Your cable or satellite TV provider may want you to think you’re stuck with them, but you’re not. Thrifty consumers who cancel their cable or satellite TV subscriptions can save $1,000 per year or more. There are some drawbacks to this approach, particularly if you’re hooked on cable news or live sports. But the world doesn’t end after cable goes bye-bye. Cord-cutters are switching to over-the-air channels and Internet-streaming services such as Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, and Netflix.
Of course you don’t need cable or satellite to get basic network channels. When the U.S. transitioned to digital TV in 2009, broadcast channels got a major makeover with dramatically better picture resolution, color, and clarity. Today’s over-the-air TV is a different animal from the bygone days of fuzzy signals sent to rabbit ears that your grandfather had to hold onto to keep any picture at all. Digital TV is very good—if you can get it. To find out what your digital TV reception is like, go to the FCC’s DTV Reception Map at fcc.gov/mb/engineering/maps and enter your zip code.
Cord-cutting is an easy way to save money, but it’s not for everyone. Without cable, you’ll have to work a little harder—or wait a little longer—to watch certain shows. First, you’ll need the right equipment, including a home broadband Internet connection, a Wi-Fi router—both of which you probably already have—and a video-streaming box such as Roku ($50 to $100), which wirelessly sends HD-quality video and audio from the Internet to your TV. You may already have a media streamer in your home and not know it. Many Blu-ray players, game consoles, and other Internet-connected TV peripherals have Wi-Fi streaming built in. Other streaming options include Apple TV ($100), a hockey puck-sized device handy for renting movies and TV shows from iTunes, Netflix, YouTube, and other online services. Apple TV works much like Roku but has fewer channels. For dedicated iTunes users, Apple’s set-top box is handy because it streams your iTunes music, movies, and TV shows to an HDTV.
Google TV is another option. Unlike Apple TV and Roku, Google TV isn’t a set-top box but software that brings online content including Netflix, Hulu Plus,and even full websites (which you navigate with a wireless keyboard, tablet, or other mobile device) to your television. A handful of TVs and peripherals including the Sony Internet TV (starting at around $900) and Sony Internet TV 3D Blu-ray player ($230) have Google TV built-in.
Watching Internet TV is much the same as the cable/broadcast experience, with a few differences. Say you have a Roku box and a Netflix subscription ($8 per month for unlimited movies and TV shows) and want to watch Mad Men. Using your included Roku remote you launch Netflix and select Mad Men from a drop down menu. The catch with Netflix is that it offers only past seasons of shows. The service has seasons 1 through 4 of Mad Men but not the current season 5. And Netflix typically doesn’t have theatrical films just out on DVD. What to do? Using your Roku remote, change the channel to Amazon Instant Video, which rents individual episodes of TV shows and just-released movies at prices ranging from $1 to $5. These costs are an annoyance, for sure, but for most viewers they’ll add up to a lot less than the monthly cable bill.
Caveats? None of these approaches match the convenience of live cable TV. You’ll be relying on a smorgasbord of programming from different sources, which takes planning and thought. If you like to sit back and flip through channels, cutting the cord is not for you. But if you’re willing to take a more active role in searching for programs, you may be ready to take the leap.
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