The cost of traditional pay-television providers keeps rising each and every year. At times it can seem as if prices are increasing every single month as we get nickeled and dimed to death with fee after fee and stuck with long contracts. However, we are here to tell you that there is good news. We now have several cheaper alternatives to cable and satellite television services
These options are plentiful, but because of this, it can be quite overwhelming for many cord cutting beginners. In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know from understanding what cord cutting is and choosing the best device and service for you.
The 2018 Beginner’s Guide to Cord Cutting is composed of the following sections:
- Introduction to Cord Cutting
- Choosing the Right Equipment
- Choosing the Right Service
- Digital Antennas & Local Television Networks (Coming soon)
- Internet Service Providers (Coming soon)
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What is Cord Cutting?
Simply put, cord cutting means canceling your cable or satellite television service (R). Cord cutting can refer to any number of methods such as using an over-the-air antenna or a streaming video service such as Netflix or Sling TV. There are some slight differences from what you may have grown accustomed to but for many, the end result of being able to watch your favorite TV shows (live or on demand), movies, and videos is exactly the same.
How Do I Become A Cord Cutter?
Once you’ve canceled your cable or satellite TV provider you will have to make a few decisions based on your personal viewing needs. Each cord cutters personal viewing habits will greatly impact these decisions. You will need to ask yourself several questions such as:
- How frequently do I consume television?
- What channels do I want to have? (locals and/or pay)
- What genres do I watch? (sports, news, sitcoms, movies, etc.)
- Do I need the capability to record?
- How many TVs do I need connected?
- And more…
Most cord cutters will need to choose a strong internet service, pick a streaming service, and decide on which set-top box or streaming device that is compatible with the service they choose. You will also have to decide if you need an over-the-air antenna or maybe you only want an antenna. All of these are covered in greater depth and detail later in this guide.
Is Cord Cutting Right For Me?
The amount of people canceling their cable plans is a trend that has been accelerating for a few years now. According to some estimates, over 22 million people have cut the cord in 2017 (R). Others estimate that by 2030 over 40% of households will pay for some type of streaming service.
For many, it is the superior option to traditional pay-TV services because you pay for what you want without lengthy contracts. There are also additional benefits such as being able to watch on multiple devices such as a tablet or smartphone.
However, if you are the type of personality that “wants it all” in their viewing experience, then cutting the cord may not actually be the best option for you. The majority of cord cutters have reported seeing some level of savings.
What Channels and TV Shows Will I Get?
The types of programming you get is up to you depending on your personal viewing habits. There are a variety of services and options, with most offering different types of packages. If you watch TV, then you might want to try services such as Sling TV or DIRECTV NOW. If you like to watch movies or watch more movies than TV, you may choose to go with Netflix. If you primarily watch sports you may want to check services such as fuboTV. There is also a specialty, niche options available for the cord cutter. For example, if you specifically like horrors and thrillers you can sign up for a service like Shudder.
How Much Will I Save?
There is no shortage of articles claiming that cord cutting is not actually a saving. For the most part, this could not be any more incorrect. According to Leichtman Research (R), the average cable bill in 2017 was $103 per month. From 2011 to 2015, the costs soared 39%. Even when bundled with the internet the costs can average $130 per month or more.
Unless you require the biggest channel packages you are invariably going to save. The average cord cutting plan is around $35 to $50 per month. The average cost for Internet is around $50-60 per month. Even when combined, most people see a savings of $40-50 per month. Many cord cutters have reported even more savings when you factor in cable box leasing and other fees.
Ultimately, there is no clear answer on exactly how much you will save. How much you save is up to you and depends on which service(s) you decide to use and the type and amount of devices required to serve your viewing habits. Personally, I have an Unlimited AT&T data cell phone plan, which offers a deal on DIRECTV NOW for $10/month and I use a Clearstream FLEX antenna for local channels which cost a one-time purchase of roughly $60.
Streaming Devices and Equipment
One of the most confusing aspects of cord-cutting and shifting away from traditional cable and satellite services for many in understanding the different types of devices and equipment required. There are several types and versions of each.
Don’t worry. We break it down into an easy and understandable format for you. Choosing a device is actually fairly simple and most of them are fairly inexpensive.
Basically, there are three main pieces of equipment, or devices, that you will potentially need: A set-top box/stick, a DVR, and an OTA antenna. This section of our cord cutting guide will cover set-top boxes and DVRs only. Antennas are covered in a separate section.
Streaming Devices Prices
When checking out prices it is important to factor in your needs. A few important things to consider is how many different simultaneous streams does your streaming service offer? How many rooms/TVs do you want to have connected? Are you traveling with a device?
Depending on your needs the price of streaming devices can be free or it could also be a few hundred dollars. However, even if you are on the upper end of the scale you are still very likely to come out ahead vs. the monthly fees and installation costs for cable or satellite services.
|Device||Roku||Amazon Fire TV||Google Chromecast||Apple TV||AirTV Player|
|Price||Roku Ultra: $99.99|
Roku Streaming Stick+: $69.99
Roku Premiere: $69.99
Roku Express+: $39.99
Roku Express: $29.99
Roku Streaming Stick: $49.99
|Fire TV: $69.99|
Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote: $39.99
|Google Chromecast Ultra: $69.00|
Google Chromecast: $35.00
|Apple TV 4K, 64GB: $199.00|
Apple TV 4K, 32GB: $179.00,
Apple TV, 32GB: $149.00
|AirTV Player: $129.99|
|TV Connections||All: HDMI|
Express+: HDMI, Composite A/V for older TVs
|Internet Connections||Ultra: Wi-Fi, Ethernet|
Other Models: Wi-Fi
|Both: Wi-Fi, Ethernet (with adapter, sold separately)||Both: Wi-Fi|
Ultra also comes with Ethernet adapter
|Wi-Fi, Ethernet||Both: Wi-Fi, Ethernet|
|Access to On-Demand||YES||YES||YES||YES||YES|
|Access to Live TV||YES||YES||YES||YES||YES|
Set-top Boxes and Streaming Sticks
The service(s) that you choose to subscribe to will dictate which device(s) are required for you to have. There are several manufacturers such as Roku, Amazon, Google, Apple, and more. Every device has different features, functionality, and compatibility. Even with the same service, there can be slight differences in user experience. Which device you ultimately choose is largely based on personal preference and your budget. So let’s go over some of the most popular options.
Roku is arguably the best streaming player on the market and is one of the oldest in the industry. The company currently produces the Roku Express and Express+, Rou Streaming Stick and Streaming Stick+, and the Roku Ultra. These devices are a tiny set-top box, a USB style stick, and a traditional set-top box. We cover them in greater detail in our full Roku device review.
Roku offers users access to over 500,000 TV shows and movies from free and paid services. Roku carries just about every major service and streaming app on the market such as Netflix, Sling TV, and DIRECTV NOW. Roku is one of the best all-around devices and comes at an affordable price point.
Amazon Fire TV
If Roku is not the most popular then Amazon Fire TV is. Amazon produces Fire TV Stick and All-New Fire TV. These devices are a streaming stick and a dongle that hangs from your HDMI port similar to Google Cast. We cover them in greater detail in our full Amazon Fire TV device review.
Fire TV similarly to the Roku offers a variety and breadth of streaming channels and apps. Users get access to over 500,000 TV shows and movies and 190 streaming apps. Most prominently featured are Amazon Prime media, Amazon Instant Video, and Amazon Prime Music.
One feature that separates Amazon’s streaming devices from other competitors is the Alexa voice assistant. This feature is built into all devices and allows users to control the device with voice commands through a microphone on the wireless remote. Amazon has even been integrating Alexa into quite a few of the streaming apps.
Google produces the Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra are small dongles that attach to your television. These devices are very popular amongst cord cutters because they are inexpensive and small. Users “cast” from a separate device such as a smartphone or tablet. We cover them in greater detail in our full Google Chromecast device review.
Chromecast gives access to more than 200,000 TV shows and movies and 30 million songs. Users get access to any streaming service or channel found on the Google Play store. One of the best features is that you can also connect any Google Home product
Apple’s streaming media player is Apple TV. They currently offer Apple TV 4K (5th gen) and Apple TV (4th Gen). This device is a small set-top box that connects to your TV. We cover them in greater detail in our full Apple TV device review.
Apple TV gives users access to thousands of apps including streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and fuboTV through the Apple TV App Store. Anything you can’t find can be AirCast from your smartphone. This device is powerful enough to game and has Siri Voice Control.
AirTV, a subsidiary of DISH Network, produces the AirTV 2 and the AirTV Player. One is a network tuner and the other is a streaming player. Both of which exist to make getting local broadcast channels via OTA antenna and using a streaming service easier than ever. We examine them in our full AirTV device review.
AirTV is integrated with Sling TV only but will connect an OTA antenna to a myriad of compatible devices such as smartphones, TVs, and other streaming players. AirTV Player is a small set-top box that connects to Google Play store giving users access to thousands of streaming services and apps while having local channels integrated.
Streaming Device App and Channel Comparison
|App/Channel||NEW Apple TV||OLD Apple TV||Roku||Amazon Fire TV||Google Chromecast|
|Amazon Music||AirPlay||AirPlay||Yes||Yes||Cast Screen/Tab|
|Amazon Video||AirPlay||AirPlay||Yes||Yes||Cast Screen/Tab|
|BBC iPlayer (UK only)||Yes||AirPlay||Yes||Yes||Cast|
|CBS All Access||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Cast|
|CBS News||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Cast Screen/Tab|
|CNN Go||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Cast Screen/Tab|
|Flixster Video||AirPlay Mirror||AirPlay Mirror||Yes||Yes||Cast|
|Fox News||AirPlay||AirPlay||Yes||Yes||Cast Screen/Tab|
|Fox Sports Go||Yes||AirPlay||Yes||Yes||Cast Screen/Tab|
|Google Play Movies and TV||AirPlay Mirror||No||Yes||No||Cast|
|Nat Geo TV||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Cast Screen/Tab|
|NBA Game Time||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Cast|
|NBC News||Yes||AirPlay||Yes||Yes||Cast Screen/Tab|
|NBC Sports||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Cast Screen/Tab|
|Sling TV||Yes||AirPlay Mirror||Yes||Yes||Cast|
|TV Everywhere (cable subscription required for full access)|
|USA Now||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Cast Screen/Tab|
|Watch Disney Channel||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Cast|
|Watch Disney Junior||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Cast|
|Watch Disney XD||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Cast|
|Watch Food Network||Yes||AirPlay||Yes||Yes||Cast|
|Watch Travel Channel||Yes||AirPlay||Yes||Yes||Cast|
|WWE Network||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Cast Screen/Tab|
On Demand and Live TV Streaming Services
Some groups estimate that up to 9,000 people per day cancel traditional services such as cable or satellite; however, most of them are still watching their favorite content. So, how are they doing it? Streaming services.
Streaming services can be broken down into one of two categories: On-demand and live television. Some services offer one or the other, or both. All of them require no installation, there are no extra fees, and you can cancel anytime. Subscribers can pay monthly.
On-demand content usually comes in the form of movies or entire seasons of television shows. Live television is like your old cable subscription where you get access to a channel line-up that plays content such as sports or television episodes live.
Most live TV services offer some form of on-demand functionality. Sometimes that might be a small library of titles to choose from. Some services will offer TV shows on-demand but only for a predetermined amount of time after the show or season recently aired.
Let’s take a brief look at some of the most popular services.
Sling TV is arguably the top choice on the market. Sling TV combines live television streaming and on-demand content. Plans start at $20/month for 30+ channels. This is the least expensive live streaming TV service currently on the market. Sling TV is also one of the most senior as well.
They have a large selection of premium add-ons and have a complete offering of international television packages. Sling TV is compatible with just about any device. It also comes with great features such as cloud DVR and parental controls. Sling also generally offers the best deals on free streaming devices.
DIRECTV NOW is also one of the top choices on the market. DIRECTV NOW is primarily a live TV streaming service. Plans start at $35/month for 60+ channels. This service is one of the most similar to the traditional cable TV experience. DIRECTV NOW does not come with many features. The cloud DVR is still in beta but you can add-on HBO for $5.
Read our full DIRECTV NOW service review here.
fuboTV is specifically designed for sports. While this service does not offer ESPN, it does offer virtually every other sports league and includes regional sports networks. FOX Soccer Plus is included which is usually extra on other services. There is also Latino programming available. 72+ channels are offered and the normal plan price is $44.99/month.
Hulu offers both on-demand plans and live TV streaming plans. On-demand plans generally carry recent TV shows and movies. Plans start at $7.99 making it one of the most affordable options available. The live streaming TV plan starts at $39.99 for 50+ channels. Hulu also offers parental controls and is one of the best services for the big four local channels.
Read our full Hulu service review here.
Netflix offers an on-demand streaming service. With Netflix, you get access to thousands of movies and entire seasons of TV shows. Netflix has also been spending a lot of money developing original content such as House of Cards, Luke Cage, and Orange is the New Black. Netflix plans begin at $7.99. They also still offer DVD plans. If you haven’t tried Netflix in awhile it might be worth revisiting because they are constantly updating content and they’ve added some new features such as being able to automatically watch trailers for every piece of content.
Read our full Netflix service review here.
YouTube TV is a live television streaming service. This is one of the newest of all the streaming services and frankly one of the most disappointing. There is no variety or “a la carte” type pricing. Plans begin at $40 for roughly 40 channels making it one of the most expensive per channel plans. Options are very limited but they do offer an unlimited cloud DVR.
Read our full YouTube TV service review here.
Streaming Service Price Comparison
When checking out prices it is important to factor in your needs. A few important things to consider are:
- What specific channels do you want?
- Are sports important?
- Do you watch movies, TV shows, or both?
- Do you need DVR service?
- Will you be watching this service on a TV, smartphone, tablet or other devices?
Depending on your needs the price of a streaming service(s) can vary greatly from person to person. Streaming services generally range from approximately $20 to $70. Some people may require having multiple services to satisfy their consumption viewing habits. Even if this happens to be you do not worry because most people see a lot of savings compared to cable or satellite TV services.
|Service||DIRECTV NOW||Sling TV||fuboTV||YouTube TV||Hulu|
|# of Top 35 Channels||34-35||14-19||14||13||22|
Streaming Service Features
Features can vary greatly depending upon the service. It is important to remember that these services are still fairly new and many features are still being developed and rolled out. The good news is that these companies have been relatively responsive to the voice of the customer and the market is filled with competitive choices. Once one service introduces new features, the rest are usually soon to follow. Some features can be added to your plan for an additional price.
|Service||DIRECTV NOW||Sling TV||fuboTV||YouTube TV||Hulu|
|Simultaneous Viewing (streams)|
|TV Everywhere App Access|
|Cloud DVR Capacity|