It seems that monthly bills just keep getting bigger and bigger. So to help everyone save a few dollars, I am going to tell you a way to save money on your cable television bill. The cable TV companies will hate me for this, but here goes.
In recent columns we talked about saving money by getting rid of your land line telephone while keeping your old telephone number and moving to less expensive Internet service.
This week we'll talk about a way to save some money on your cable TV bill. Time Warner and other cable providers won't like this article because I am going to tell you about a way to save money by bypassing their cable boxes and the extra costs that come with them.
If you already subscribe to cable TV you know that there are tiers of service and the cable company will tell you that you need a cable box or a cable digital recorder to get high-definition channels to watch on your high-definition TV. That is not a fully accurate statement. You can pull in unscrambled digital channels from cable TV if your TV has a QAM tuner.
For those of you with a geeky bent, QAM stands for "quadrature amplitude modulation." This is the format that digital cable television providers use to encode and transmitted their cable channels. A QAM tuner allows you to get reception of unscrambled digital programming that is sent 'in the clear' by cable providers. Right now, by law, the cable providers must use this for local broadcast stations and public access channels.
That means that if your TV has a QAM tuner, you will only need a basic cable subscription to pull in a wealth of free channels. You simply run the coax cable from the wall to the TV and you will get many stations that the cable company doesn't tell you about.
I recently hooked up a new LG TV with a built-in QAM tuner to Time Warner cable coming out of the wall. This home subscribed to Time Warner's basic and digital cable channels, and with that subscription, even without a cable box, I was able to receive about 115 channels with about 12 of those being high-definition. Some of these were repeated. For instance, a few of the local channels had analog channels and high-definition channels with the same programming. Yet, I was able to get a wide-range of channels, some of which I had not seen before. There was certainly enough programming to keep me happy for quite a while.
Most of the televisions sold today have QAM tuners built-in, but this is not a feature that you will find advertised on the box or even in the main specifications. You have to look up your TV model on the Internet and scour through the specs or call the company to see if your TV has a QAM tuner. If you are buying a new TV, you can have the salesperson do the legwork to find out if it has a QAM tuner. If you already have cable television and a high-definition television and you are not sure if it has a QAM tuner, you can simply by-pass your cable box. Hook the TV directly to the cable coming from the wall and look through the menu till you find the "Auto-detect" channel feature. Run that and you will see immediately if you get the standard stations or the extended QAM stations.
If your high-definition TV is four or five years old and doesn't have a QAM tuner, you can add one, but what to purchase might take a bit of investigation. Although you can find QAM tuners for about $30, you would need a Clear QAM tuner which will run you $60 or more. There are a lot of options here, including devices that hook up to your television and your computer and give you a programming guide and recording capabilities.
Now, if you are entrenched in HBO and other premium cable channels and love the ability to record shows, you will have to continue to pay your cable company for all those extras. If you have more than one cable box, however, perhaps you could do without those extra boxes.
Watching cable television on a QAM-enabled TV isn't perfect. While my reception was amazingly good, there are a few drawbacks. The first is that the stations are labeled in unusual ways. For instance, there might be channel 11-0, 11-2, and 11-4 or 119-273. I could not find any guide or listings for these channels. So I wound up scrolling through the channels after they were scanned in and using the "Favorites" list to hold the ones I wanted to view on a regular basis.
If you have a TV with a QAM tuner and have cable TV service, you may be able to cut your cable bill by using this method. It's not perfect, but you may be surprised by what you get.
I would be remiss in not telling you that as the cable companies read articles like this and more people realize that they can downgrade their cable service and still get a lot of channels, they will try to cut out the type of freebies that I have talked about here. It might, however, be years before they can change the legislation and find ways to force you into renting their monthly fee cable boxes. In the meantime, you might be able to save a few bucks while still enjoying a wide variety of television programming.