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I’m cutting the cord — and testing all the live TV streaming services

Cutting the cord
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WHAT IS STREAM TIME?

Stream Time is where Tom's Guide senior editor Henry T. Casey dives into the big choices we make about streaming media. We tackle it all, from the best and worst streaming services and devices, to the never-ending list of shows to watch.

As I've previously detailed, cord cutting has been on my to-do list for a long time. But because of my roommates and their peculiar list of necessary channels (who needs PBS and YES?) I've put it off year after year. This past Monday, though, I realized I'd had enough.

The last straw, hilariously, snapped when I was reading about the Tokyo Olympics, which I personally have zero interest in. But as someone who covers all things streaming, I had to look into how to watch the Olympics in 4K. And that's when I realized that Spectrum, our ISP and cable provider, does not offer 4K through its cable box, in any shape or form (while Cox, Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, Optimum and Verizon Fios will all offer 4K content).

To quote Charles Barkley in those old Right Guard deodorant ads, that's "uncivilized." And it reminded me of how I've grown tired of the limitations of the cable box. As a Spectrum customer for years, I've seen the good (we get every single channel I could ask for), and the bad: watching the cable box take a seeming eon to reboot when something goes wrong.

Too much became enough, and it's time for change

I've long since known how much I'll save by ditching cable, or at least how much our household would. We spend $127.15 per month on a two receiver (cable box) setup, which includes a $19.99 per month DVR fee. That means on my own half of the bill, I'm spending more than $63 per month. Most of these services, which I'd simply prefer over cable, cost around that much, with $65 being the current price that YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and FuboTV have landed on. Sling is a cheaper $35 to $50, and AT&T TV is not-nice $69.

Having edited our Hulu Live vs. YouTube TV vs. Sling vs. AT&T TV face-off for years, I know that most of these services include simultaneous streams for free. Heck, even the dirt-worst of those options (AT&T TV) gives you two streams. And they all pack DVR for free. 

The excess of cable also just applies to my physical space. Everybody knows the PS5 is a big chungus of a console, but perched on top of my Spectrum box, it doesn't look that big in comparison. 

And having reviewed streaming devices for years, I know well enough to know all of that box's functionality can be replaced by a much smaller device, such as the new Apple TV 4K (my favorite), the Chromecast with Google TV (a more affordable pick that still streams in UHD) or the Roku Streaming Stick Plus (our best pick, which hides behind your TV).

How I'm going to cut the cord

I've edited my colleague Kelly Woo's three-part series (1, 2, 3) on how she cut the cord, and stuck the landing with Sling TV, and I was almost convinced to make the same decision. 

Then, reading the comments to her story, I realized that everybody's streaming experience is different. It's a highly personal thing. So I figured I'd take a different approach. While Kelly reviewed Sling TV, Fubo, YouTube TV and others in the past for Tom's Guide, I haven't. At most, I've spent a weekend on a trip toying around with a free trial here, or testing another service with a free trial just for the sake of confirming something. 

I'm going to spend a bit of time with each service, back-to-back-to-back, all while I still have cable, to see how each service beats (or doesn't beat) cable TV. By the end of this whole process, I figure I'll have two results: a power-ranking of which services I'd recommend the most — and one I'm going to give the rose to, to borrow The Bachelor's metaphor.

This is one of the luxuries of writing about streaming for a living. I can expense each month's subscription fees to my employer for this story, and share the results with everyone. We all win.

My cord-cutting tests, previewed

Next week, I'll come to you having used YouTube TV's new 4K Plus package. While it's the most expensive option of the bunch ($74.99 per month for the first year, $84.99 per month after that), this felt like the right service to come up to first. 

YouTube TV just added Ultra HD streaming in time for the Olympics, and so it seems only right that I kick the tires with that first. I've also appreciated YouTube TV from a distance for its simple interface and unlimited DVR capacity (manually deleting stuff from my cable box DVR is like erasing history). 

After that, keeping with the 4K streams for the Olympics, I should spend some time with sports fan-favorite Fubo TV. Except this is one of the not-so-little notes I have about cutting the cord: it's so extremely personal because we all have different necessary channels. Personally, I need TNT. Not because I too "know drama," but because the pro wrestling program AEW Dynamite is my current must-see-TV, and I'd like to get a service that I can stick with through to 2022 NBA playoffs live streams. Fubo does none of that. 

So, after YouTube TV, I'll start testing Hulu with Live TV, then Sling TV, Philo and AT&T TV. By the start of the new TV season, I should have a new service picked out, and take my cable box down to Spectrum, to free up more space in my ever-cluttered apartment. 

See you next time, for round 1 with YouTube TV, or as I call it, "can Google make a better, virtual, cable box?"

Be sure to check out my guides to the best streaming devices (and best streaming services) for more recommendations. Email me at henry.casey@futurenet.com or leave a comment below with anything you’d like to see me cover in the streaming world — I might just address it in a future installment.

Henry T. Casey

Henry is an editor writer at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and Apple. Prior to joining Tom's Guide — where he's the self-described Rare Oreo Expert — he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. You can find him at your local pro wrestling events, and looking for the headphone adapter that he unplugged from his iPhone.