Your Guide to Cable TV Cord-Cutting
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.
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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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Scharr
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