There has never been a better time to cut the cord. Just a few years ago, dropping cable meant going without some of the shows you may have wanted to watch. But these days, it’s easy to cancel your cable subscription, watch all of your favorite shows, and still save some money off your monthly bill.
Perhaps the worst aspect of cable is the multiyear contract you have to sign to bring the price down from astronomical to still-too-high-for-what-I-get. It’s just the opposite when you cut the cord. Most of the services you will use as a replacement for cable television have month-to-month subscriptions, which means you can cancel it for a month if you don’t think you will need it.
If multiyear contracts are the worst, renting hardware is a close second. Many services charge $15-$25 a month for a DVR receiver and $5-$10 a month to connect additional TVs. And this is for equipment you could pay for outright in just a few months if you put that money towards purchasing instead of renting.
Even if you prefer browsing channels to streaming on-demand video, you can still cut the cord and save money. Let’s find out how.
The Equipment You Will Need to Cut the Cord
The main piece of equipment you will need to turn off cable is a streaming device. Luckily, most of us already have one. Many of the TVs sold these days are Smart TVs that support various streaming services. Modern Blu-Ray players also tend to smart features, and if you are a gamer, you can use your Xbox One or PlayStation 4 as a streaming device.
But if you are serious about cutting the cord, you may want to invest in a dedicated solution. Smart TVs are great, but it doesn’t take long before the “smart” functionality becomes a bit antiquated compared to the newest technology, and you probably don’t want to switch out your TV every few years.
Roku. While Apple and Amazon might be household names, Roku quietly delivers the best overall service for those who want to dump cable. They were one of the first to develop a box dedicated to streaming video, they support a wide variety of streaming services, and best of all, they are neutral. While Amazon refuses to put their Amazon Prime service on Apple TV, you don’t have to worry about territorial fighting with Roku.
You can buy Roku as a stick, which is a small key-like device that your stick into your TV’s HDMI port, or a more-powerful box. But while it is tempting to go with the cheaper stick, the extra price for the box is worth it. Not only is it more powerful, but it provides a cleaner Wi-Fi signal.
Apple TV. This could be considered the luxury car version of streaming devices except for a couple of snags. There’s no doubt the 4th Generation version of Apple TV is a beast. It has the same chipset as an iPad Air, supports third-party game controllers and features an App Store that is quickly filling up with a lot of cool games, apps and streaming services.
So what’s the problem? Aside from the aforementioned lack of Amazon Prime, which can be solved by streaming Prime from you iPad to the Apple TV, it sometimes seems as if the people building Apple TV don’t actually use Apple TV. The interface is a distinctly not-Apple variety of clunky. And their updates since its initial release have actually made it even more clunky.
But Apple TV may be the most versatile device when you combine the power of the device itself and the flexibility of the App Store. It is also more expensive.
Amazon Fire TV. Similar to Roku, Amazon Fire TV comes in both box format and stick format and runs on the Amazon Fire OS that is built on top of Android. This gives it access to Amazon’s app store, and while it doesn’t have quite the ecosystem of Apple TV, you can use it to both play games, watch TV and boot up other useful apps like Pandora Radio, Spotify, TED, etc.
Google Chromecast. The Chromecast device easily falls into a love-it or hate-it category. In theory, it is very simple. You plug the Chromecast into the HDMI port of your TV and “cast” the screen on your phone or tablet to your TV. In practice, it’s not so simple.
It is not a surprise that the Chromecast works better if you are using an Android device instead of an iPhone, although Chromecast is supported on iPhone and can quite easily be used to stream video to your TV. But the experience is definitely smoother on Android.
But do you really want to stream video from your smartphone? What happens if you get a call? You might be fine pausing what you are watching to take the call, but the person you are watching it with might not.
When you consider the Roku and Amazon Fire TV sticks are around the same price, this one might not be the best solution.
Tablets. You probably won’t want to use your smartphone as a substitute for your TV, but tablets make a great all-in-one solution. You can also connect an iPad to your TV with the Digital AV Adapter. Android Tablets come in so many different brands and each may have a different way of connecting to your TV, but most will work with the Chromecast.
Other Devices. We’ve only touched on the most popular devices to use as a cable substitute. You can use your game console, your tablet and other devices as well. Smart TVs can be particularly convenient, but when picking out a TV, the quality of the actual television should always take precedence over any smart features, which can easily be added later with one of these devices.
Cord Cut, Now What to Stream?
Let’s face it, you probably already know about Netflix and Hulu Plus, which may be what gave you the idea for cutting the cord in the first place. I know I decided to break away from the two-year contract when I realized how much time I spent in these services and how little I spent watching live TV. But it was when i really sat back and absorbed the totality of what I could stream outside of cable that helped me make the decision.
Netflix. It needs little introduction. This is the company that killed Blockbuster by delivering DVDs through the mail and is almost synonymous with streaming video. You could say Netflix is the DVR of the streaming services. You don’t get much in the way of current television, so you won’t be watching the latest Bachelor episode on it, but what you do get is full seasons of some of the most popular television about the time it is released on DVD. Netflix also has a wide variety of movies, of course, but what will really keep you coming back for more these days is the original content. Daredevil and Jessica Jones are perhaps the two best superhero series ever and Netflix hit the ball out of the park with shows like Stranger Things and the O.A.
Hulu Plus. Netflix may have the widest variety and biggest backlog, but it is Hulu Plus that really drives the cord-cutting train. The only thing bad about Hulu Plus are the commercials, and if you pay a slightly-higher monthly fee, you can even get rid of those. Hulu Plus is aimed at current TV, so you can watch the latest episode of Agents of Shield just hours after it premiered. Most shows only allow Hulu to stream the latest 5 episodes, but that is usually enough.
The dowside? Hulu Plus doesn’t cover everything. Notably, CBS shows are absent for the service. But it does cover shows from ABC, NBC and FOX. It also supports a wide variety of cable stations like FX, Syfy, USA, Bravo, etc.
Hulu Plus does such a good job with current television that I actually stopped taping shows on my DVR because of it, which is when I knew it was time to cut the cord.
CBS. Wondering why CBS isn’t on that list for Hulu Plus? While it is not as well known, CBS has their own service. Unfortunately, it is about as expensive as Hulu without the same amount content. But if you absolutely have to have CBS content, at least it’s available. It’s unfortunate that they don’t price it more reasonably as it might be closer to a no-brainer. One nice addition in the CBS app is the ability to watch live television.
Amazon Prime. I still run into people that don’t realize Amazon Prime gives them access to growing number of TV shows and movies. Yes, the two-day-shipping for free is great, but they not only have access to a ton of good content, they also have some nice original content like Man in the High Castle and Goliath.
Crackle. Free movies. Free television. Need I say more? Crackle operates under an ad-supported model, and while their library isn’t as healthy as the competition, they do have enough that it is worth downloading their app and taking a look.
YouTube. Let’s not forget the web’s most popular video service. There are a number of ways YouTube can substitute for cable. For example, many late night shows including Saturday Night Live post their most popular clips on YouTube. Who needs to wade through the unfunny parts when you can skip to the chase?
HBO and Showtime. The premium cable networks are slowly following HBO’s lead into the cordless world. HBO started the trend with the HBO Now. With Showtime following, you can now subscribe to either without a cable subscription. And while Starz doesn’t offer a true standalone solution, you can subscribe to it through Amazon Prime.
Amazon Video, iTunes Movies, Google Play, Vudu, Redbox. Let’s not forget all of the options to rent Movies and TV shows. While it may be cheaper to drive to the closest redbox, there is a whole host of options for those of us that don’t want to leave the couch.
Cable Over Internet
Is having a cable subscription that delivers all of the content over the Internet at “cut the cord” solution? Maybe. Maybe not. But there are definitely some advantages to going with one of these services over traditional cable beyond just taking the actual cable that runs into your house out of the equation. And chief among these advantages is the lack of a contract, so you can turn them on one month and turn them off the next.
This makes these services perfect for sports nuts who want to ditch cable but still watch all of the games. And until ESPN offers a stand-alone version, these services are your best bet. And the great part is you can turn them off during the offseason to save some cash.
PlayStation Vue. Why is PlayStation Vue not a household name? It’s probably because Sony stuck the “PlayStation” label on it. But despite the name, you don’t need a PlayStation 4 to watch it. Similar to any cable service, Vue has multiple plans starting at $39.99. It also offers a cloud DVR service and a fairly decent (if not great) interface. It also offers local channels in some areas. which is a nice bonus.
Sling TV. Cheaper than PlayStation Vue, Sling TV recently added a Cloud DVR to their service. This makes it much more attractive to those who want to cut the cord but not cut the cable. Sling is great for those who want to use a digital antenna for local channels and just want a cheap service for access to ESPN, CNN, Disney, etc. The new AirTV device goes hand-in-hand with Sling TV, offering the ability to watch over-the-air stations alongside Sling TV by plugging in a digital antenna.
DirecTV Now. If their website is any indicator, AT&T really doesn’t want you to sign up for DirecTV Now. It’s definitely hard to find basic information like a channel lineup. But they do offer a free week of service, and while their local stations are limited, pretty much everything you would expect DirecTV is available in one of its packages. The interface is similar to what you get from PlayStation Vue with the promise to get better as you view shows and it learns your interest. However, the service doesn’t (yet) have a Cloud DVR feature, which for most people cutting the cord is probably a deal breaker.
The Digital Antenna and How to Record on It
Let’s not forget that most of us have access to live television! I know it sounds arcane, but it is still possible to pick up most major channels using a high-definition digital antenna. If the biggest thing holding you back from taking the leap is that you just can’t wait an extra second to watch that television show, a good digital antenna will do the trick.
You also don’t need to fill tied to a particular day and time. There’s a couple of good solutions for recording live television. The TiVo Bolt includes the ability to record live television from an antenna, but you will still need to pay TiVo’s $15 a month subscription. Tablo offers a cheaper solution, but it is still $5 a month. Last, there is Channel Master, which doesn’t have a monthly subscription.
Individual Channel Apps
Let’s not forget that most channels have an app these days. Many channels, especially “cable” channels like USA and FX, require a cable subscription to get access to the good stuff, but some still offer a fair amount of content on demand without the need for cable. This is especially true of the “broadcast” channels like NBC and ABC.
PBS Kids will be of special interest to parents. Cutting the cord doesn’t have to mean cutting out cartoons. PBS Kids has free access to a ton of entertaining and educational cartoons.
How Fast Should Your Internet Be to Cut the Cord?
Internet speed is measured in terms of megabits per second. It takes about 5 megabits to stream at HD quality, though realistically, you would need about 8 megabits to do so smoothly. But this leaves little room for doing much else on the Internet.
You’ll probably want at least 10 megabits if you are the only one using the Internet connection and 20+ for a family to stream video to multiple devices.
It is common for many Internet providers to offer plans with 25 megabits per second or faster, which is plenty to stream video to multiple devices in your household. But some rural areas may not have access to these speeds. You can can check your Internet speed using Ookla’s speed test.
The Quick and Easy Set Up
Thanks to all these options, you’ll have plenty to watch and a variety of ways to watch it. There’s a really good chance you won’t miss having cable in your life. But if you are a little confused after reading so many options, here’s a solid setup for getting started:
First, buy a Roku device. You can go with a Roku stick, but the slightly-more-expensive box will ultimately be better for cord cutting because it will provide a smoother experience and a better connection for streaming. The problem with sticks is that the Wi-Fi signal sometimes must go through your television, which can cause it to degrade.
A Roku box will run you around $80 and a stick costs around $30, but prices may vary based on the retailer. Remember, you are buying this equipment. The $80 box will likely pay for itself in three months based on no longer paying to rent an HD DVR player from your cable company.
Next, sign up for Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime. Hulu will give you access to a wide variety of current television, and with both Netflix and Amazon Prime, you’ll have plenty of movies and television that has already hit DVD. These three subscriptions will be slightly less than $30 a month.
Don’t forget Crackle and PBS Kids. You should be able to download these apps onto your Roku device. And because they are free, it is a no-brainer to download them.