Two years ago, I decided to ditch cable.
My cable bill had grown from around $70 a month as part of an initial promotional offer to almost $200, with no change in service. By ditching cable in favor internet-only TV viewing, I save about $1,000 a year. As a side-benefit, I can also watch my content on any device (TV, laptop, tablet, smartphone) from anywhere.
In this article, I detail everything I’ve learned from two years of being a cord cutter.
Really good internet #
When you ditch cable, you of course stream all of your content over the web.
Having really good internet is incredibly important. Otherwise, everything will run really slow and be super frustrating.
If you can, go with Verizon FiOS. Their 50/50mbps plan is perfect. They’ll try to upsell you to something faster, but you don’t need it as long as you have a good router (more on that in the hardware section).
Comcast, Cox Communications, and Charter all offer internet-only plans at similar speeds. For physics reasons, fiber-optic gives you superior, consistent internet speeds in a way that traditional coaxial internet cannot, but FiOS isn’t an option everywhere.
After an initial first-year discount, most vendors will increase you price, and it can start climb. If you have competition, call them up and tell them you’re going to cancel because of cost. Be firm, and they’ll almost always offer you a discount.
How do you actually watch shows without cable? There are a variety of web-based services you can use to watch shows and movies, depending on what you like.
Here are the services I use (and a few that I don’t but that are highly recommended)…
Hulu is where I watch most of my current-run TV shows from the major networks. They also have some newer movies and great original programming.
They don’t have everything—notably missing is CBS—as negotiating with networks is tricky, but this is my first stop when I’m ready to watch something.
They start at $7 a month ad supported, but the ad-free plan at $12 a month is so worth it.
Amazon Video #
For shows that aren’t available on Hulu, I purchase season passes on Amazon Video for about $25 a show.
If you’re a Prime member, though, Amazon offers an asburd amount of free shows and movies, and some really, really great original programming.
Prime membership is $11 a month, but if you buy the year up front for $99, it’s only $8.25 a month. It’s also gets you free 2-day shipping on all your Amazon orders. Totally worth it!
HBO Now #
Previously, you could only get HBO through a cable-provider. Today, you can get HBO as a standalone web service directly with HBO Now for just $15 a month.
HBO has a bunch of movies and some fantastic shows. This one is definitely a splurge, but I’ve gotten hooked.
In addition to funny cat videos, YouTube has an incredible amount of high-quality original content.
I’m a geek, so I watch a lot of science and history channels. But you can find great shows on politics, sports, cars, travel, and more. 100% free, with some light ads every now and then.
Anytime I’ve looked into Netflix, I’ve found their catalog is mostly focused on older runs of shows and movies. As a result, I don’t subscribe.
But… they’ve focused a lot on original programming lately, and most of my friends love their content. HD plans start at $10 a month.
If you watch a lot of sports, or like non-network cable channels like AMC, TBS, History, or USA, Sling
is the service for you.
A contract-free web streaming service from Dish Network, Sling offers small bundles for shows you can get from other services. Most notable are ESPN, HGTV, and the Food Network. I don’t use Sling, but if I was more into sports, I would.
A bit on the steep side, their basic plan is $20 a month.
This one is more for geeks who don’t mind maintaining their own hardware. Plex is a media server that lets you share photos, music, and movies with other devices on (and, if you want, off) of your network.
This means you can keep digital movies you own on a single device and stream them to all of your other devices.
Antennas have come a long way from the rabbit ears of the past. I use a digital antenna to get about 25 HD channels, including all of the major networks, PBS, and a few local channels focused on old reruns and movies.
If you’re into sports but don’t need to watch every game from every team, this is a great, free option. I can watch games from all of my local teams (even the away games).
It’s also great for watching CBS, which isn’t available on Hulu and whose CBS All-Access standalone service is overloaded with ads. I also use it to watch special events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Superbowl, and the ball-drop on New Year’s Eve.
I’ll talk about the tech for this in the hardware section.
So you’ve chosen your services. Now, how do you access everything? Let’s talk hardware.
Roku is a tiny little box with a simple remote control that turns your dumb TV into a smart one.
You can install apps for all of the streaming services listed above and more. I recommend the Roku 3 (unless you’re into 4k TV, in which case you’ll want the Roku 4).
I also have a Roku Streaming Stick for when I travel. The tradeoff for the small form factor is that it’s really underpowered and slow, so I don’t recommend it for daily use.
Roku’s can be hardwired with an ethernet cable, but they can also run on your wifi network, which means you can place them wherever you have a TV.
Why not Apple TV? #
I own a lot of Apple products, and I often get asked why I don’t use an Apple TV. Apple TV still doesn’t have a native Amazon Video app, and I watch a lot of Amazon video content. If I rented most of my stuff from iTunes instead, I might feel differently.
It’s worth noting that you can watch Amazon Video by airplaying it from an iPhone or iPad, but that’s a pain in the ass.
A Digital Antenna #
This is how you capture over-the-air TV.
The rabbit ears are gone. Today’s antenna’s look like mud flaps and can be mounted inside the house.
I use the Mohu Leaf 50, because I live out in the boonies and it has a great range. You can find them for a lot cheaper on Amazon than on their website.
I mounted mine in the peak of my attic. It just tacks into a stud with a nail.
Tablo is an amazing device and service that adds a DVR, TV guide, and streaming service to your digital antenna.
Wire the coaxial cable from your antenna directly into your tablo, and add your own USB hard drive. Tablo connects to your wifi network, and lets you stream your antenna to any of your devices, including your roku, tablets, smart phones, and laptop.
You can record your favorite shows, and pause and rewind live over-the-air TV. For a small monthly fee (or a larger lifetime subscription), Tablo will also add a TV guide feature so you can easily find stuff to watch and record by show title rather than by date and time.
You can also setup Tablo for off-network access, so you can stream your favorite shows from anywhere.
A Media Server #
If you use Plex, you need somewhere to store and stream your media files.
If you’ve got a desktop computer at home, you can just run it on that and keep your computer on all the time (that’s the cheapest option). You can also run Plex off a Western Digital MyCloud Mirror (not the smaller, cheaper MyCloud, which won’t load apps).
A Better Router #
The router your internet provider gives you is probably terrible.
I’d recommend upgrading to one of Negear’s AC routers. Something in the AC1200 to AC1750 range should work well.
If you’re on FiOS, you have to use their router, because it converts their fiber-optic signal into something that can go through coaxial lines. But, if you’re tech savvy and not too afraid of breaking things, you can put it into bridge mode (effectively turning off wifi on it and using it like a router) and connect it to a personal, better router.
My house is a bit large, so I also added a NetGear range extender.