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Plenty of Entertainment Options Without Cable or Satellite

Last winter, while listening to my two children argue over what to watch on the living-room television and perusing my ever-increasing satellite bill, I began wondering if there was a better way to address both issues. As many Americans have done recently, I found the answers online.

The idea started to form during a Thanksgiving trip that saw the kids occupying themselves on a long drive by using tablets. For a few weeks after we got back home, I often heard my daughter say, “Mommy, can I watch TV on your iPad?” As a first-grader she was already familiar with various viewing apps from her favorite channels as well as my Netflix subscription. Her brother, a teenager, was accessing Netflix through his Xbox 360 in his room as well as on his iPod.

I realized that there was more than enough programming available online to justify cutting the satellite cord. My daughter now has her own Kindle Fire as well as an iPod for watching her favorite shows. I was so happy to be able to announce to the family that the 200 channels on our TV (about 190 of which were never watched) would be going away forever.

Atop my house, in the same spot once occupied by a satellite dish, now sits an HD antenna purchased for about $50. It receives more than 30 local channels in high-definition, making it easy to follow local news and broadcast network shows. The antenna has already survived a major hail storm and the subsequent re-roofing of our house without service interruption. There is no long-term contract, either. It is one of the most cost-effective investments we have ever made in our home.

To supplement the streaming video available on Netflix (at a whopping $8 per month), I purchased a one-year subscription to Amazon Prime for $79. In addition to thousands of movies and TV shows available for free, you can rent or purchase digital copies of thousands more. I use Prime to “borrow” one free book per month to read on my old-school Kindle.

We upgraded our Internet connection, which meant an increased cost, but it was more than offset by getting rid of the satellite bill. Now I have no trouble surfing the Web while each of the kids streams a separate show elsewhere in the house.

A major “wow” moment for me came when my wife browsed the Amazon Prime library for the first time one Sunday afternoon and found “Downton Abbey.”

“So this is that show everyone is talking about,” she commented. “I think I’ll check it out.”

She watched four episodes in one sitting and seven that day, finishing two seasons of the addictive program in less than a week. Welcome to 21st-century television viewing.

We have barely scratched the surface of what is available via the Internet. I have watched a handful of shows using the CBS and NBC apps, but we have not even sampled Hulu or other similar sites. I must also warn sports fans that the “Watch ESPN” app is password-protected and can only be used if you have a cable or satellite provider. But that won’t bother me during the NFL season when most of the games are on broadcast networks anyway.

It’s nice to have so many entertainment options but not to be tied to a huge cable or satellite bill. I can’t imagine ever going back.

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