from Sahuarita to Rio Rico and they always provide a good strong signal on all available channels. Most of the time, they even pick up stations in Sierra Vista - despite being pointed at Mount Bigelow in Tucson. Our GE HDTV antennas are $60. If you hire me to install it, you’ll get a 20% discount on the antenna.

MENU
 

Which DVR Should I Get?

As with antennas, there are many to choose from. All DVRs have their pros and cons; there isn’t a clear "best choice". Here are my top recommendations (in no particular order - they all have their strong points and shortcomings) — and the pros and cons of each…

TiVo Roamio OTA VOX 1TB DVR with No Monthly Service Fees

FEATURES: 4 tuners (record up to 4 programs simultaneously) / 1TB (1 terabyte of storage = ~150 hours of HD recordings) — $349.99. This is an Amazon Renewed product so it comes with only a 90-day warranty (but a 3-year extended warranty is available for $65). Amazon doesn't always have these 'renewed' units in stock but when they do, this is my top DVR recommendation. TiVo is the original (and still the absolute best) DVR. The big knock against TiVo ordinarily is that it requires an expensive subscription ($15/month, $150/year, or $550/lifetime) but this one comes without subscription fees, making it a much better value.

PROS:

CONS:

ChannelMaster Stream+ DVR CM7600

PROS:

CONS:

Amazon Fire TV Recast

PROS:

CONS:

Sling AirTV 2

PROS:

CONS:

Tablo Dual Lite OTA DVR

PROS:

CONS:

ViewTV AT-163

PROS:

CONS:

MENU
 

What IS A Streaming Media Player, Anyway?

A streaming media player is simply a device that plays streaming media that comes to you via the internet. Think of an AM/FM radio - it pulls radio waves out of the air from various stations and turns it into music and news that you can listen to. A streaming media player does the same thing, only all those channels/stations are broadcast over the internet, rather than local airwaves.

It’s important to note that, just like a radio, streaming media players are not all created equal.

MENU
 

Can I Use My Smart TV?

A “smart TV” is just a TV with a streaming media player built in and, as noted above, not all streaming media players are created equal. If your smart TV has a Roku or a Fire TV built-in, great! Otherwise, you’d do well to upgrade.

The problem is that TV manufacturers like Samsung and Sony aren’t in the streaming media player business, they’re in the business of selling TVs - so once this year’s models are sold out, they move on to manufacturing next year’s models. Rarely do they take the time to update their streaming media software to add in the latest streaming services. This means that your 4 or 5-year old smart TV probably can’t get YouTube TV or Pluto TV - two of the hottest streaming content channels today. And even if you can get those two channels, Fire TV will give you thousands more choices - and Roku will give you thousands more than that!

MENU
 

Which Streaming Media Player Should I Get?

First, let’s look at the various streaming media player platforms… The current (and longstanding) king of streaming media players is Roku. Their nearest competitor is Amazon’s Fire TV. Coming up a distant 3rd is the Apple TV. Currently, Roku offers several thousand content channels that Fire TV does not but most of them are trivial and obscure. Until very recently, the most significant difference between Roku and Fire TV devices was that YouTube TV (our recommendation for best live TV streaming service) was not available on Fire TV devices — but that changed a few weeks ago.

Other differences between Roku and Fire TV come from the evolution of the two product lines. Roku does not have a comparable product to Amazon’s Fire TV Cube (which can control your TV and soundbar via voice commands) nor the Fire TV Recast DVR. Meanwhile, Roku has a very good sounding soundbar while only 3rd party companies offer a comparable product with a built-in Fire TV. Roku also has The Roku Channel (which is kind of like Netflix only it’s free/commercial-supported) which has a lot of good movies and TV shows that Roku owners can watch for free. There’s nothing comparable for Fire TV.

Apple’s streaming media player, the confusingly named “Apple TV” falls way behind both Roku and Fire TV in the number of content channels they offer. They also cost significantly more than Roku or Fire TV for no apparent reason other than they are Apple products. They do, however, offer a couple of things that you can’t get on Roku or Fire TV. The first is screen mirroring for your iPhone or iPad - whatever you see on your iPhone/iPad screen, you can send it to your TV using an Apple TV. The second is their integration with iTunes. If you’re someone who has a large iTunes library of music, movies and TV shows, the Apple TV is probably your best choice.

There’s a common misconception regarding a monthly subscription fee for Roku; there is no subscription whatsoever though certain content channels (e.g. Netflix) do have a monthly subscription fee. The same is true of the Fire TV.

Between Roku and Fire TV devices, most people find the user interface on Fire TV to be less intuitive, more cumbersome, and more confusing. You can, of course, get used to anything, but we’re confident that you’ll find it faster and easier to get used to using a Roku as opposed to a Fire TV device.

Indivdual Device recommendations

MENU
 

Streaming Means You’ll Need Good, Strong Internet!

For as long as you’ve had cable or satellite service, the cable/satellite company was responsible for delivering a good quality TV signal to you. As you cut the cable and reap the savings that comes with streaming media, that safety net goes away. What you used to pay Cox, Comcast, DirecTV or Dish for, you’ll now pay Roku, Fire TV, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTubeTV, Hulu, etc. But here’s the catch- it’s not Roku’s job to make sure that your internet service is strong enough so that you get the best possible picture quality. It’s not Netflix’s job to make sure that you have adequate wifi coverage throughout your home so that all devices work properly. It’s not YouTube TV’s job to make sure that your wireless networking is solid, robust and stable enough so that your devices don’t buffer and stutter and freeze up. If you want TV that lives up to the level of quality that you’re accustomed to, it’s up to you to make sure that your home network is solid. This will depend on two factors: 1) your internet service, and 2) your networking hardware (modem and router).

Internet Service

At a bare minimum, you’ll need 5Mbps (Megabits per second) service to stream. This is the minimum for streaming an HD video stream on a single TV. If you plan to watch streaming content on 2 TVs at once, you’ll need a bare minimum of 10 Mbps. 4K video more than doubles that. In general, Tech Genius Mobile recommends 25 Mbps or more.

To check your current level of internet service, open a web browser on your computer and go to www.fast.com (or just click that link!)

The best internet service available is fiber. Fiber can offer speeds in excess of 1 Gbps (1000 Mbps) but it isn’t yet available in the Tucson area. (It probably won't be available any time soon - fiber tends to be available exclusively in larger US markets.)

The second best is cable (Cox, Comcast, etc.) which can offer 300 Mbps or more but most people will be well served (and save money) with Cox’s “Essential 30” (30 Mbps) service at around $60-70/month.

Coming in 3rd place is cellular hotspot service (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile) but while this service will offer adequate speed/bandwidth (assuming you’re reasonably near a cell tower), it typically has data caps that are inadequate for streaming your TV service. And once you exceed your data limit, you’ll either pay very high overage charges or they’ll throttle (limit) your service so that you can’t watch TV at all! If you’re lucky enough to be grandfathered in on an unlimited data plan, this won’t be an issue.

Tied for fourth place is DSL (CenturyLink, etc.) and microwave internet (Bluespan, Simply Bits, etc.). DSL claims to be able to offer 40 Mbps but in practice, you’re unlikely to get half that. Worse still, there’s a limited amount of bandwidth that’s shared between you and everyone in your area. As more people sign on and stream TV, everyone’s signal (and streaming) suffers. Microwave internet is expensive service at $85-100/month for 15Mbps service but it’s reliable and speeds are usually guaranteed, so you’ll get what you’re paying for and your neighbors’ usage won’t impact you at all.

Bringing up the rear is satellite (high Earth orbit) internet (Hughes, Viasat, Wild Blue, etc.) which is simply inadequate for streaming.

A handful of tech giants (Amazon and SpaceX among others) are actively deploying thousands of low Earth orbit satellites and services based on these new satellite networks will be rolling out over the next year or two. These services should give cable internet a run for its money, undercutting their prices in the process. In a similar vein, 5G internet is rolling out and cellular providers are talking about unlimited data plans with speeds that fall somewhere between fiber and cable for just $50/month - so if none of the options above are viable for you, stay tuned!

Networking Hardware

Having adequate internet service is only half the battle. That gets the service to your home, but it doesn’t guarantee that all your networked devices (computers, smartphones, tablets, and especially streaming media players) are getting the speed/bandwidth they need.

If your current internet service is DSL, you’re stuck with the modem they gave you, but you can install a much better router and that will help a lot. (You’ll still be limited by the relatively slow speed available via DSL, but at least your wireless devices won’t have to deal with the speed degradation that your crummy router is providing! And that www.fast.com result may go up!)

If your current internet service is cable, you probably have a modem (possibly even a modem+router combo) that was provided by the cable company. Bad news, these aren’t very good; good news, you don’t have to keep paying a monthly rental fee for substandard equipment! You can upgrade your modem and your router and get much better performance.

And since you’ll no longer be paying $8-10/month for renting their lousy equipment, the new modem and router will pay for themselves over time.

Recommended Cable Modems (If Cox or Comcast is your internet provider)

Recommended Routers (No matter who your internet provider is)

'Mesh' WiFi systems provide business-grade performance at consumer-level prices. A mesh system uses multiple devices ('nodes') to provide you with a single WiFi name (no more MyWiFi-2 and MyWiFi-5) and seamless roaming between nodes. As you get further away from the node you're currently connected to and the signal strength from another node becomes stronger, the mesh system will automatically connect you to the stronger node so you get optimal performance at all times, anywhere in the home. These systems have gotten so good and come down in price so much that there's no reason to go with a traditional, consumer-grade router anymore. As such, all the recommendations below will be for mesh systems.

MENU
 

Where To Go From Here

At this point, you hopefully have an idea whether you're a Super Saver (antenna only - no cable alternative/live streaming package), a Thrifty Consumer (antenna + a low-cost cable alternative/live streaming package such as Philo), or a U of A sports fanatic (antenna + Sling TV + Sling's Sports Extra Package). If so, just go ahead and order (as applicable) your DVR of choice, a streaming media player (if applicable) for each of your TVs, and the required networking components form the links above. Then, just call or email to schedule an appointment for antenna installation.

If you're still not sure what you need to order, please give me a call or send me an email letting me know which category you think you fall into.

If you fall into the TV Connoiseur category, you're probably going to want some help choosing the best streaming service for your needs. I can help with that but I'll need some information from you. First make 2 lists - one for your 'must-have' channels and one for your 'nice-to-have' channels. Then send me an email with your channel lists and I'll get back to you with your best options. Remember, though - streaming services do not have/require contracts, so you're free to switch from one to another as often as you like (or temporarily close your account if you'll be out of town for an extended period of time and not using the service).

MENU