What is free digital broadcast TV?

Digital broadcast TV is an improved method of TV broadcasting which offers cable TV picture quality and additional channels for free over the airwaves. In June 2009, TV stations in the US switched over to this new standard, however most stations have already started digital broadcasting.

What’s in it for you?

1. First of all, it’s free. Unlike cable, there are no monthly fees (even for HD broadcasts)

2. Quality. If you are in range and can receive a digital channel, reception is typically perfect. No snow, grainyness or fiddling around with rabbit ears to get the perfect picture. Since digital broadcast TV is less compressed than many digital cable signals, quality can actually be much better than traditional cable TV.

3. Additional network channels. Since digital broadcast is more efficient, networks have the ability to broadcast multiple channels. For example, a local PBS affiliate can choose to provide 3 channels round the clock. – one for small children, one for older kids and one for adults. (This was a nice surprise, since we found many new kids shows that we couldn’t pick up before going digital).

What equipment do I need?

You can use any type of TV to receive digital broadcasts, even that old one with the rabbit ears you got for $20 at a garage sale.

LCD and Plasma TV owners: There is a good chance that your TV’s can already receive digital broadcast TV. If your manual says ATSC tuner or HD ready, you can just plug your antenna directly into your tv and start receiving free digital tv broadcasts, many of them in HD.

Everyone else: You will need a digital TV receiver to enable your ‘old’ TV to work with digital broadcast TV. This device looks and acts like a small cable box and plugs into your TV set. These boxes sell new for about $40, but can sometimes be purchased for under $20.

Here’s a picture of the one we are using, a Zenith DTT900 which cost $19 at Circuit City…

Digital Converter Box

You’ll also need an antenna to receive digital broadcasts. You will probably want to buy a low cost set top UHF/VHF Antenna. After reading many online reviews, we picked up this one at Radio Shack for $16 and have been very pleased with its performance…

A simple set top antenna

Note: If you are very far away from most transmitters (30-70 miles), you may need to pickup something more powerful. The good news is than even top of the line long range antennas usually cost less than you would spend for two months of cable service.

Next: Check availability in your area.

Snacking and canceling cable

Just read a great post by Seth Godin called Hungry, which explains how marketers are great at teaching well-fed consumers  to want to eat more than they need.     He mentions canceling cable as a prime example. Cable TV used to fill a unique need.  Twenty years ago, it was the only way to get first run movies and was an exciting alternative to the content available on the three networks.  Cable was introduced at a reasonable price and it’s adoption soared.

Things have changed.   We now have free digital broadcast tv, DVDs, Hulu.com, Netflix and fixed price set top boxes like Roku.   In spite of this competition, cable prices have only gone up.    Yet it’s still hard for most of us to make the phone call and cancel cable TV.   Why?  Because we still want our snack despite being full.

Related link: Like buying a new 50″ TV each year and tossing it in the dumpster.

Share your story

Have you canceled cable TV?   Tell us about it…

Use the comments box below to share your story so that we can all learn from your experience.   Some things you might want to include…

  • What state do you live in?
  • How much are you saving per month?
  • What are you using as an alternative to cable tv?
  • Any advice for others canceling cable?
  • Any unexpected benefits from canceling