Back in the 90’s and early 2000s, cable TV was pretty much a necessity if you wanted to zone out and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls each week. But cable isn’t the only way we can access visual media anymore, and options like video streaming and antennae (yes, those little old-style bunny ears) come at a fraction of the cost of a premium cable TV subscription.
Over-the-air TV for live coverage
“Stealing cable” is a phrase that gets tossed around when you talk about cancelling your monthly cable subscription, but pulling from TV signals that are floating around in the air isn’t illegal in the least. Over-the-air signals work just like AM and FM radio, and can be pulled “from the air” by anyone with a TV antenna—it’s just that most people don’t have the antenna to do so.
(I almost want to say “most people don’t have TV antennae, unlike how everyone has radio antennae,” but even radios are getting less and less prevalent nowadays. I can’t remember the last time I intentionally listened to the radio while sitting in front of a physical radio, as opposed to listening to a radio broadcast on my laptop or phone!)
Antennae from popular brands like ClearStream receive broadcast signals from around 100 km away, and many of today’s antenna even receive clear HD programs. They come in a variety of styles: models that are formed like your iconic, two-eared television antennae, and models that just look like slim boxes.
Smaller indoor TV antenna don’t have as wide of a range in reception as larger racks do, but if you live in a metropolitan area and have a well-located window or outer wall to hang them to, you don’t necessarily need anything bigger. Just make sure to select one with your location and living situation in mind: if your TV is in the basement, for instance, you might want something that gets set up outside, as the ground will insulate signals coming into your living space!
Setting up video streaming
I’ll be discussing Android boxes later in this article, but first, let’s talk about something that’s super easy to set up. Streaming video services like Netflix allow users to view a select set of TV shows and movies for a set monthly rate, which is, in my experience, always drastically less expensive than even the most basic cable package.
Today, many televisions allow streaming directly from the TV monitor or adjoined box. You can run Netflix (or Amazon Prime, etc.) off of a laptop, smartphone, or other device and send the content to your TV via a cable or Chromecast stream, or you can run it off of your gaming console. But if you have a newer TV, or you’re on the market for a new one, it’s even easier to stream directly from the monitor itself. Look for models that list themselves as “smart TV” or “TV Editions”—like the Toshiba Fire TV Edition—to guarantee direct streaming capabilities.
If your TV doesn’t have streaming capabilities, however, it’s no big deal. Media streamers plug directly into your screen and add on capabilities that didn’t come out of the box for the television. They’ve gotten really affordable, too: we use Google Chromecast in my household, and it lets you cast media directly to your television using your Chrome browser or smartphone. If you use Bluetooth devices (for instance, a Bluetooth sound bar) to play your audio, Chromecast takes things to the next level and syncs up your visual and audio perfectly.
Other popular devices are the Apple TV and Roku Streaming Stick, which take slightly different approaches to streaming content. Apple focuses on showing you items from your media library, and Roku draws from the Roku interface (which offers both paid and free content.)
Okay, but what IS an Android box??
If you’ve kept up with tech news over the past few years, you may have heard about Android boxes. While the legality of Android boxes is still in discussion—for now, they’re legal to purchase, but cannot be sold pre-loaded with content—they’re touted as a way to access content without having to pay for a subscription or each individual show.
If you get into the details of it all, an Android box is simply any TV box that’s set up with Android, an open-source operating system used in everything from these TV boxes to smartphones. When you use an Android box with your TV, you have the ability to turn your screen into a smart TV that connects to the internet, views your home media content, and can access a variety of apps.
The “free TV” part of the equation typically comes in on the app end of things, so be careful when selecting an Android box, because they don’t all come with the same content and apps downloaded onto them. Some will require a little more work to get them functioning; others may offer access to a pre-existing content library.
The NVIDIA SHILD Streaming Media Player is often cited as the cream of the crop when it comes to Android boxes and streaming services. With a sleek, funky design (think a PS4, but cooler), the Nvidia Shield gives you access to smooth, HDR video in up to 4K quality. It’s a way to access apps like Netflix and YouTube from your television, and can access your GeForce rig to stream your PC games straight from the cloud.
Android box and streaming setups differ, but what’s universal about Android box setup is that you’ll need to use an app like KODI to stream media. (I personally think that the streaming service approach is a little more seamless, but it does typically come with a monthly cost.) To up your Android box, make sure you have the KODI app installed; then, search for channels in the add-on section to find your favourite shows and movies.
The setup for an Android box, streaming service, or brand new antenna may be difficult the first time around, but it’s a hassle that usually only needs to happen once. After 20 minutes of setup and troubleshooting, you can enjoy your cable-free TV at your leisure for as long as you’d like.
With the availability of these new services, there’s no longer a need for consumers to rely on cable subscriptions to access their media. Shop home theatre products, including TVs and streaming devices, online at Best Buy today.