We’ve come to an epic turning point in home entertainment: Consumers are asking themselves whether to cut the cord on cable and switch to online streaming services and antennas. We want to give you insight to help you make an informed decision about your future ISP services and devices and subscriptions available as alternatives to cable.
This is the first installment in a Cut The Cord series. We weigh pros and cons and help you to make your decisions about how and where to watch, and how to do so securely, once you cut the cord!
Why People Cut The Cord
Cable TV packages kept growing and growing and growing and prices followed. The breadth and quality of programing increased as viewers asked for more and providers wanted to deliver. Unfortunately, this process drove the cable world to a place where viewers looking for a “basic” package were met with pricing and service above and beyond what you’d imagine would fall under this category. Not only that, but with the development of DVR services and on-demand TV, there were more opportunities than ever for providers to charge fees for those luxuries.
Well, services have come about that allow consumers to access their favorite TV by way of high-speed internet, and just about all service providers at this point are offering standalone internet service. This has yielded the cord cutting era we have fast approached!
Where do I start?
Okay, so now you’ve cut the cord and eliminated your cable bill, and you’re working with just internet in your home. The question becomes:
Which services will give me the programming and viewing options I want, and at what cost?
If you don’t consider the above, you might find yourself in a situation where you’ve actually increased the cost of viewing services in the long run. Think about what you want and then you can figure out the best way to get it!
It can be difficult and confusing attempting to choose the best hardware and software to cut the cord based on your location, your building configuration, your service provider, and your budget! That’s why we’ve done the research and want to share this.
Will an antenna do the trick?
Consider the antenna! This may sound like an ancient device, but if you’ve got of your favorite channels broadcasting close enough to you, you might actually be able to get those channels without any monthly subscriptions…and without the cable cord. We’re talking live TV still in this case, not streaming and a la carte programming.
Most antennas work by intercepting signals from transmitters to bring you the broadcasts that are available in that range. They come in all different forms, not just the big large-armed metal dipole structures you think of. There are a whole host of indoor, outdoor, HD, directional and multi-directional options to consider depending on the signal availability in your area. Some are so thin and discreet that they can sit right behind your TV and are unnoticeable, like the Mohu!
Satellite services like DISH and DIRECTV use dishes, which are actually also a form of antenna. In this case, signals get sent via a satellite back and forth from the dish and the broadcasting center. You pay for subscriptions on the receiver, but these can be a more economical way to get all of your favorite channels without cable.
Game consoles, Smart TV’s, set-top boxes, and streaming sticks can all facilitate this. In this article we’re going to skip the game consoles and smart TV’s discussion since these are really a better fit for an application discussion. We will focus on primary hardware for streaming options: Roku, Chromecast, Amazon FireStick, and AppleTV.
The capability and quality of streaming from these devices are all decent, so when we “rate” devices we’re primarily considering things like navigation ease, availability of channels and content, and other features.
Regardless of what you choose, you’ll want to be sure that your internet service can support your streaming! There are all sorts of reasons why you might not be experiencing the fastest broadband in the neighborhood: Your router or modem is old, you’ve got your router in a less-than-ideal location in the house, you haven’t restarted your devices in a while, or maybe you aren’t paying for a fast enough service for what you’re trying to do. Start by checking the speed of your internet. Check it at different times of day and on different days to get a good overall picture of the speed you can expect.
The recommendation from the FCC is for households who stream content to have a minimum of 10Mbps, but ~20Mbps is more realistic a “minimum” to avoid disruption of service considering the fact that multiple devices these days are typically using downloading data at once to view content.
The Neutral Winner – Roku
At this time we can strongly recommend the Roku 4 on the basis of the above-mentioned components as well as the price point, frankly. The user interface is super easy, the form factor is pretty, it’s fast, and it is platform-neutral (no playing favorites with Apple or Amazon or otherwise). If you don’t have room for the device by your TV, we would consider the Roku Stick to be this device’s close second!
* Cool feature: If you have an aux jack on your Apple or Android device you can use your headphones in private listening mode with the Roku app. Neat!
Amazon Fire – For Amazon Prime Members
*If you’re an Amazon Prime member, this should actually be your first choice in our humble opinion!
As with the Roku, we have the set box version and the stick version, both known to be quick, user-friendly, easy on the wallet comparatively speaking, and content-rich! Alexa, Amazon’s Siri, comes with the “higher-end” remote versions, which is fun even though it will only search within Amazon rather than across the other apps you install. The only overt negative to say about this device is that it does not have an ethernet port… so if your wireless is super wimpy then this is not the right device for you.
Apple TV – For All You Apple Fans
The Apple TV is best suited for Apple fanatics. Once you’re dialed into your Apple ID you have access to all your Apple needs: iPhoto streaming and Airplay capabilities built-in, Apple Music, and your favorite UI components unique to Apple. Siri is available with the newer remotes, and the remotes can be charged with the same lightening cable you use to charge your other Apple products.
Unfortunately, there are a whole host of apps that are not particularly friendly with Apple’s tvOS. From our experience we can testify that this is especially true (and unfortunate) for Spotify and for Amazon Prime. As always, AirPlay proves a workaround, but that’s annoying.
The pricing is as expected for an Apple product, but for Apple users it may be worth it!
ChromeCast – Powerful Dongle
This device is small and cheap, but it packs a punch. There’s no remote- it’s just a little device that plugs right into your HDMI port on your TV and you’re up and running. That said, it does require another device just to use it, obviously, and it’s controlled with a dedicated app. Its search and discovery capabilities get the thumbs-up from users, and GooglePlay store users have their account at their fingertips.
SmartTVs and Gaming Consoles
SmartTVs have built-in apps that are otherwise available via streaming devices for “regular” TVs. If you are an Apple user or an Amazon fan, you are better off with the media streamer so that you can get those apps and make the best use of your accounts.
Gaming consoles like XBox and Playstation have a long shelf life, and if you already have one that’s looped into your internet service then this is a great option (and, of course, would save you the cost of purchasing a streaming device). These are more expensive because, well, they’re for gaming and if you’re not interested in using them for that then the streaming devices prior-mentioned make way more sense.
Want to know how to tell if you’re going to save money if you cut the cord? Here is our recommended order of operations for making that determination:
Determine what you’re currently paying for your current internet, cable and phone services.
Are you paying for a land line? If you have a cell phone and you get decent service at home, you could probably survive AOK without that. What are the reasons why you’re keeping that line as opposed to relying on your wireless services?
Which cable programs do you wish you had or would really love to keep?
From here, find out which streaming services could give you those shows you love and want (and more)?
Countless shows and entire past seasons are available on-demand with these services.
What will those streaming services cost for respective monthly subscriptions?
Ignoring the one-time cost of purchasing your streaming device of choice, here’s the equation for determining what you’ll be paying monthly if you cut the cord:
Monthly subscription cost for each streaming service + monthly cost for internet-only provider service.
Not sure which streaming services you want?
Keep an eye out for another installment of Cut The Cord content. We’ll weigh pros and cons and help you to make your decisions about how and where to watch once you cut the cord! We will also address security concerns as it pertains to your at-home network.
In the meantime, we encourage you to check out other valuable resources on the topic, such as this Ultimate Guide to Cutting the Cord.
Good luck, cord cutters!