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Your Guide to Cable TV Cord-Cutting

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 27 comments

Have you cut the cord — in other words, do you get your television programs by means other than cable or satellite? Would you cord-cut if it were cheaper than your current bill? This guide will help you look at your own TV viewing habits and preferences and figure out the setup that works best for you. 

What TV Shows Do You Watch?

The truth is, whether or not you should cut the cord depends on your own viewing preferences. Do you watch sports? Are you addicted to HBO shows? How much live TV do you watch?

Services like Amazon Instant Video, Google Play or iTunes sell individual TV episodes for $2 to $4, and sometimes season passes that save you a few dollars versus buying each episode separately. These usually can be purchased within a few hours after the show's original airtime.

In October 2014, CBS also announced a subscription service called CBS All Access. For a monthly fee of $6, subscribers will be able to stream CBS live (though not some sports events), and watch current CBS shows such as The Good Wife and Blue Bloods a day after they air on TV. Older CBS shows such as Star Trek and CSI: Miami are also available for streaming.

MORE: What is Net Neutrality - FAQ

How do those costs stack up to a cable or satellite bill? The average cable TV bill is expected to reach $123 per month in 2015, or a stunning $1,476 per year (estimate by the NPD Group). At four episodes per month, a hit show like The Walking Dead could be had for $12 per month. For the money you pay for cable TV, you could afford:

- A subscription to Netflix streaming ($9 per month, or $108 per year), which provides TV shows, movies and a fast-growing roster of original shows, such as Orange is the New Black.

- A subscription to Hulu Plus ($8 per month, or $96 per year), for programs from ABC, Fox, NBC, the BBC and other networks.

- A subscription to Amazon Prime ($99 per year), for original programs such as Alpha House, HBO's back catalog, movies and other TV shows, including many children's programs.

- A subscription to CBS All Access ($6 per month, or $76 per year).

- Five television series with 20 episodes per season at $3 each ($300).

That’s $679 per year. Even if you also factor in a standalone HBO GO subscription when it becomes available next year (let's estimate a $100 yearly subscription, which puts it in line with the other streaming services) and a standalone Showtime subscription (also coming in 2015, again let's estimate about $100 just to be safe), that's still about $600 less than a typical cable subscription. You can put the money you're saving into a better television (possibly a smart TV), a streaming box like an Apple TV, Roku or Chromecast, or even more TV shows and movies. And that assumes you have to pay for all the shows you watch. But many are streamed for free, for example, on the network websites or on ad-supported aggregators such as Crackle (which also has original programming).

MORE: Best Online-Original TV Shows

Should You Get an Antenna?

Instead of paying for a cable subscription, you can also purchase a TV antenna, for getting over-the-air (OTA) channels such as CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and PBS.

If you have an antenna, you may also want a device that can record TV like you're accustomed to doing with a DVR and cable or satellite. Doing that is a little harder now that Aereo, the service that captured OTA signals and streamed them via the Internet, has lost its Supreme Court case, but there are still ways to easily manage and record OTA TV programs, and access online video, in one box.

MORE: Amazon Fire Stick vs Roku Stick vs Chromecast: Face-Off!

Some of these devices include the TiVo Roamio ($200 plus $15 per month, or $500 for a lifetime subscription), the Nuvyyo Tablo ($220 plus $5 per month, or $150 for a lifetime subscription) and the cheapest option: the Channel Master DVR+, which costs $250 and does not charge subscription fees (but requires that you provide a hard drive). It also supports Internet streaming, but currently from only one service, à la carte video provider Vudu.

This year, antenna maker Mohu will begin selling its Mohu Channels device (to be priced around $90). Channels includes a single TV tuner with an Android operating system that can run any Android app, including streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Spotify and many others. Channels doesn't record live TV, however.

MORE: How to Watch Live TV Online

Do You Watch Sports on TV?

If live sports is critical to your TV-watching experience, then you're probably going to want to keep the cord. Sports is the one type of TV programming that's hard to find online. There are workarounds, however: You can buy an antenna to get live OTA TV from network channels like NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox, but a lot of sports coverage is on pay-TV channels ESPN and Fox Sports. Apps like Thuuz Sports help sports fans keep track of when and where their teams are playing, whether online, on cable, or even in local sports bars and restaurants.

 MORE: Best Indoor HDTV Antennas

Is Online Video Streaming for You?

If you're willing to wait between 12 and 24 hours after the episode's airtime, most channels (but not some popular ones, including AMC, Showtime and HBO) will put the four or so most recent episodes of currently airing TV shows on their websites or on Hulu for free.

HBO also puts its shows on HBO GO at the exact same time as they air on TV, so with the coming online subscription service you can still watch Game of Thrones, Girls and the like live.

Showtime has also promised that a subscription streaming service of its own is coming in 2015. Pricing is not yet announced, but the subscription will give customers access to shows like Homeland, House of Lies and Masters of Sex.

MORE: Best Streaming Players: Chromecast, Roku, Apple TV & More

What Hardware Do You Need for Cord-Cutting?

 You can easily bring Web content onto your living room televisionwith a streaming box such as Roku or Apple TV, a video game console such as an Xbox or PlayStation, a screen-sharing device like a Chromecast, a screen-mirroring device such as the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter, or even just an HDMI cable and a computer with compatible ports. Finally, many new televisions are smart TVs with streaming apps built in.

If you already own a recent game console, it's the easiest option for streaming TV, since the consoles come preloaded with the main streaming apps and are already plugged into your TV. If you don't have a game console, a streaming box or screen-sharing device is a much cheaper option.

You can also use certain apps or hardware to stream your computer screen or mobile device screen straight to a TV. With this method, you don't need to worry about whether your set-top device has the right apps and features -- anything you can get on your computer, you can send to your TV.

If you have an Apple computer or mobile device, and an Apple TV set-top box with AirPlay software, you can stream from your computer or mobile device to your TV via this connection.

If you have an Android device or a Windows PC, you have three options: Google Chromecast, Roku, or Miracast and WiDi (wireless display).

If you have a mix of Apple, Android and Windows devices, we recommend either Google Chromecast, the Roku Streaming Stick or the Roku 3 box.  Check our guide for more information on streaming from a computer or mobile device to a TV.

If you decide cord-cutting is the way to go, follow this flowchart to the bottom to pick a hardware setup that works for you.

Credit: Karl Tate, Jill ScharrCredit: Karl Tate, Jill Scharr

Related Buying Guides:
Best Streaming Media Players
Best Indoor HDTV Antennas
Best Wireless Screen-Mirroring Devices

Email or follow her @JillScharr.  Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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  • 1 Hide
    stephenpate , December 2, 2013 3:16 AM
    Your stories need share buttons - Facebook, Twitter, and Stumbleupon
  • 0 Hide
    phatboe , December 2, 2013 3:27 AM
    I cut the cord and instead of replacing the TV with alternatives like netflix, hulu and HBOgo I became more active. Started going to the gym doing volunteer work etc. Not only did I save money but I am a much better person than I used to be.

    Thank you greedy Cable/media companies for helpinh me curb my addiction to the boobtube. I never would have gotten off the horse if it was not for your greed.
  • -1 Hide
    techguy911 , December 2, 2013 5:20 AM
    I'm surprised they did not discuss XBMC all you need is a device that can stream like laptop,raspbery pi,apple tv ver 2 jail broken,any apple ipad,any android device,any desktop or mini pc.
    I bought a mini pc lenovo q190 with multimedia remote and installed XBMC problem with dedicated streamers is the mfg drops support after 2 years like boxee box i use to have one but now they are no longer supported XMBC is FREE open source home theater software the ultimate in cord cutting software.
    Does everything from streaming netfilx,hulu,hulu plus any streaming website, will sort out your digital movie library and is skinable giving you the look you want.
    Sad thing about cable now my provider has encrypted every channel making my computer pvr useless now you HAVE to rent their equipment.
    I have not turned on a tv in over 10 years just can't imagine wasting my time watching commercials or paying for 100's of channels i don't watch.

  • Display all 27 comments.
  • 0 Hide
    jack1982 , December 2, 2013 6:09 AM
    I mostly have cable for football on the weekends and just flipping through the channel guide has a certain, I dunno..."something" that flipping through my Netflix queue lacks. Plus the commercials give me a chance to close my eyes and take a nice long nap.
  • 0 Hide
    ss202sl , December 2, 2013 6:31 AM
    I went the last 5 years without cable TV(or satellite) service. I used Netflix, and used a digital converter(I have an older TV) to get about 8 local tv stations. I haven't felt the need for cable. I do have a high speed cable internet connection, and about 2 months ago Comcast offered a bundle price cheaper than I was paying for just the high speed internet. I now have good bandwidth (almost 40 Mbps) and about 100 cable channels.
  • 0 Hide
    techguy911 , December 2, 2013 7:01 AM
    Another way to save money with a laptop/desktop home computer with xbmc and a usb ota/qam/clear tuner with an antenna you can get local channels for cost of a usb tv tuner.
    Then you can install free pvr software like nextpvr and your all set.
  • 0 Hide
    Dan Snappy , December 2, 2013 7:59 AM
    I can't recommend getting a TV antenna more. I get 26 English language channels, including all the major networks and all the Denver Broncos games. No charge after I bought the antenna. I use a $40 iView 3500STB to record shows, and I don't even have to pay for an internet connection unless I want extra entertainment. I do have an internet connection, and use Playon to stream free Hulu to my Roku equipped TVs. And, I have Amazon Prime just because I can. I can hook the hard drive from the iView to my PC and stream to the Rokus also. I'm still only paying around $50 a month for entertainment (internet and Amazon Prime).
  • 0 Hide
    Scott Evers , December 2, 2013 8:02 AM
    Hulu plus is worthless, they still only have clips.

    An antenna, XBMC, Xbox Video/amazon season pass and hulu desktop is all u need.

    You won't miss paying all the cable tv taxes also!
  • 1 Hide
    jtd871 , December 2, 2013 8:33 AM
    I've got cable (Standard Def), phone and internet from Comcast, and my bill is like $150/month. If I cut out the cable (we don't watch that much live tv, and could probably stream all or most of the content we want + local tv via antenna) the internet and phone price would probably clock in at about the same amount. That's how they get ya.

    Now if we had a serious competitor to Comcast in my area, that might change.
  • 0 Hide
    gnice3d , December 2, 2013 9:20 AM
    You're missing your target audience with this piece. We are enthusiasts and IT professionals, yet you fail to mention any newer HTPC solutions, transcoders, ATSC antenna configurations or web interfaces for torrents clients.
  • 0 Hide
    boogalooelectric , December 2, 2013 9:44 AM
    You guys always leave out very important and viable solutions when you do these articles.

    What about Silicondust Homerun dual?

    With one of these and an antenna you can have full DVR functionality and use XBMC, Myth, WMC, etc. Yet you never mention this.

    You can also get the Homerun Prime if you want to keep your cable but not use the cable co.'s STB's.

    You never mention ceton.

    Never mention anything about what is going on with Google Fiber as they spread out from Kansas City to other cities. I know this is not cord cutting but its a cheap alternative with superior performance that is eventually going pto be nation wide, so why not discuss it?

    In other words if your going to talk HTPC or anything regarding cord cutting you should do it right and give all the options, not just cherry pick.
  • 0 Hide
    Rhinofart , December 2, 2013 10:22 AM
    They are not missing the target audiences with the article. They just aren't showing you the dodgy, grey, or illegal ways. They are showing you the legit ways. Can't have Tom's be liable for someone downloading all of HBO's shows for free, and saying "I saw it on Tom's"
  • 0 Hide
    techguy911 , December 2, 2013 10:46 AM
    @rhinofart what is so dodgy gey or illegal about xbmc and having a tv tuner to pick up ota tv with free pvr software and streaming netflix,hulu in xbmc?.
    HTPC are the way to go for serious cord cutters with xbmc it is free open source software yet they don't talk about this option?.
    Also all networks have tv shows on their website for viewing all legal which you can access though xbmc or a web browser.
  • 0 Hide
    zedon , December 2, 2013 12:15 PM
    For those of you who cut the cord. how do you handle sports. I'm a big football fan, is there a way to stream games live?
  • 0 Hide
    dan p , December 3, 2013 6:20 PM
    I agree, what about Sports? I currently have uVerse u200 and 12mbps internet. My son loves to watch NBA and some cartoons and my wife and I barely watch the tube other than some shows and news. What options would we have? I tried a Mohu Leaf antenna, but when the weather is bad the signal is horrible. We watch tv in our rec room, but downstairs the signal isn't that good.
  • 0 Hide
    Mike9000 , December 23, 2013 6:06 PM
    What am I missing here? Why do people write these articles, or brag about "cutting the cord and saving sooo much money' like it's possible unless you only want to watch the half dozen OTA stations in your area on a clear day. All the streaming services, all the network websites with shows mentioned require broadband. If you want to watch anything but CSI on your local CBS affiliate, that cable line or something similar is still going to be coming into your house and it's going to cost a lot of money. There will be a surcharge for Internet only from your cable/telcom provider.
    All these articles act like Roku and your Smart TV are gonna just magically grab shows out of the ether!
    Even if you use your Android phone to cast Netflix to your TV, you're going to have to pay your mobile phone company more money for all the bandwidth you are using.
    You might end up saving $20 or more at the end of the day, but you're still going to be paying a lot of money if you want to watch TV. If you don't want to watch TV that's awesome. But this idea of "Free TV" when you're paying for broadband Internet access is just delusional.
    Tell me I'm missing something here?
  • 0 Hide
    notatechguyatall , January 20, 2014 7:39 PM
    This article is relatively worthless without mentioning digital antennas, how to check for available channels, and what devices will allow you to record and playback those recorded shows. Also, people should keep an eye out for Aereo, a company getting a lot of press because it's battle with the networks is coming to the supreme court this year. Aereo does the digital antenna and recorder in the cloud, allowing you to live stream your TV shows on your computer.
  • 0 Hide
    dynovite , February 3, 2014 7:33 PM
    Check out to find online channels.
  • 0 Hide
    sidneyk , March 21, 2014 8:54 AM
    I ditched cable over a year ago and have been using HitBliss ( to get "free" access to new TV shows & movies. Just watched Frozen last night (awesome, BTW). I also have been supplementing with Aereo which has been pretty good to get the local channels and live events (i.e. Olympics). I'm now saving close to $100 per month since my bloated cable service has been cut. And, as another commenter mentioned, I've found that I watch less TV and spend more time on productive activities (e.g. exercise, reading, gardening, etc). Can't imagine ever going back now that the cable is cut.
  • 0 Hide
    Joe Alexandrow , June 8, 2014 12:57 PM
    I cut my cable last year by getting a Media Cube. I get every channel, every TV show, every movie, free PPV, live sports, 1000s of free video games, karaoke and a mini PC for my TV. It has 5.1 and 7.1 digital surround sound and every 3D movie ever made. Best part, there are no fees... ever! I have the v1, but the new version looks even better! You can get one here  
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