THE BLOG

The Cable-free Calgarian

12/27/2013 06:14 EST | Updated 02/26/2014 05:59 EST

Growing up in my parents' home, we didn't have cable television. I grew up adjusting the antenna above the set to snag free local over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts. In my early twenties I struck out on my own and, being used to not having a cable service, I continued on without it. Today, in my early thirties, I have yet to ever subscribe to or pay for any television service.

That's not to say I don't like cable television. In fact, I love it! I find it strangely satisfying to sit on the coach and flip through seemingly unlimited content, as uninteresting as most of it is. I recall entire summers at grandma's house where I barely left the house, being glued to nature shows and YTV cartoons while devouring gallon buckets of ice cream.

So why not pay for cable television now? Why would I? I have plenty of Internet bandwidth to play with, which gives me access to any media I could want. While some might be quick to point out the moral--and legal - debate around piracy, I assure you that this is not an article about ripping off the fine producers of entertainment media. We live in a day in age where those who want content can get it legally and easily. Behold - my current media consumption strategy:

The Television

After many years of happily enjoying my favourite television shows and movies on my laptop, I decided I wanted something that resembled an entertainment center. A few months ago I invested $200 into a modern 32-inch 780p television at Best Buy. After purchasing a cheap HDMI cable from the dollar store, I use my TV as a monitor to display content from my laptop.

Streaming Media Box

I purchased a Roku 3, which plugs directly into the television. This $110 device streams video over my Wi-Fi network from services like Netflix ($8 a month) and Crackle (free). It should be noted that Canadian users will have limited content compared to Americans, unless you are willing to read and execute one of the dozens of tutorials online on how to overcome this obstacle. With the help of a free app called Twonky, I stream YouTube content to the Roku from my Android smartphone. As of writing, Shaw TV streams their Calgary community channel via Livestream, which is available (for free) as a Roku channel. And every once in a while I tune into CNN International through a channel created by Nowhere Man. Adding channels by genre is easy through the Channel Store discovery feature. According to the Roku website, users have access to more than 1000 channels, the majority of which are free.

HDTV Antenna

The only thing I have really wanted, with regards to local channels, is news. I love to wind down the evening with CBC's The National or the six o'clock news on CTV and Global. The days of hanging an antenna to catch over-the-air content are far from over. All TV's sold in the U.S. after 2007 required a tuner to interpret digital OTA signals, so if you have a television older than 2007, it probably won't be up to standard (hence, I had to buy a new TV). If you buy one of these antennas, the video quality will be in absolutely clear HD; however, reception varies based on your geographic location in relation to broadcast towers--the antenna will either pick up signals or not, as per channel. This may account for the gamut of product reviews you'll find on Amazon for antennas, whether they cost $20 or $140. The best antenna can only pick up signals available in the area.

The very best HDTV antennas appear to be designed for mounting outdoors; however my simple $40 indoor antenna easily picks up three of the six local channels available in my area immediately after I plugged it in. I could probably get it closer to the window, or reduce the interference, in order to pick up more; but I'm currently more than happy with two: CBC and CTV.

If you're happy to give up a few mainstream cable channels--and sacrifice the newest content available--going cable-free can be relatively easy. It can also be surprisingly enjoyable, if you like to experiment with different gadgets; the cost savings for going cable-free will more than pay for your new hobby.