In case you haven’t heard the term, cord cutting refers to cancelling your cable/satellite TV service and using an alternative Internet based approach. We’ve done several articles on this subject over the years, but because it’s always changing, it’s time for another update. This all stems from my own experience cutting the cord many years ago. As new services and hardware have become available, I have changed my approach. The approaches I have used in the past were very technical and complicated and, thus, not for most people.
However, I was getting tired of all of the problems we were having and also in the last year or so, I have become aware of some new services and some new hardware that make cord cutting easier and more accessible to people without the technical complication.
Before I go any further, I want to tell you that cord cutting isn’t for everyone. It all depends on what is important to you. For example, if you are someone who primarily watches local channels and Netflix and that’s just about all you need, then cord cutting could work for you. But if you want to record shows on cable channels and play them back at your convenience, then cord cutting may not be for you. It all depends on what shows you want to watch and when you want to watch them.
The biggest advantage to cord cutting is saving money. Our cable bill was over $200 when we cut the cord. But we aren’t saving $200 each month because there are some subscription costs associated with cord cutting. It’s more ala cart than cable. That’s nice because you can pick and choose and only pay for what you want.
Now let me tell you how to cut the cord.
I’m assuming you already have a TV and Internet service. The next thing you need is a steaming media player. A streaming media player connects to your TV and the Internet and lets you stream video from the Internet. The streaming media players currently available include Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, TiVo Roamio, and Android TV boxes (made by many different companies). Of course, computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones can also be streaming devices, but that’s another story.
I am currently using a Roku 3 streaming media player and I have to say that I really like it. I have used Amazon Fire TV some and it seems pretty good too. Apple TV as well seems good too, but I’ve only messed with it briefly a few times at other people’s homes. Roku has been around the longest. It doesn’t have the prettiest interface, but it’s good. Because it has been around so long, it has the most “Channels”. A channel is really an app. Just like you can install apps on your phone, you can install channels on your Roku. There are over 3000 official channels for the Roku. And that doesn’t even include the untold thousands of private channels you can get as well.
But don’t think that all of these channels are free. Many of them charge a subscription fee. Let’s talk about the big three. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are three services for which there are Roku channels. You can install these channels on your Roku, but before you can watch them, you must have a subscription. Netflix is $8/month. Hulu is also $8. Amazon is $100/year (or about $8.25/month). There are many cable channels that are available on the Roku but only if you also have that channel on cable TV and jump through some hoops to link it to your cable TV subscription. That’s not we cord cutters are looking for.
Other popular channels that require subscriptions include HBO, Showtime, MLB.TV, NBA, ESPN, NFL, Disney, and many more. There are a lot of free channels on Roku too. Some good ones are Crackle (movies and older TV shows), iHeart Radio (music), Pandora (music), PBS, and YouTube. If you haven’t explored YouTube in depth, you might be surprised as to what’s available on YouTube. There are lots of news channels too. As I said, there are over 3000 channels and many of them are very specific. The Dog Relaxation channel is something you can play for your dog while you are gone. There’s one for cats too. Not sure what you are supposed to do if you have a dog and a cat. Are you a UFO fanatic? There’s channels for you. Are you a bride to be? Yep. You’re covered. Do you like to watch goats? If so, try Goats Live! Actually, this is one of the more popular channels, believe it or not. Enjoy listening to 911 calls? Yep, there’s a channel for that. And yes, of course, there are channels just for adults. For a list of channels on Roku, click here.
There is something I want to make sure you understand. When you watch a channel on Roku, it’s not like watching on cable TV. When you switch to a channel on cable TV, you see whatever is playing at that time. Whatever it is may have just started or may be half over. For example, let’s say it is 15 minutes past the hour and you tune into PBS on cable TV and Sesame Street is on. You missed the first 15 minutes but can watch the rest live. On a streaming media player like Roku, when you go to the PBS Kids channel, it lists a bunch of shows that you can watch. One of them is Sesame Street. They aren’t live. You can select the show and episode you want to watch and watch it from beginning to end.
Having said that, there is now a service that basically gives you live cable TV on your media streaming player. That service is Sling TV. The basic package is $20/month and includes 25 cable channels that you can watch live. But you can’t record them and watch them later. And you can’t skip commercials. If you are a sports nut (I’m not) the basic package (Sling Orange) includes ESPN and ESPN 2. Their top of the line package (Sling Blue) includes those plus NFL Network, NBC Sports Network, and Fox Sports 1 & 2. They also have a Sports Extra add-on for $5/month which gives you eight more sports/outdoor channels.
A Roku alone wasn’t enough for me. Although there are Roku channels that let you watch your local news live, I wanted to be able to watch and record shows from local TV. A new breed of device has come on the market in the last couple of years. These devices are called Over-The-Air DVR’s. They connect to an antenna and to your local network (your router) either wired or wireless. Once connected, just install the corresponding app on your media streaming players and you can watch and record local TV on all of the streaming media players in your house. And you only need one OTA DVR to service the whole house. Of course these devices aren’t cheap. The one I have is called Tablo. It was $200 plus a $50/year subscription.
So for the basic setup, you have hardware costs for Roku 3 ($100), Tablo ($200), and a TV antenna for Tablo ($40). So startup costs are $340. In terms of subscriptions, the only subscription you have to have is for Tablo which is $50/year or about $4.17/month. That’s a lot cheaper than $200/month for cable TV.
For the sake of cost comparison, let’s say you want Sling TV (the basic package) ($20. In addition, let’s say you want Netflix ($8), Hulu ($8), and HBO ($15). Now your monthly subscription cost has gone to $55.17. Still much cheaper than Cable TV.
Let’s say you only want Sling TV and you want their biggest package ($25) but you want to add Kids add-on ($5), HBO add-on ($15), Comedy add-on ($5), and the Lifestyle add-on ($5). That gives you 66 cable channels with a total monthly subscription cost of $59.17 including the Tablo subscription.
I personally have a lot of movies, TV shows, music, pictures, home videos, and stuff like that loaded on a computer which we use as our media server. Using free software called Plex along with the Plex Channel on the Roku, I can stream all of that media to any of our TV’s that have a Roku on them. We can view our home videos, pictures and so forth on our TV in addition to watching movies and TV shows. Doing this is a little more complicated than Roku and Tablo though. If you are interested in this, you might need our help.
If you are interested in cutting the cord, we would be glad to help. We can help figure out what will work for you and we can even set it all up for you.