Goodbye cable, Hello DTV!

Posted on July 1, 2008. Filed under: Entertainment, Home & Garden, Utilities | Tags: , , , , , , |

NOTE: This article has been updated on my new site, here:

I finally did it. Broke the cable habit and switched to free Digital TV. I was already at the lowest and cheapest cable package Comcast offered – limited basic (I downgraded right after HBO aired the final episode of ‘Sex in the City’ – one of my guilty pleasures). Canceling cable will save me $16.42 per month or $197.04 per year.  So far, my withdrawal symptoms are almost non-existent.  I get most of the same channels with DTV as with limited basic cable but I do miss Comcast’s more comprehensive online guide for tv programs. Here’s how I did it:

Step 1
I went to tvfool which allows you to enter your zip code to locate TV transmitters, look at coverage maps, and optimize your HDTV setup. I currently have a 6 year old, 25″ Symphonic SDTV, i.e., a  tv that only supports standard definition. is a good resource to learn about digital TV and how to incorporate it into your home theater system.

Step 2
I applied for a $40 coupon from the government toward a digital tv tuner at . It took about 3-4 weeks for the coupon to arrive in the mail and looks like a credit or debit card.  Make sure to note the expiration date on the card and use it before it expires.

Step 3  Zenith DTT900 Digital TV Tuner
Meanwhile, I started researching DTV converter boxes. Luckily, I have a father who is analytical with a degree in electrical engineering and a HAM radio buff. He has expertise in these types of things. He owns and recommended the Zenith DTT900 Digital TV Tuner (if it’s good enough for him…).  I price shopped on and offline and found the best price (and in stock) at my local Frys Electronics store. My father told me to make sure I bought a unit with the box stamped Apr 08 or later. Apparently, there were some minor sound problems with earlier Zenith DTT900 units.  There were only 2 units left at that Frys, but they were Apr 08 so I purchased one.  With tax less the coupon, it cost me $11.87.  Click here for more info on the Zenith DTT900 Digital converter box.

Step 4
I went into my garage and dusted off my old rabbit ears antenna from when I used to live cable-free in Boston more than 11 years ago (sometimes it does pay to hang on to old stuff).

Step 5
I unplugged my cable box and plugged in the Zenith DTT900 and attached it and the rabbit ears to the back of my tv.  The installation process was very easy and straightforward, even for a non-electrical engineer.  Signal strength varies by channel and time of day where I live, so some adjustments need to be made to the “wabbit” ears frequently.  The Zenith tuner does have a tv program guide feature, but you can only see what the programming is for the current time and the next hour. I found a good Digital Television/HDTV Channel List for within 100 miles of San Francisco.

Step 6
I called Comcast and canceled my cable service. I returned the cable box and remote to the local Comcast office. They didn’t even put up a fight.

Step 7
My father, who lives in Massachusetts, said he will build and mail me a better antenna out of wire coat hangers, cardboard and tinfoil. I’ll give an update on that when it happens. He said it’s an easy DIY project and “even you could do it.” Thankfully, I won’t have to since he does this for fun.

Update on 7/29/08: I also had to get a two way tv splitter to connect both my DVD player and the DTV tuner/rabbit ears to my tv without having to swap cables around every time I wanted to watch a DVD – cost at Fry’s $1.89 +tax

Related articles/blog posts:

How To Recycle an Old Satellite Receiver Set Top Box instead of Buying a Digital Converter Box

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