Cutting the Cord on Cable and Still Enjoying TV

After seeing my cable bill reach new heights month after month, I decided to cut the cord back in 2012. And you know what? It wasn’t bad at all. Here are some tips, services and devices to help ease the transition to saving money!

Today, we have more 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.

When I saw my cable TV bill hit $80, I knew it was time to make a change.  A quick breakdown revealed I was paying:

  • $55 for my somewhat limited cable TV package
  • $10 for a HD cable box
  • $10 for HD service (what?!)
  • $7 “broadcast” fee (wh-what?!)

So how do you get started with cutting the cord?  Let’s break it down in 5 steps.

Step 1: Internet Connection

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.

In my case, changing from a $60 bundled internet plan to standalone internet brought the price up to about $74 for internet only.

You’ll want an internet speed of at least  3 megabits per second to minimize buffering and receive decent picture quality while streaming.

Step 2: Streaming Services

You have several options when it comes to streaming entertainment.

The Big Ones

  • Netflix (about $10 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 (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. Try Amazon Prime with a 30-Day Free Trial
  • 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.

Streaming Channel Packages

  • Sling TV (starting at $20/month) gets you ESPN, TNT, TBS, CNN, Adult Swim, Free Form, Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, AMC, HGTV, Travel Channel and more. 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, and SyFy.  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, Fire TV (including the Stick), Roku or Apple TV to sign-up, but it’s available on iOS, Android and Chromecast as well.
  • Direct TV Now (starting at about $35/month) is similar to Sling TV and Playstation Vue, allowing you to select a package of channels based on your viewing habits.  DVR service is expected to come in the near future.  Apps are available on all the major platforms.

Not so obvious services

  • 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.
  • Tubi TV (free) has a large library of over 46,000 movies and TV shows, but don’t expect top-rated content.  However, the service is entirely free thanks to occasional commercials.  The app is available on a wide range of devices, including Apple TV, Fire TV and Roku.
  • Yahoo View (free) now hosts most of the free content that was previously available on Hulu.   The app is available on computers, iOS and Android.
  • Hoopla (free from most local libraries) offers a selection of free movies and TV shows if your local library participates.  And you don’t need to worry about returning anything to avoid library late fees.

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.

Step 3: Equipment

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.  If you’re not sure which device to buy, CNET has put together this extremely useful chart that shows which devices can use which apps.

  • 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 also has 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.

Step 4: Over-the-Air Channels

You may find that streaming services such as Netflix and Sling TV cover most of your viewing, but there may be times when you want to watch the local news or programming from the major networks like NBC and ABC.

Plug your address into TVFool.com to see what TV towers are near you and what type of antenna you’ll need.  Then, just hook up the antenna to your TV and do a channel scan. You may be surprised how many channels you can get for free!

Here are some basic antenna recommendations to get you started:

If you miss your DVR, there are a few models available specifically designed for recording over-the-air broadcasts, such as Tablo and the Tivo Roamio.

Step 5: Enjoy!

Now you can enjoy watching your favorite shows and movies without worrying about what your cable TV rate will jump to next month.  If there are some gaps in your setup and your missing some of your favorite shows, you may find that buying individual episodes on Amazon’s Instant Video service or iTunes to be a cost effective option.

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. Updated February 2017 to add antenna information, Tubi TV and Yahoo View and to update other service offerings.

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