The cat’s out of the bag: most people prefer watching TV through on-demand apps instead of their clunky old cable TV boxes — and cable TV subscription costs are way too high. Who wants to pay for a bunch of channels they’ll never watch that are only available on a box that’s hard to use and comes with a rental fee?
Thankfully, the aptly named “cord cutter” movement has developed both as an affordable alternative to cable TV and a way for viewers to get the exact content they want — and only the content they want — on any device at any time. Achieving the cord-cutting dream is worth it both for the convenience and the cost savings, but it can get complex, so you’ll need a strategy to make sure all of your needs are met (like local channels, or premium movie channels).
Cutting the cord is much easier — and more affordable — than you might think. Here’s the lowdown on the decisions you’ll need to make, and the gear you’ll need to get to make your movies and TV shows look and sound incredible.
The first decision to make in your cord-cutting journey is whether you want to stream all of your cable channels online or you prefer the piecemeal approach of using multiple streaming services. (Of course, you can always do both, but that gets pricey quick.) Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each.
Streaming cable TV services like Sling TV, YouTube TV, and Philo mimic the channel bundles that are available through traditional providers but offer access through apps across multiple devices. They typically run anywhere from $30-$60 per month, with increasing costs as you add optional premium content, like HBO). If you prefer to watch TV through devices like your smartphone, tablet, or streaming box, but you still need a ton of channels and the option to channel surf, a streaming cable TV service may be perfect for you. Our pick: Philo — it’s super affordable, doesn’t require a contract, and gives you access to more than 50 streaming channels as well as a deep library of on-demand content.
Streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, CBS All Access and Disney+ operate a little differently: instead of offering a series of live-broadcasts of different channels, they simply offer massive libraries of TV shows and movies that can be watched on-demand. Streaming apps invented the term “binge watching” for a good reason — they make it a lot easier to get to content, and ads are either short or non-existent. If you prefer the convenience of streaming apps, or you just can’t get enough of exclusive content like Netflix’s "Tiger King" or Amazon’s "Upload," streaming subscriptions will more than fill the cable-box-sized hole in your heart.
NOTE: Whether you choose to stream cable TV online or use an online streaming service, any content you stream counts as data used over your internet connection — and if you have a data cap, streaming TV can result in unwanted overages. If you want to become a cord-cutter but you have concerns about exceeding your data cap, contact your ISP to better understand the limitations and associated costs. For an additional fee, most ISPs offer plans without any data caps or similar limitations.
Two of the biggest concerns of potential cord-cutters — access to local broadcast channels and being able to watch live sports — are problems of the past. In fact, there are plenty of options for each. Here are our favorite ways to get them:
Over-the-air. Depending on where you live, setting up an HD antenna can get you dozens of local channels for free, and the major channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX) carry a lot of mainstream sports. Forget the rabbit ears of yesteryear — modern antennas are easy to set up and deliver a clear, high-def picture. Our favorite: the Mohu Leaf Mini gets great reception and isn’t the eyesore that most antennas are.
Through dedicated apps. Your favorite local channels may have their own apps: many do, and it’s an easy way to catch up with local news, weather, and sports. Search your smartphone’s app store for local channels — just be forewarned that while many are free, some will require a login from a cable provider. (Thankfully, in most cases, logins for streaming cable services like Sling TV or Philo work with these too.) Similarly, ESPN has its own app that’s available on most streaming platforms, and it’s perfect for streaming games, stats, analysis, and interviews from all of your favorite sports.
As a streaming cable add-on. Most streaming cable services like Sling TV start with a basic package and then offer add-on packages that bundle additional channels. If you’re considering a streaming cable service, pay close attention to the available upgrades — most have ESPN or similar sports packages, but not all offer local channel bundles.
Ready to dive in? Here’s what you’ll need to cut the cord.
A 4K Smart TV. Streaming services are driving 4K adoption by offering copious amounts of content in stunning 4K — and High Dynamic Range (HDR). Most 4K TVs include built-in streaming apps and are more affordable than ever.
An HD Antenna. If you’re ready to tune in to local broadcasts, you’ll need an antenna. If you live in a moderate climate, an outdoor antenna is ideal, but if you live somewhere that sees dramatic weather changes, it’s better to get an indoor antenna.
A DVR. If you want to record over-the-air broadcasts, you can buy a standalone DVR to help you manage all of your favorites. While DVRs can be a little pricey, their best feature is one they don’t come with: monthly rental fees.
Jaime Vázquez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.
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