This is a question I am asked from time to time: what can I do to save money on my cable television bill? Likely you have noticed your cable or satellite TV bill go up and up. What you may not realize is that the most of the price hikes are not because of the satellite or cable TV provider. Greedy cable TV providers, such as Disney and Viacom, charge a fee to rebroadcast their channel. Even though they keep finding ways to pack more and more commercials per hour, they still charge a fee per channel. This would not be so bad except that these same greedy pigs also require you to purchase their shows in packages. For example, you cannot just get the History channel and nothing else, you also have to get Discovery channel and TLC and so on. If that wasn’t bad enough, local stations that you can get free with an antenna also make the cable provider pay a fee to rebroadcast. And when the greedy pigs want more money, they play the victim and ask you to demand your cable provider to keep the channels even though the channels are going away only because your provider doesn’t want to pay them more money.

Still, despite the deck being stacked against you by channel creators, you can save money. But it does require a little bit of technical know-how. Some much more than others.

Before we begin, I strongly do recommend you get a good universal remote regardless, such as Logitech Harmony remotes. You can program these where you push a button that is labeled, for example, “Watch TV” and it turns everything on and does all the changes needed to your TV or stereo. However you decide, save up some money and get a good universal remote to make life easy.

Option 1: Tivo

This option is only available to people with cable TV and Verizon FIOS; Tivo is incompatible with satellite TV or Centurylink PRISM. This option also requires the least amount of technical know-how to use, but requires a lot of work to set up. It is also confusing when buying because Tivo has so many models. If you want something as close as to what you are used to, this is the way to go. It is the most expensive, however, and your return on investment will be years. This option is only worth if and only if you can get a Tivo device on a big sale. But Tivos are excellent and will last a very long time. This will only lower your equipment rental fees; it will not lower the costs of the channels.

You will need to buy a Tivo Roamio Plus or Pro off eBay or a Tivo Bolt Vox from anywhere. Make sure you get a model that supports cable TV. I recommend the Tivo Roamio because the Tivo Bolt Vox models are much more confusing. Furthermore, you must make sure you get a unit with a lifetime service plan, or all-in service plan. The best place to buy a Tivo box is to get a refurbished model from tivo.com during one of their big sales. The price of these units can be up to half of the retail price. eBay has plenty of used Tivo Roamios Plus with lifetime service at good prices. A quick check on eBay shows you can buy one for under $400. However, only the Tivo Bolt will let you stream Netflix and such at 4K UHD. The Tivo Roamio is limited to regular HD.

The Tivo Roamio is good for 6 live TV’s or recordings at the same time. So I can watch live TV with 6 different TV’s at the same time or record 2 shows at once while watching TV on 4 different TV’s. The Tivo Bolt Vox is 4 or 6 depending on the confusing model you buy.

For every other TV you have you will need a Tivo Mini. The old Tivo Minis (the ones limited to HD) can be found on eBay for about $100. The new ones, Tivo Mini Vox, is about $200 with tax per device brand new. You may also need a device called a MoCA adapter (Media over Coaxial Adapter). This is nothing more than a device that puts your internet over your cable’s screw-on coaxial cables. These are about $90 with tax. (By the way, these adapters are also the best way to run internet over very long distances.) The MoCA adapter is only required if and only if you cannot get an ethernet (network) wire to your Tivo DVR. (P.S. The MoCA adapter will likely go bad before your TiVo does, so if your TiVo starts to act funny, replace this first.)

The last piece of the puzzle is a device called a CableCard. By law, your cable TV provider must let you rent these devices from them.

I have hooked up these devices myself. If you want to just save on your equipment rental, I can help you buy and hook up the equipment. It will not take that long; the hard part is getting the equipment.

Okay, math time. Pretending we are buying our Tivo devices off eBay and the prices listed above are true. Let us also pretend you are paying a rental fee for devices is as follows (as taken from Suddenlink’s website): $17/month per DVR, $7/month per TV not with a DVR, $2.50/month for a CableCard. Let us also pretend you have only 1 DVR and every other TV is just a regular box. The return on investment (ROI) time is the number of months it will take until your savings exceed the cost of your equipment. So if the ROI is 48 months, then it will take 48 months to save enough money to overcome the cost of the equipment. Suddenlink use Tivo for their DVR’s. (These prices were updated in November 2018.)

You must remember that TiVo’s lifetime subscription fee is $550. It is tied to the DVR, so if it dies, you must buy new service. However, TiVo’s are very reliable and you can easily replace a bad hard drive and still use your box. You must also remember that the new TiVo Mini Vox is $180 + tax. So with the fees below, I round to $200 to simplify things.  You probably can find discounts.

TV's        per month with Tivo      per month with cable      Total Tivo investment      return on investment time
1           $2.50                    $17                       $400                       $400 / ($17 - $2.50) = 28 months
2           $2.50                    $24 = $17 + $7            $500                       $500 / ($24 - $2.50) = 24 months
3           $2.50                    $31 = $17 + ($7 x 2)      $600                       $600 / ($31 - $2.50) = 21 months
4           $2.50                    $38 = $17 + ($7 x 3)      $700                       $700 / ($38 - $2.50) = 20 months
5           $2.50                    $45 = $17 + ($7 x 4)      $800                       $800 / ($45 - $2.50) = 19 months

Same math, but now pretending we are buying the best of the best from Tivo directly and not on sale. These prices are taken from tivo.com. (And as you will see, not worth it even though the device will last over 7 years.) This is for the latest generation of TiVo, the Bolt.

TV's        per month with Tivo      per month with cable      Total Tivo investment      return on investment time
1           $2.50                    $17                       $1050                      $1050 / ($17 - $2.50) = 73 months
2           $2.50                    $24 = $17 + $7            $1250                      $1250 / ($24 - $2.50) = 59 months
3           $2.50                    $31 = $17 + ($7 x 2)      $1450                      $1450 / ($31 - $2.50) = 51 months
4           $2.50                    $38 = $17 + ($7 x 3)      $1650                      $1650 / ($38 - $2.50) = 46 months
5           $2.50                    $45 = $17 + ($7 x 4)      $1850                      $1850 / ($45 - $2.50) = 44 months

However, TiVo does have outlet sales from time to time. These are the prices for TiVo service based on the November 2018 outlet sale. This is also the for the latest generation of TiVo, the Bolt. Though the Roamio, which is also good, can sometimes be found on the outlet store for less.

TV's        per month with Tivo    per month with cable       Total Tivo investment       return on investment time
1           $2.50                  $17                        $750                        $750 /  ($17 - $2.50) = 52 months
2           $2.50                  $24 = $17 + $7             $950                        $950 /  ($24 - $2.50) = 45 months
3           $2.50                  $31 = $17 + ($7 x 2)       $1150                       $1150 / ($31 - $2.50) = 41 months
4           $2.50                  $38 = $17 + ($7 x 3)       $1350                       $1350 / ($38 - $2.50) = 38 months
5           $2.50                  $45 = $17 + ($7 x 4)       $1550                       $1550 / ($45 - $2.50) = 36 months

As far as Spectrum TV, these are the best prices I could find. 1 DVR is $19.98 per month (okay $20), 2 to 4 DVR’s is $19.99 per month + $6.99 per TV (Okay $20 + $7), and a CableCard is $2 per month. Spectrum uses their own proprietary DVR. So this first chart is based on the assumptions above where we buy our equipment off Ebay.

TV's        per month with Tivo      per month with cable      Total Tivo investment      return on investment time
1           $2                       $20                       $400                       $400 / ($20 - $2) = 23 months
2           $2                       $27 = $20 + $7            $500                       $500 / ($27 - $2) = 20 months
3           $2                       $34 = $20 + ($7 x 2)      $600                       $600 / ($34 - $2) = 19 months
4           $2                       $41 = $20 + ($7 x 3)      $700                       $700 / ($41 - $2) = 18 months
5           $2                       $61 = $41 + $20           $800                       $800 / ($61 - $2) = 14 months

Now pretend we are getting the best of the best from tivo.com again and not on sale.

TV's        per month with Tivo      per month with cable      Total Tivo investment      return on investment time
1           $2                       $20                       $1050                      $1050 / ($20 - $2) = 59 months
2           $2                       $27 = $20 + $7            $1250                      $1250 / ($27 - $2) = 50 months
3           $2                       $34 = $20 + ($7 x 2)      $1450                      $1450 / ($34 - $2) = 46 months
4           $2                       $41 = $20 + ($7 x 3)      $1650                      $1650 / ($41 - $2) = 43 months
5           $2                       $61 = $41 + $20           $1850                      $1850 / ($61 - $2) = 32 months

Option 2 – Live TV through the internet

This option requires a good internet speed, at least 10 MBPS per TV for regular HDTV and double that for 4K. You might can get by with less, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You will also need to invest in a good router unless you have DSL internet, at least $100 if not more depending on your house. I recommend Asus routers over $100 for apartments and small houses and the Netgear Orbi for large houses and old houses. You will also need a good antenna for the free local channels. If you do not live in apartment and do not to live in a HOA neighborhood you should get an external antenna that you can mount on your roof. Internal antennas just don’t work as well, even if the transmitter is a mile away. Lastly, you will need to buy an Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, or Roku. I strongly recommend you avoid Apple TV because it is not as easy to use or adaptable as the others. I do recommend Roku over the rest because it is the easiest to use in my opinion.

That is a lot of equipment to buy and you may already have some. You may already have the router or you may be using DSL and so you have little choice on your router. You can also upgrade later as needed.

You must remember too that some internet providers meter their data. So you might have to pay extra for unlimited internet.

Once you have all the equipment, now it is just a matter of time in deciding which service you want. You have many good choices, so shop around. Some choices are live TV only, others let you record. Some also give you a free device for signing up. (Never choose the Apple TV.) Keep all this in mind.

One major disadvantage of streaming TV is that you do not have a full featured DVR. You cannot save your recordings indefinitely, and with some services not at all. For that reason, you probably need to subscribe to another service to watch old shows. If you like to binge watch an entire season of a show, you won’t be able to do it with these services.

So here are your choices, in alphabetical order, for live streaming TV:

Option 3 – On-demand TV only

The last option is on-demand video services. The advantage of these services is that you can watch current and old shows anytime. You probably would have to subscribe to several services because greedy studios do not charge a standard fair and reasonable rate to everybody. If the only live TV you ever want or need is on local channels, then this is the way to go. Here are these services, in alphabetical order:

  • Amazon Prime
  • Crackle – This is a free service with commercials
  • Hulu – Some packages have commercials
  • Netflix
  • Pluto TV – This is a free service with commercials

In addition, each individual network may also have their own on-demand service which may or may not require a fee. For example: HBO Now, PBS, CBS, and so on.

Not listed in this list are any potentially illegal services.

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