Ready to Cut the Cord? 12 Cost-Saving Alternatives to Cable
By Rudie Obias
By now, you’ve likely heard about how much less expensive it is to forgo your cable package and fulfill your television needs with streaming services—heck, your friend/neighbor/cousin/chatty coworker has been droning on about it for months. You’re finally ready to take the plunge; but where do you start?
First, make sure your router is up to the task: Don’t invest time and money in setting up new subscriptions and gadgets only to wind up with buffering video. Look for routers with dual-band connectivity; Netflix recommends a download speed of at least 5 Mbps (Megabits per second) for HD quality video, and over 25 Mpbs for Ultra HD. Then, substitute your cable or satellite provider for one or a combination of these 12 options.
1. THE BIG THREE
Often referred to as “The Big Three,” Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime are considered the cream of the crop in online streaming because they offer outstanding original programming in addition to large catalogs of existing shows and movies. Subscriptions to all three can be fairly reasonable, with Amazon Prime for $119 a year or $12.99 per month. Netflix's standard plan goes for $12.99 a month now, while Hulu will set you back $5.99 a month with limited commercials, or $11.99 per month with no ads.
2. FLAT ANTENNAS
Since 2009, television stations have been required to broadcast exclusively in digital, rendering old-fashioned “rabbit ears” obsolete. Now, you can watch live shows on networks like NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, PBS, The CW, and others by installing a flat antenna in your home. Models by Mohu (starting at $17.99) and Channel Master ($10) are affordable and easy to install.
3. OVER-THE-AIR DVR
The one drawback to relying on a flat antenna is that you must watch your shows in real time, with no fast-forwarding, pausing, or rewinding. Solve this issue with an over-the-air (OTA) DVR. Services like Tablo or Plex DVR allow you to record live TV shows and then store them on an external hard drive for delayed streaming. (The catch is, some of these services require you to purchase a corresponding device—they won’t work with just any antenna.)
4. TV STREAMING SERVICES
Want more TV channels than are available through your antenna? For $30 a month, you can subscribe to Sling TV to get 28 live-streaming cable channels, such as AMC, CNN, TNT, Comedy Central, and the History Channel. A $45 monthly subscription will give you access to over 40 channels, including ESPN. There are other emerging services that might work for you, too.
YouTube TV has a solid selection of high-profile networks, including ESPN and FX for $49.99 a month. Hulu has also entered the game with a live TV service, touting 50+ channels at $54.99 a month (which also includes the limited commercials Hulu streaming subscription). AT&T TV Now (formerly DirectTV Now) has a package that starts off at more than 45 channels for $65, and it tops off at $135 for 125-plus channels.
5. SPECIALIZED SUBSCRIPTIONS
If you have more unique tastes than even Netflix can account for, chances are there is a specialized streaming service that can give you what you want. Fans of British television should check out Acorn TV, which allows you to watch episodes on your smart TV or mobile device for only $4.99 a month through Amazon. If anime is your thing, Crunchyroll professes to be “one of the few legal, official anime and drama streaming sites out there," with premium subscriptions starting at $7.99 a month. Cinephiles have a few choices for popular art house and indie movies: Check out Mubi, Fandor, and The Criterion Channel. And, obviously, for the Disney fans out there that want Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar at their fingertips at all times, there's Disney+ for a miniscule $6.99 a month.
Google's Chromecast ($35) quickly turns any HD TV into a smart TV. Just plug the Chromecast dongle into your TV’s HDMI port and connect it to your home Wi-Fi network. Now you can stream various apps (including Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Now, YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, and more) onto the TV in your living room, while using your Android or iOS device as a remote control.
Roku is a little black set-top box that connects your TV to the internet via Wi-Fi or Ethernet. It comes with a simple remote control and features more video streaming content than any other device or media streamer. You can even plug in a USB drive to play your own video and music files on your TV. Available in a number of models, including the Roku Premiere at just $39.99, many experts consider it the best and most reliable streaming device on the market today.
8. APPLE TV
If you’re an iTunes user who owns an iOS device and a MacBook, then Apple TV might be the best choice for you. Like Chromecast and Roku, Apple TV gives you easy access to the Big Three as well as HBO and Showtime; what sets it apart for Apple users is its seamless integration of iTunes and other Apple apps. It also comes with a nifty touch-surface remote that lets you swipe or use Siri to surf channels. With prices starting at $149, it’s the most expensive set top-streaming box for cord cutters, but it will be well worth the cost if you already live in the Apple ecosystem.
If you already have a large digital movie, music, and TV library, you can use Plex to easily watch your media files from your computer or television. Sign up for and install the Plex Media Server (it’s free!) on your computer and it will catalog, organize, and label your files into a user-friendly interface that’s watchable on Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, Android and iOS devices, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
10. STANDALONE PREMIUM NETWORK SUBSCRIPTIONS
In the past, if you wanted premium cable networks like HBO and Showtime, you’d have to include it to your cable subscription package at an additional cost. But the networks have gotten hip to the cord-cutting trend and now offer standalone subscriptions. HBO offers HBO Now for $14.99 a month, while Starz has a streaming service for $8.99 a month that is compatible with Apple TV, Android, Roku, Chromecast, and Amazon Prime. You can add HBO and Starz to your Amazon Prime for an added $10.99 a month. And Showtime can be found on both Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus.
11. DIGITAL NEWS OUTLETS
There are also great streaming options for news junkies. While CNN and MSNBC don’t have standalone streaming services, the cable news networks are available on Sling TV. News outlets like CBS News, Sky News, ABC News, Bloomberg TV, and Newsy, meanwhile, all offer free live streaming services for Roku and Apple TV.
12. SPORTS PASSES
Now you can watch live, out-of-market Major League Baseball games on MLB.tv, hockey with the NHL GameCenter Live, and basketball with NBA League Pass. The NFL and DirecTV are now offering NFL Sunday Ticket to non-DirecTV customers, so more people can watch live, out-of-market NFL games every Sunday. You can even subscribe to the WWE Network for $9.99 a month for access to an extensive back catalog library and every new pay-per-view event.
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