Chances are you know someone who has “cut the cord.”
It’s a term used to proudly declare that you no longer require 300-400 channels of television and have to be prisoner to a $100-$200 monthly cable or satellite TV bill.
For those who have taken the leap, the savings are real: Internet-based packages that will get you 30-50 channels of live national TV are as low as $25 per month. Even better: giving up traditional cable channels in lieu of local over-the-air offerings are free.
But do you really want to do it?
If you’re someone who relishes the thought of being able to watch any program, as well as never missing a show on HBO, Showtime, and Starz, all from the comfort of one convenient channel guide, and if you have a pretty good deal with your cable or satellite provider by bundling your TV, phone and Internet… then maybe cutting the cord isn’t for you.
But if you’re the average American, who studies have shown routinely watch just a handful of the same channels, or if you find yourself getting your viewing fix from You Tube, or subscribing to Netflix or Amazon Prime, cutting the cord is one way to get your expenses under control while still giving you plenty of entertainment options.
Buy that antenna
Let’s start with the complete cut. For an initial investment of under $75, say goodbye to monthly expenses altogether by buying an antenna and getting some channels for free. It’s very old-school and something our older readers remember was the norm before the 1980s.
Depending on how far you live from southwestern Chatham County, where the towers for the Savannah-based networks for ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW stand, you can either purchase a $15 indoor antenna that should pick up the majority of local channels, or go a little bigger and buy a sturdy $75 outdoor antenna that gets all the channels and mounts either on the roof, in an attic or on a side exterior wall. If you already had wiring installed from a previous satellite service like I did, you can place the antenna in that same location, reducing the need for any additional wiring.
These antennas usually pick up signals from 60 miles away, and it comes over in full 1080p high-definition resolution, which is a better picture than what cable and satellite transmit. Further, in this area, you are capable of picking up as many as 25 channels: granted, that outside of the five main network channels, these consist of standard-definition rerun-dominated offerings. But hey, if old movies and episodes of Frazier and Star Trek are your thing, you should be happy because it’s completely free.
The rest of your channels
For some, local programming from the five networks and 20 other re-run dominated channels will be more than enough. But for others, who have gotten used to watching networks like TBS, TNT, USA, A&E, ESPN and HGTV, you’ll want to subscribe to one of the internet based apps.
Here’s where it gets crazy, with so many choices that could make your head spin. I’ll try to keep this simple.
You’ve probably seen the ads for SlingTV, DirecTV Now, You Tube TV, Hulu live streaming, Play Station Vue, and others. Before selecting a company ask yourself which cable channels are must-haves, and are you like the average person who says they typically watch only a handful of channels?
Again, I am referring to live TV. You may be content with seeing your content, after the fact, (months, or maybe even years later) on You Tube, Netflix or basic Hulu.
The great news about these providers is that a) you’re not locked into any contract and can cancel at any time, and b) they all provide at least a one-week free trial period. Go ahead and try several. You have nothing to lose.
After trying three, I settled two years ago on SlingTV. It met a couple of criteria. I had a budget in mind and didn’t want to pay more than $30 a month, and it had to offer two channels: HGTV and Food Network for my wife’s viewing pleasure, and the two regional sports channels from Fox that give me my fix of Atlanta Braves games.
In all, I pay $25 a month (there are no additional costs or taxes) and as part of their “Blue” package, I get about 40 channels, which are probably 30 more than I need.
Sling does not provide local channels, but since I already had an antenna, it was a moot point. Some of the other systems do offer the local channels, as well as a cloud-based DVR. Many have different tiers of programming, like traditional cable and TV, which can bring the cost of “cutting the cord” to almost what you would pay if you didn’t. Probably not surprisingly because several of these internet-based systems are owned by cable and satellite companies. Go figure.
Other stuff you need to know
- Since I’m referring to internet-based systems, I would be amiss to not emphasize that not only do you need an internet connection in your home, but a strong one, especially If you have family members hoping to stream video in other rooms at the same time. You can test your internet speed by going to speedtest.net while hooked to your wi-fi. I have found that anything under 10 mbps download speed makes for frustrating viewing. If your internet provider offers you something in the 50-100 mbps, you’ll be good to go. Keep in mind that even if you have the capacity for 100 mbps, you’ll rarely see that speed, especially in the evening when you and your neighbors are all streaming video at the same time.
- One great advantage to internet-based viewing is that you’ll be able to watch your programming on the go by using your smartphone or tablet. But if you want to view it on your slick 65-inch TV, you’ll need a way to access the provider apps. If you have a “smart TV” that has the built-in apps, you’re ready to go, but there’s a chance that streaming TV apps like Sling or DirectTV Now may not be included. Smart TVs are notorious for offering a limited number of apps and not getting regular updates. If that’s the case, you’ll need to purchase a box or stick (that attaches to your TV’s HDMI input) to get these apps. The most common are Roku, Amazon Fire Stick and Apple TV. Even before I officially cut the cord, I purchased my first Roku box (under $50) to access literally thousands of channels of free content.
- The aforementioned Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu (each costing about $9 a month) is often plenty for those wanting to cut the cord. Each offers loads of movies and TV shows. Again, it is not live TV. The same for premium movie channels. To be clear, you no longer have to keep your cable or satellite TV systems in order to watch HBO, Showtime and Starz. Each have individual internet-based subscriptions costing about $10-$15 a month.
- And finally, is the internet-streaming, cut the cord system a better user-experience? No, I don’t think so. With the exception of the crystal-clear local over the air channels, the picture resolution for the Internet channels is not as good as cable/satellite. From time to time you may lose that internet connection or have it downgraded resulting in a blurry picture for a few seconds. Plus, going back and forth from the SlingTV system to my local channels requires different remotes and just plain more work. But in the end, this self-described cheapskate thinks it’s worth it.
Sling TV: www.sling.com
DirectTV NOW -- www.directvnow.com
Play Station Vue: www.vue.playstation.com
You Tube TV: www.tv.youtube.com
Hulu Live: www.hulu.com
This writer wants to hear from you. If you have questions on anything you read or have a story to tell, contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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