I’d say it’s tough for a site that writes about popular television shows, many of which are on cable, to write an article about cord cutting. But this is 2016, dammit, and pretty much anything you can get with a cable subscription you can get elsewhere on the internet.
I cut the cord over three years ago, and I haven’t looked back, nor have I even thought once about going back to cable. But before I get into how I get all of my television consumption needs filled, I’ll briefly break down why you should cut the cord, how much money you can save, and what your list of options are.
So without further ado, here is our Cord Cutter’s Guide to 2016: How to Cut the Cord, Have Your Cake, and Eat it Too.
What is Cord Cutting, Exactly?
Basically, cord cutting is dumping your cable or satellite television service to pursue other (read: much less expensive) means of getting entertainment content like TV shows and movies. Some people do it to save money, and others do it for the freedom (who likes being trapped in a contract?). There are numerous ways to fill the content hole created by cutting the cord, which we are going to get into in this post.
Why You Should Cut the Cord
Now more than ever, TV viewers across the nation are dumping their cable providers and losing the television subscription model. Why? The almighty dollar. The best way for the idea of cord cutting to truly sink in is with numbers, so check this out:
A Deluxe cable (200-plus channels) package with 30 Mbps internet and home phone will cost you roughly $130 per month, which turns out to be over $1600 per year when you factor in government fees and surcharges. If you choose to forego cable television subscription, and just opt for a standard cable broadband internet ($35/month) and a few of the common streaming entertainment services (Netflix $9 + Hulu $8 + Sling $20= $37), your total monthly cost is roughly $72 (for a yearly cost of roughly $864). There are variations of that cost that could easily subtract that cost, but we’ll get into all of the options below. And, the fact that these services are all optional, and can be added or subtracted at any time, is what makes cord cutting appealing.
One thing you should keep in mind is that cord cutting isn’t for everyone. If you’re perfectly fine with paying what you’re paying for cable, all the more power to you. But, others are out there searching for how to watch TV without cable — this post is for them. We’re here to assure our readers that there are plenty of plausible and cheap cable TV alternatives.
OTA – Over the Air
Depending on the networks you typically watch, it’s quite possible you could get all of your television viewing needs met with just a simple cheap antenna. Using an antenna with your TV will get you what’s called over the air broadcast television. This method will only require a one-time purchase of the antenna (we’ll get to which one we recommend in a bit). That’s it — anything your antenna picks up locally will be free for life.
The over the air method isn’t for everyone, especially if you’re in a more remote area. The idea of using a TV antenna requires you to have local television stations broadcasting within a certain radius from your home. Obviously, if you’re in a large city, you’re more likely to have more networks broadcasting in your area than if you lived in a rural area.
Channel reception here is most important, and it varies based on a number of factors. The biggest factors include what channels are actually being broadcasted, your distance from the broadcast towers, and geographical obstructions that sit between your antenna and the towers. For more information about what stations are available in your area, check out the Digital TV map, which allows you to search by zip code.
What Channels Can You Get?
What sort of television can you expect with the OTA method? As I noted above, it varies on your location and what’s around you. For me personally, I’m able to get PBS, ABC, CBS, NBC, The CW, Grit TV, and a local station that I never watch. The bad news is that those might not sound like a lot, but the good news is that those stations each have a hefty portion of the shows my family watches (and most of them come in full HDTV quality). Even better news for you? There are typically more stations available, including FOX, Univision, ION, HSN and QVC.
This means that with a simple DTV antenna, I’m able to watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Arrow, The Flash, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Supergirl (to name a handful). So if the majority of shows that you watch are on any of those networks, and you’re able to grab those networks OTA, then buying a TV antenna is right for you.
What’s the Best TV antenna?
I’ve tested a number of different types of antennas from a number of different brands, and the best I’ve found for the money is the Mohu Leaf 50. It picks up any OTA broadcast network within 50 miles, and it comes in at $68.99 at the time of writing this. There’s also a Mohu Leaf 30 available that, you guessed it, picks up everything within 30 miles, and it comes in at $39.
Getting Cable Content with Streaming Services
As we stated above, you won’t get paid cable stations with the OTA method. That means no AMC, no ESPN, and no Food Network. But there are a few things you can do to get these channels relatively cheaply.
SlingTV took the world by storm after being revealed by Dish Network at CES 2015. With Sling TV, you’re paying a monthly fee (that can be cancelled at any time, I might add) that gets you over 20 great channels available for streaming (whether it be on your TV through Roku, on your Xbox One, smartphone, PC, tablet, etc. For $20, you’ll get the “Best of Live TV” package which includes ESPN, ESPN2, AMC, TBS, TNT, CNN, Food Network, A&E, Lifetime, ABC Family, Cartoon Network, IFC, Disney Channel, and the History Channel.
For $5 more, you can add on any of the following options:
Sports Extra: SEC Network, ESPNEWS, ESPNU, Universal Sports, Univision Deportes, beIN Sports, ESPN Buzzer Beater, Bases Loaded, and Goal Line.
Kids Extra: Disney Junior, Disney XD, Boomerang, Baby TV, Duck TV
Lifestyle Extra: truTV, Cooking Channel, DIY, WE tv, FYI, LMN
World News Extra: Bloomberg TV, HLN, Euro News, France 24, NDTV 24/7, News 18, Russia Today
Hollywood Extra: EPIX, EPIX2, EPIX3, EPIX Drive-In, Sundance TV
In my humble opinion, SlingTV’s basic package and Kids Extra are all that are worth it. The other packages just aren’t my thing, but they very well might be yours.
This means that you’re able to stream Game of Thrones live every Sunday with Sling TV.
I’ll note that if you plan to use SlingTV with a Roku 4, don’t bother yet — the app doesn’t work properly on Roku 4. However, it works great on Roku 3 with very few issues. It’s biggest issue is that you can only watch it on one device at a time, and it has the same TV commercials that come with live television (since, you’re watching live television). However, you can use your Sling account to authenticate other TV apps like Watch ESPN, Disney, AMC, etc.
Of course, Netflix is the biggest player when it comes to cutting the cord. Netflix has done a fantastic job of getting subscribers, thanks to it being one of the best cheap alternatives to cable.
Netflix is available starting at $7.99/month for standard definition content on 1 screen at a time, or $8.99/month for 2 screens and HD content. What’s more, there’s an Ultra HD plan that allows 4 screens to stream at once for just $11.99/month.
Netflix has a fantastic library of TV shows, movies and documentaries that is always evolving, with new content being exchanged for old content every month. It even has anime and cartoon content. In fact, we consider Netflix the king of TV, but that’s mostly due to its incredible line-up of Netflix originals (and the company plans to add 31 new originals this year alone).
With Hulu, you’re getting a great selection of current TV for just $8/month with limited commercials, or $12/month for no commercials (excluding a select few TV series that have a short commercial before and after each episode). There are also some free TV episodes available.
With Hulu, you’re getting the latest episodes from the best shows, including shows from FOX, ABC, Comedy Central, NBC, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, FX, and more. It also has great classic sci-fi shows like Doctor Who and Firefly. Like Netflix, there are Hulu original series, although none have yet to grab much attention. Still, they’re there, and that’s content that you may or may not like, yourself.
Hulu also comes with a great selection of movies, including both classics and relatively new movies that are less than a year old.
Amazon Prime Instant Video
Amazon Prime Instant Video is included with an Amazon Prime subscription that is only available for $99/year (works out to be $8.25/month). Unfortunately, there’s no monthly subscription model. However, with that subscription, you’re also getting Prime Music and free shipping on Amazon for the year, which easily pays for itself in my household (we order stuff and things frequently).
Amazon has a fantastic selection of content to watch, both when it comes to movies and television series. What’s more, their originals are pretty great (such as The Man in the High Castle, Transparent, Mozart in the Jungle, Mad Dogs, and more). It has some classic movies, as well as some great recent films.
**Update 3/14/16: PS Vue is now going NATIONWIDE!**
PlayStation Vue is going to be a serious contender when it’s available to all markets, but unfortunately, it’s only available in Chicago, Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles, NYC, and the Bay Area (bummer for everyone else, right?). There are also a select VERY FEW individual channels available nationwide, including ShowTime ($8.99/month), Showtime and Epix Hits ($11.49/month), Machinima ($1.99/month), and FOX Soccer Plus ($12.99/month).
With PlayStation Vue, you’re able to stream 50+ channels for $49.99/month, 60+ channels for $54.99/mo, and 85+ channels for $64.99/mo. And, there’s a seven day free trial available. There are no contracts, and the service can be cancelled at any time.
With PS Vue, you’re also getting a cloud DVR that allows you to save thousands of hours of your favorite shows without any recording conflicts.
PlayStation Vue channels include FOX, CBS, CNN, Food Network, Nickelodeon, SyFy, TBS, AMC and so many more.
Feeln tailors to very specific tastes: the Hallmark Channel crowd. If you’re into movies like Dirty Dancing, Little Women, Annie, and movies that give all of the feels, Feeln might be for you for just $5/month.
Skip it. It’s crap.
Funny or Die
Meh. They have a few funny videos for free, but it’s not worth getting into, really.
The Best Streaming Media Player
There are so many great streaming media players available for cord cutters to take advantage of right now, that it’s hard to narrow it all down. The first thing to keep in mind is that if you have an Xbox One, PS4 or even the older consoles, a lot of entertainment content is available via apps, so you won’t have any need for an external streaming media player unless you watch a lot of content and don’t want to run your gaming consoles while binge watching Dowton Abbey. Secondly, if you have a tablet or smartphone already, and you really don’t want to spend money on a media player, you can simply purchase a Micro-USB to HDMI cable for roughly $7 that will allow you to see your phone/tablet (and its apps) on your TV. Boom, media player.
For those that don’t want to deal with that and just want a dedicated streaming media player, there are a number of options. Our number one choice is the Roku 3, which comes in at $89.99. It has over 2000 streaming channels available, including all of the services mentioned above, and other free services like Vevo, YouTube, Twitch, and more. It’s lightning quick.
The cheaper option is an Amazon Fire TV stick which has slightly less in the performance department, although it gets the job done, and it’s about half of the price of a Roku 3 ($39.99).
Where to Keep Up With Cord Cutting News
Although we here at Nerdmuch.com intend to continue covering cord cutting, we’re admittedly not the best to keep you informed. Believe it or not, our favorite go-to for the latest news for cord cutters is Reddit, more specifically, the Cordcutters subreddit. It’s filled with cord cutting techniques, helpful answers to FAQs, and there’s even an NFL 2015-2016 guide for streaming live sports without cable, including a way to stream the NFL playoffs. So if you end up getting into the cord cutting scene, we highly recommend you peak into that subreddit every so often to get updated.