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I was 8 years old when I mastered the art of tin foil origami. The blame lies mostly with my father, but the 1984 Summer Olympics on ABC played its part. My dad was not a fan of the television, and we rarely had one in the house while I was a child. I grew up reading, listening to music, and sneaking over to the neighbors’ house to watch "The A-Team." But every few years when the Olympics would roll around, my dad would find a TV from the 1970s and begrudgingly allow it to invade our living room for the duration of the games. Anyone who owned a TV back in the day remembers those glorious rabbit ear antennas with telescoping metal rods the thickness of chewing gum foil. Most of our TVs over the years had likely been involved in some sort of underground Fight Club for electronics. Bent, broken, and missing antennas meant that our reception was like watching TV with a constant downpour of snowflakes. The 100-yard dash in Los Angeles looked more like it was taking place in Lillehammer. But with a few rolls of tin foil and a coat hanger, I became the master at getting a crystal-clear connection.

Fast-forward to 2013 and I find myself in a very similar situation. We officially cut cable in the Castillo house, just in time for a household full of Thanksgiving guests wanting to watch the Detroit Lions actually win a game, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the National Dog Show all at the same time. So what do you do when you finally cut the cable cord? Get out the tin foil and coat hangers, and let’s walk through how we can unplug but still watch what we want.

First, you will need an HD antenna. Yes, you can still actually watch free TV over the air, and the quality is excellent. Since 2009, all full-power television stations are now broadcasting in digital format, which requires a digital tuner on your television (most HD televisions purchased within the last 5 years have one) and a digital antenna. Before you decide which antenna is best for you, visit antennaweb.org, put in your ZIP code, and be surprised how many stations you can receive. It will also help you decide whether an indoor or outdoor antenna will work in your area. After lots of research, I settled on the Mohu Leaf Ultimate HDTV indoor antenna. It retails for around $70 and includes a USB-powered amplifier that boosts the signal and filters out unwanted frequencies. Installation took about 2 minutes: I screwed the coax connector into the back of the TV, pinned up the paper-thin 9"x11.5" antenna on the wall, plugged in the power for the amp, and then scanned for new channels. I was pleasantly surprised to receive 21 channels, and I had a crystal-clear HD connection to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Next, we needed to find a way to watch our other seasonal content. I popped the laptop open in the living room and navigated to stream.nbcsports.com/liveextra. NBC is now live streaming its NFL games on the internet. Depending on your ISP, you may have to log in with your username and password to access its live online content. It also allows you to see other scores, browse additional content, or check your email when you should be eating turkey. It turns out that NBC was also live streaming the National Dog Show, so we were able to switch over and listen to the chorus of “awwww” from our kids as fluffy poodles filled the screen.

With all of our house guests happily stuffed with fried turkey and comforted with all their viewing requirements met, I could finally rest. It turns out that you truly can find almost everything you want to watch in an unplugged world. So use that roll of tin foil to keep your turkey moist and that wire hanger to keep your winter coat off the ground, and realize that your options for viewing the content we want are multiplying every day.

This article appears in the January/February 2013 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Tin Foil, Coat Hangers, and Cord Cutting."

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