People ask me all the time, “Kevin, how did you get so rich and successful and good looking?”

Okay, okay. Nobody has ever asked me that. However, I do get questions about my TV setup when people come over to my apartment. They are amazed that my TV can get basically any television show on demand, play any of the music on my desktop computer from the other room, and do it all for about $50 a year. While other people pay an average of $75 a month for cable, I get everything I want and usually pay between $0 and $5 a month.

You might be confused, so I’ll start you off with an overview. Just watch my super awesome rap video to get a better idea of what’s going on.

P.S. if you want to help this video win a contest, feel free to bombard the Get Rich Slowly twitter account with something clever like, “You down with HTPC? Yeah you know me!!! Thousandaire FTW”. Thanks dudes.

Update: I won the GRS contest! Thanks to all my fans and to JD at Get Rich Slowly for picking my entry!

The Fresh Prince of Eliminating Your Cable Bill

So to summarize, HDTV + Antenna + HTPC = Glorious way to save money.

Get an Antenna

I think a lot of young people have grown up with cable and they don’t even realize that they can get free programming with an antenna. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t need Jersey Shore, Mythbusters, or The Real Housewives of Anchorage, Alaska. Everything I watch is on one of the major over the air (OTA) broadcast networks, which means I can get everything I need in stunning high definition without paying a dime.

terk antennaHow much you need to spend on an antenna depends on how close you are to the signal and how many obstructions are between your antenna and the signal. If you live right next door to the broadcasting tower and have a clear line of sight out a window, you can probably just stick a paperclip back there and it will work perfectly. The further away you are and the more obstructions you have, the better antenna you’ll need. The best signal will come from an outdoor antenna, but indoor antennas can work just as well. I use a Terk Amplified Antenna that you can get on Amazon for a little over $40, and my signal is strong about 95% of the time on the third floor of a four story apartment.

The bottom line with antennas is that signal quality is much more important than your actual antenna. A super expensive antenna won’t work if you don’t get a signal at your house, and a super cheap set of rabbit ears will work just fine if you live next door to the broadcasting tower. If you already have an antenna, hook it up and see if it works.

If you don’t have an antenna, I recommend you go to Best Buy and get a cheap one to see if it works. Keep returning them until you find one that works. Then when you found the right one, box it up and return it, and then buy it off Amazon for a lower price.

If you only watch a little OTA TV then you should be all set with just an antenna. However, if you want a more robust (aka awesome) system, I recommend buying one more piece of hardware.

Get an HTPC

Back in the day (like 2007) you could impress the ladies with an iPhone; now everybody has one. The only way to truly impress a woman is with a Home Theater Personal Computer (HTPC) hooked up to a beautiful 1080p flat screen television.

Okay, maybe it’s not the only way, but it’s definitely the best.

The name HTPC can be misleading, because an HTPC is really just a computer. You can buy a brand new computer that was built to perform home theater tasks, but you might be able to get away with just using an old computer you have lying around the house. I’m not a computer hardware or software expert, so I’ll just tell you what I use. If you want to check out other options, just Google it.

HTPCI bought an Acer Aspire Revo for a little over $300. The particular model I bought is no longer available, but a newer model is available for around $350. You can check it out here. If you buy this (or really any HTPC), my only recommendation is that you make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Flash Player. I had choppy HD video and was very disappointed in my new HTPC until I updated my Flash Player. Now it’s glorious.

Once you get this bad boy plugged in, you have a fully functional computer hooked up to your big screen. You can watch all the YouTube and Hulu you could want, and it’s completely free! You can also search the web and check your email. It’s really just a regular desktop computer. To be honest, if your own personal desktop is a few years old, there’s a good chance this little guy is more powerful than your big ugly tower.

Now all you have to do is find the shows and movies you want you’re ready to drop your cable bill like a hot potato.

Free Programming

There are tons of ways to get free programming. You can go to Hulu, where you’ll find ABC, NBC, and Fox shows. You can go to CBS.com or CWTV.com for your favorite shows on those networks. You can even watch your favorite personal finance music videos from YouTube in high definition. A lot of the free programming is not in high definition, so don’t get discouraged if you aren’t happy with the picture quality; it just costs a few extra bucks for that. One of the beautiful things about this free programming is that you can stream it from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection. 4G streaming is also fast enough to stream videos, so if you have a device like the T-Mobile 7″ tablet then you can watch TV just about anywhere.

For those of you who want more free programming by any means necessary, I understand there are certain websites where you can find just about whatever you want. You can also find lots of viruses and potential piracy lawsuits in the future at these websites, so I don’t recommend them.

Pay for Programming

There are tons of options here. I only watch House and Glee, so I just watch House on Hulu in standard definition and buy individual episodes of Glee for $0.94 a piece at Amazon. If you only watch one or two episodes like me, I suggest you look at buying whatever you can’t watch with your antenna. However, if you watch a lot of TV and want more programming, there are some popular subscription options as well.

Buy Individual Episodes or Movies

  • Amazon Instant Video – This is what I use because it is the cheapest place to buy individual TV show episodes or movies. For example, Glee in HD is $0.99 per episode here. If you sign up for the “Season Pass” where you automatically buy the episodes as they are aired, you get 5% off, or in this case, five pennies. Woohoo!
  • iTunes – If you want to use iTunes for some reason, you can buy shows and movies there as well. However, they seem to be more expensive. For example, Glee in HD will cost you $2.99 an episode through iTunes. Yowza!

Subscription Services

  • Hulu Plus – For $7.99 a month, you can upgrade your Hulu viewing experience to HD. You also get access to more cable shows with Hulu Plus. Of the three subscription services, this is the only one that gives you access to new shows the day after they air on TV, and is probably best for you die hard TV watchers.
  • Netflix – Most of you are familiar with Netflix; it is the best place for unlimited movies. It also has some older TV shows as well. Of the three services, this is the only one that provides 1080p HD (the others are 720p). This is also $7.99 a month.
  • Amazon Prime – For $79 a year you get free two-day shipping on any of your Amazon orders, but you also get access to tons of free programming. Unfortunately, this doesn’t have as many movies as Netflix, and none of the TV shows are new like you get on Hulu Plus. In my opinion, if you don’t need the free two-day shipping then you probably shouldn’t buy this.

If that wasn’t enough for you, here is a handy dandy table that I found on Paid Content that gives you all the information in an easy to read format.

Amazon Prime Hulu Plus Netflix

Music and Home Videos

Up until right now, this has pretty much been a “TV and Movie” PC instead of a “Home Theater” PC. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about all of you people that actually have media on your computer instead of relying on the internet to stream everything. For you, I give you Boxee.

Boxee is a free piece of software (they also sell hardware, but just ignore the Boxee Box and download the free software) that gives you an incredibly easy user interface to play all of the media off your computer or off your network. I keep all my media on my main desktop, and just let Boxee go get it off the network so I don’t have to take up space on my relatively small HTPC hard drive.

Another great thing about Boxee is that you don’t need an HTPC to use it. You can download it on your desktop or laptop right now and see how you like it. Then imagine that on the big screen in your living room. Yep, it’s pretty awesome.

This Won’t Work For You If…

Now, after having almost completed the longest blog/research project I’ve ever put on this website, I have to admit that this setup is not for everyone. Here are a few of the limitations of this setup. If one of the following applies to you, then you might want to just forget everything you read.

  • You frequently use multiple TVs in your house (you would need an HTPC and/or antenna for each television set for this setup to work; you’re probably better off with cable)
  • You watch lots of cable TV (you’ll want to see if Hulu Plus has your shows. If not, almost all cable shows are two of three bucks an episode. If you watch two shows a night, that’s about $25 a week. You may as well just get cable)
  • You HAVE to watch cable shows the first day they are aired (some people feel the need to talk about Jersey Shore at lunch with their friends the day after it airs. It takes at least a day for shows to be available for purchase on Amazon or on Hulu Plus)

Alternatives

There are always going to be alternatives. If you just want the music but not the TV shows, you’re probably better off with a $99 AppleTV. You can get a BoxeeBox for $199, but again, you are limited to only what Boxee wants you to do instead of getting your own computer and customizing it as you see fit. The nice thing about having options is that every new option is just another opportunity to cancel your cable bill.

The End

Sweet Potatoes! That was a long post. If you’re made it this far, please leave me a comment and let me know if this would work for you, and if so, are you gonna give it a shot?

This post was featured as an Editor’s Choice pick in the Totally Money Blog Carnival hosted at Stupid Cents.