After seeing my cable bill reach new heights month after month, I decided to cut the cord a year ago. And you know what? It wasn’t bad at all. Here are some tips and devices to help ease the transition to saving money.
Today, we have many options than ever for receiving our in-home entertainment. Streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus provide a wide array of viewing options, and small streaming devices make setup a breeze. However, “cord cutting” does take some effort to find the content you love.
First, you will need a broadband internet service, which many times comes from the cable company. And, if you’re service provider is like mine, it’s probably cheaper to pay about $10 for basic cable and receive a discount on your internet for “bundling” the two services. Be sure to research the prices with your provider before cutting the cord completely, as you may still need that cord to truly save.
You’ll want an internet speed of at least 3 megabits per second to minimize buffering and receive decent picture quality while streaming.
- Netflix (about $8 a month) is one of the most popular for TV shows and movies, and works with almost every device. They even have original programming (such as Orange is the New Black). However, it does not typically contain the current season of TV shows.
- Hulu Plus (also about $8 a month) may be a better option for current TV seasons, but this is where things get tricky. You can watch many shows the day after they air on Hulu.com for free, but not all of this free content is available for streaming to your device through Hulu Plus. Confused? Yeah, so am I. Go to your favorite show’s page on Hulu.com and you should see a note stating if that show is available for streaming to devices.
- Amazon Prime ($99 per year) also has its own streaming video service. And they recently added a lot of content from HBO (but no current seasons, sadly). Amazon is also creating original content. Amazon Prime also gets you 2-day shipping, unlimited photo storage, and the Kindle lending library.
- Crackle (free) offers a constantly changing selection of movies and TV shows, also the selection is somewhat small compared to the other services. This service is ad-supported and is available on many streaming devices.
- Sling TV is a new-comer to the streaming scene. For $20 a month, you get ESPN, TNT, TBS, CNN, Adult Swim, ABC Family, Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, HGTV, Travel Channel and more. AMC (including The Walking Dead) is slated to be added to the lineup soon. There are also add-on Sports, Kids, and News packages available for $5 per package per month.
- Playstation Vue (starting at $29.99/month) offers a wider range of channels than Sling TV, such as FX, FXX, SyFy, and MTV. It also features on-demand access to ABC, NBC, and FOX. It’s unique Cloud DVR features also sets it apart, allowing to mark shows to watch later (Vue stores them for 28 days). You’ll need either a Playstion 3/4 or a Fire TV (including the Stick) to sign-up, but it’s available on iOS and Chromecast as well.
- CBS All Access ($5.99 per month) allows you to stream your favorite CBS shows on many devices, including Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, and Fire TV. You also get access to a live stream of your local CBS affiliate (where available), allowing you to catch local newscasts and programming when you’re on the go.
- Pluto TV (free) is an underrated service that provides the familiar comfort of an onscreen guide. The service aggregates web videos from a wide range of sources an organizes them into “channels,” such as News, Technology, and 90s TV Shows.
There are also free trials available for most of these services so you can test them out and see if they’ll work with the shows you want to watch.
Next, you’ll need a device to view the streaming content. And, luckily, there is a wide array of devices available. Below is a quick summary of some of your options.
- Roku: Streams Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle, and a bunch of 3rd party apps from its own “app store”.
- Apple TV: Streams movies and TV purchased from iTunes, as well as Netflix and Hulu Plus. The latest generation of the Apple TV comes with its own App Store, allowing you to install other streaming services such as Crackle, Comedy Central, Fox Now, etc. There are even games available for playing with the motion-sensitive remote. While Amazon Instant Video isn’t directly supported, you can use the Amazon Instant Video app on your iPhone or iPad to Airplay the video to your TV.
- Chromecast: The Chromecast can stream from a wide variety of services (Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, YouTube, etc) and uses your smartphone or tablet as the “remote”. It has also recently added support for games.
- Amazon Fire TV stick: About the same form factor of the Chromecast, the Amazon Fire TV stick offers a wide variety of installable apps for Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle and Sling TV. It’s also one of the few dedicated streaming devices that directly supports Amazon Instant Video. One nice bonus that this has over the Chromecast: it comes with a remote.
- Smart TVs and BluRay Players: Check out the features on your current devices as they may already have streaming services built-in. Netflix is available on many newer TVs, BluRay players, and game consoles. I’m surprised my toaster can’t stream Netflix yet.
- A plain ol’ computer: Many laptops today have an HDMI port, making connections to your TV easy. Also, many TVs have VGA ports, so if you have an older computer, it’s worth trying out, too. Having a computer hooked up to the TV seems to be the best solution as you can then watch directly from the network’s website and not have to worry about device-specific support. However, it can be less than ideal as you need to have a keyboard and mouse laying around in your living room (well, maybe this keyboard can help) and it can be difficult to navigate on a TV screen if you’re too far away on the couch. Plus, there’s technical issues you have to deal with; for example, although a computer may stream fine to your monitor, once you plug it into a TV and it suddenly has to support a very highly detailed 1080p resolution, you may find the streaming becomes more choppy.
How do you choose?
In order to stay up-to-day with the handful of cable shows I do enjoy (such as The Walking Dead), I find that purchasing season passes on Amazon’s Instant Video service to be the best solution, as it allows for streaming to a wide array of devices. It supports Roku, iPad, iPhone, and the Kindle Fire (Android support is somewhat spotty). You usually get a small discount on each episode when you purchase the season pass. However, if you only have Apple products in your household, then the iTunes Store may be a better solution for you as you can play the content on your Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.
Thankfully, CNET has put together this extremely useful chart that shows which devices can use which apps.
Cutting the cord definitely takes some homework, but once you find a service that supports a majority of the shows you like and then figure out which devices can stream them, you’ll soon find that you won’t miss those huge cable bills at all.
TV photo copyright aforero
Updated Dec 2014 with additional services and devices. Updated Feb 2015 with information about Sling TV. Updated Jan 2016 with more devices and services. Updated March 2016 with Playstation Vue information.