Several years ago, Time Warner Cable – now Spectrum – required customers getting cable feeds on TVs not supported by a DVR or cable box to get digital adapters to continue receiving cable channels. (Previously those “extra” TVs just had a cable going directly into the back of the set, and you got “basic” channels at no additional charge.)
The boxes were free at first, then they cost $4 a month. The charge is now $6 a month. It may not sound like much until you start doing some math: that’s $72 a year, almost $150 after two years (per adapter). And it’s awful. There’s no on-screen channel guide and changing channels is painfully slow.
When Charter acquired Time Warner and it became Spectrum, the adapters still worked, but Spectrum stopped issuing new ones. Instead, they offered a smaller cable box that was better in quality, but it costs $11.75 per month for TWC legacy customers, $7.50 per month for those with a Spectrum package (Important note: a “legacy” customer is a Time Warner customer who opted to have their TWC package roll over to Spectrum; those customers would be well served to call a Spectrum rep to see if a Spectrum package might be better priced for them.)
There’s a much better solution: streaming.
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Spectrum has a very good free app that you can stream straight to your TV.
Here’s how to do it.
The solution is streaming (and it’s free)
I was already using a Roku on my main TV for watching Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu. The Spectrum channel on Roku essentially streams your entire cable package live, including premium channels, local broadcast channels and even On Demand channels.
(The Roku I first tried this with was pretty old. It worked, but there was a little pixelation now and then. The newer Roku I bought doesn’t do this. If your Roku is glitchy, you might need a newer model.)
Here are a few things you should know.
▪ If you have Spectrum cable and internet, you’re good to go. If you have Spectrum cable but get your internet from another provider, there’s still a solution: Spectrum will give you — free of charge — a special modem that will allow you to stream the Spectrum channel to your TV. The modem doesn’t work for internet service, only for streaming Spectrum to your extra TV. You still obviously need that Spectrum cable account, though.
▪ The Roku I purchased — the Streaming Stick — required me to use two remotes, because the Streaming Stick remote doesn’t turn the TV off or on, and wouldn’t adjust the volume. I can live with that. BUT there are models now that have a power button that will turn your TV off and on. If that’s an issue for you, check out one of the higher end models. (Also, maybe the newer Streaming Sticks come with this feature, but mine didn’t.)
▪ When I first started using the Roku to stream the Spectrum channel, I started having a lot of internet outages. Everything was OK on the Spectrum end, but it turns out my router and modem were old and couldn’t handle the extra work. I upgraded both my modem and router and haven’t had any trouble since. (Note: If you are paying to lease a modem and/router from Spectrum, then you’re on a Time Warner legacy package. Spectrum packages do not charge monthly leasing fees for modems and routers. In either case, if you’re having trouble or think your modem or router is out of date, as for an upgrade.)
Here’s how to do it
First, get a Roku. They start at around $25 and go up in price, but the least expensive model should be fine for this. (I got the Streaming Stick because it doesn’t require the remote to be aimed directly at the device to operate, so that worked well for my bedroom TV inside an armoire. You can get them anywhere — Amazon, Target, Walmart, Best Buy — and I know for sure that Target and Best Buy price match whatever you see at Amazon.)
According to the Spectrum website, you can also get the channel via an Xbox One, Apple TV, Android, Kindle Fire or a Samsung Smart TV. It does not list Amazon Fire Stick or Google Chromecast, but if you know for sure it works on those, let me know. (Note: if you’re just using the Spectrum app on a phone or tablet, you don’t need to have Spectrum internet, it’ll work with any internet service.)
Since I have a Roku, these instructions will be for that setup. I’m sure it’s similar for other streaming devices.
▪ Disconnect the digital adapter. You’ll need to return that to Spectrum to stop the charges to your account.
▪ The Roku will either plug directly into the HDMI outlet on the back of your TV or connect with an HDMI cable, which is included.
▪ Your TV will recognize the Roku. (You may need to use your TV remote to select HDMI, but if you’re disconnecting a digital adapter, it should already be set for that input.) In the main Roku screen, search for the the Spectrum TV channel and add it. It will take a few seconds to add to your channel lineup.
▪ Then select the option to play that channel. It will ask you to sign in with your cable account username and password. You most likely have a username and password already if you’ve been paying your bills online or streaming any other cable apps (like ESPN or PBS) on your Roku or on your computer. But if not, go online at spectrum.com and register your account.
▪ Roku will give you an activation code on the TV screen that you’ll be asked to enter on their website at my.roku.com/link. You can do this on your computer or on a mobile device.
▪ UPDATED: A reader brought to my attention that Roku now asks you to sign up for an account and that they ask you for a credit card. The credit card is there in case you want to purchase programs or pay channels from within the Roku service. You won’t be charged for anything unless you opt to purchase something, like an HBO Now account. But if you don’t want to enter a credit card, call Roku customer service at 816-272-8106 and they’ll help you with a work-around.
▪ After you sign in, the app will open on your TV screen. The < arrow on the Roku remote brings up a channel guide on the left side of the screen. Scroll up and down to select the channel you’d like to view. You can also set favorites or view the lineup by categories, such as Local, Movies and Sports. The full arrow ( <--- ) at the top of your Roku remote shows you an option that says “Guide,” and if you click on that, you can see a full TV grid similar to the one you get with a full service cable box.
You can’t punch in channel numbers and skip around that way, it’s all scrolling. But at least you get to clearly see the channels and names of the shows playing, unlike the info you get on old digital converter box.
And there you go. Shell out $30 bucks once and you have a much better option for watching TV on your extra set. Plus now you have Netflix and HBO Go and Hulu or whatever services you pay for on that TV as well.
Spectrum channel is here to stay
Scott Pryzwansky, communications director for Charter in the Carolinas, said that Spectrum is committed to maintaining the free Spectrum app, so don’t worry that you’ll give up your adapter and be left with nothing.
Pryzwansky also said there could be subtle differences between channel lineups if you are a Time Warner Cable legacy customer versus a a customer with a Spectrum package, but whatever your channel lineup is on your main cable box, that’s what you’ll get on the Spectrum app (in other words, before you switch from your legacy TWC account to a Spectrum package, make sure your favorite channels will convey).