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The Ultimate Cord Cutter's Guide


Mother Lode Found
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Mother Lode
Mar 31, 2010
[h=1]The Ultimate Cord Cutter's Guide[/h]

Ready to ditch cable TV? Keep that broadband connection—you'll need it to become a full-time cord cutter.


Cable TV was once considered the ultimate entertainment necessity. The over-the-air days of VHF/UHF television signals couldn't keep up with the voracious need of viewers who needed more, more, more channels. Having a cable directly pumping all that high-definition content into your home became the norm, and the cable providers—who now likely provide your high-speed broadband Internet access—knew they had you on the hook.

Of course, they didn't factor in that the Internet would become their worst enemy. Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Instant Video are just the most well-known names in what's become known as "cord cutting"—namely, doing away with pay TV and using Internet-based services to get all your "television" programming. No more paying a huge monthly fee for thousands of hours of TV you don't watch. Instead, pay individual services for a la carte programming. It's almost like paying for just what you watch. Almost.

Cable companies, of course, are freaking out. The average cable TV bill went up by 5.8 percent from July 2013 to July 2014, according to ABC News. That's because subscribers are dropping like flies to become cord cutters; MoffettNathanson says 3 percent of subscribers made the switch between early 2012 and mid-2014. Experian says that in 2013, 18.1 percent of households that had Netflix or Hulu became cord cutters. It's almost ironic that the cable companies probably don't lose those people entirely as customers, since most of them will need a hefty Internet pipe to get the same quality of TV over the Internet.

The FCC recently redefined what really constitutes "broadband" speed in the U.S. as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps), up from 4 Mbps, which was the standard since 2010. That puts about 17 percent of the population (55 million households) without true broadband. But, in theory, to be an effective cord cutter, a 5Mbps connection should do it.

If you've got that, you're already on your way. Here's what else you need to become a full-fledged cord cutter with access to (almost) everything you'd get via regular cable TV.

Antennas and DVRs

Before we get to into the apps/hardware you need to make it as a cord cutter with Internet only, there's something else to consider. While you can get a lot of what's available on the major networks and several cable channels that way, you can't get it all. That goes especially for the major networks. But, most of them are still broadcasting in HD—you just need an HD antenna.

Best of all, modern HD antennas don't go on the roof of the house or look like you're signaling space. They're simple affairs you set up next to the TV, perhaps at worst you hang the flat units in your window. (Outdoor antennas are an option, however.)

Before you jump on that bandwagon, try to determine if you have over-the-air HD as an option where you live. Visit AntennaWeb or TV Fool for a listing of the stations broadcasting near you. If you can get your new antenna in a window facing the broadcast transmitter, all the better.

Just don't be surprised if you don't get any stations, or just a few. It happens.

Top-rated HDTV indoor antennas include the Winegard FL5500A FlatWave Amplified Razor Thin HDTV Indoor Antenna ($59.99) and Mohu Leaf 50 Amplified Indoor HDTV Antenna ($69.88). Note that these are powered, amplified antennas—you want that, unless you're living right next door to the local broadcast tower. Setup is easy, but you'll want to play with the antenna position in the window to maximize the reception—just like playing with rabbit ears in the 1970s.

You can use an HDTV antenna to watch live TV, sure, but this isn't the 1970s. You want a DVR, and there's one in particular made just for this setup, the TiVo Roamio$145.00 at Amazon. Not only is the Roamio a DVR with the amazing TiVo interface which costs $14.99 per month, it also has Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Instant Video built in (those still cost extra).

Media Hubs and Smart TVs

There are a lot of ways to watch streaming TV as a cord cutter.

The options for screens include your phone, tablet, computer, or TV itself. In fact, all of these are perfectly capable of being totally self-sustaining: just download the apps you want for the services you want. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are all available on iOS and Android. On the PC, just visit their respective websites. (For some shows on Hulu specifically, it's the only way you can watch.)

Then there's the HDTV itself. In the world today, you've got regular old TV sets, and the more modern "smart TVs," which have built-in apps (and app stores) and networking to get on the Internet. You can use them to download most of the cord-cutting apps you'd want.

If you don't have a smart TV, there are many, many options media hub options. You might already have one, in the form of a game console: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Wii all support streaming apps. Several Blu-ray players also have media hub apps.

Media hubs have two other main forms: a thumb-drive sized unit that plugs into the HDMI port on the TV, or a larger media hub the size of a CD player.

Our current Editors' Choice products for the small "stick" media hubs include the Google Chromecast ($35, requires a mobile device for operation), Roku Streaming Stick ($44.99) or the Amazon Fire TV Stick ($39, pictured above).

If you're thinking about a larger unit that promises faster performance and perhaps even on-board storage, you want the Amazon Fire TV ($99) or maybe the old-in-the-tooth Apple TV (the price is now a fantastic $69, but considering the lack of support Apple has put into it, you're better off elsewhere.) Roku makes an entire line of products like this, but we haven't liked some of the latest.

There isn't one of these products that doesn't support the holy trinity of cord-cutter video streaming apps: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Instant Video. But other than that, if you've got a specific service you want to watch, you need to be careful. Buying any media hub (or console) doesn't guarantee you getting access to every service. Just ask PS4 users who have Comcast cable—the cable company is blocking them from using the HBO GO app that was just released.

Know Your Cord-Cutting Services

The key to being an effective, Internet-only cord cutter is knowing what apps are available on your hardware of choice, knowing the programming available on those services, and just how much they're going to cost you. Here's the list of apps you should have for almost complete programming coverage (at least of primetime TV across networks and cable channels).

($7.99 a month with one standard definition stream; $8.99 for two concurrent HD streams; $11.99 a month for 4 streams + 4K/Ultra HD content option)

Netflix is the grand-pappy of online streaming. It started mainly as a DVD-by-mail rental service, and while that's still part of its business, streaming is what it's known for now. It's got a slew of original shows: House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Marco Polo, Hemlock Grove, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and more.

It has "rescued" shows that were killed too soon, like Arrested Development, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Trailer Park Boys. The list of new shows it's announced is staggering: Marvel's Daredevil, Wet Hot American Summer, and a new talk show hosted by Chelsea Handler are just the big ones. It's bringing back Inspector Gadget! And those are just the TV series. Netflix is arguably better known for streaming movies, and it will be making original films with Adam Sandler and Pee-Wee Herman, even a film set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (same as The Avengers).

The problem with Netflix is that the catalog of films and TV shows is constantly in flux as the studio and networks play games, looking for better terms or set up exclusives on other services. You can't always guarantee an entire series or movie will be there forever. Here's a complete list of devices with Netflix support.

[HR][/HR]Hulu Plus
($7.99 per month, with some free content)

Hulu is literally owned by companies that run three of the major TV networks. So it's the place to go to find the latest TV shows from ABC, NBC, and Fox (plus the CW) the day after the show airs.

To view these shows on apps with media hubs, consoles, or smart TVs (complete list here), you have to have the premium subscription to Hulu Plus. (There are many shows from other sources, like Syfy, that can only be viewed on the Hulu website via a browser, for some asinine reason.) It has a few original shows, like Deadbeat, which gets a new season starting April 20, as well as Battleground and Mascots, but nothing with the cache of shows from Netflix, Amazon, or HBO. It also has a smattering of movies (such as the Criterion Collection) but Hulu is really about the TV shows.

The problem with Hulu Plus is, even though you're paying, you still get advertising! The networks that own Hulu aren't about to totally cannibalize how they've done things since the beginning of TV. Sadly, they haven't been smart enough to add a tier for a couple bucks more that would let you skip the ads. (In Hulu's defense, the ad breaks are generally a lot shorter than on commercial TV.) You also only get one stream at a time with Hulu Plus.
The big network missing from Hulu is CBS. More on that below.

[HR][/HR]Amazon Prime Instant Video
(Part of a $99 annual Amazon Prime account)

Previously called both Unbox and Amazon Video on Demand, Amazon Prime Instant Video is a nice hybrid of an all-you-can-eat streaming service like Netflix, plus a video-on-demand store.

In taking on Netflix, Hulu, and HBO, Amazon provides its service "free" to anyone with an Amazon Prime account, which is best known for giving customers free two-day shipping. Amazon has also invested heavily in creating original TV shows, and often asks viewers to vote on the pilots they'd like Amazon to develop into full seasons. Two date, the best known is probably Transparent, which took home multiple Golden Globes this year. Other great shows include Bosch, Mozart in the Jungle, and Alpha House. Amazon also has plenty of movies and TV series; it even has a deal with HBO to carry a slew of its older shows. (Sorry, no Game of Thrones.)

If you have access to Amazon Instant Video on your device—and the list of compatible devices is enormous, so you probably do—then you can access both videos that are "free" to Prime members, but also any film or show you pay extra to buy (watch anytime) or rent (watch it in 30 days). You can tell the difference by looking for a "Prime" banner in the Web interface. Typically, anything that's out on DVD is available to buy/rent. However you get a video, Prime or not, it can be added to your queue, called the "Watchlist," for future viewing; in some cases you can even download the video to watch offline.

[HR][/HR]CBS All Access
($5.99 per month)

When you're the No. 1 network, you get to do your own thing, apparently. That's why CBS decided to launch its own streaming service late last year. Access is via the website or apps for iOS and Android only—it's not available on any media hubs at this time. You get one week to try it free before the fee is applied.

That six bucks a month, however, gets you access to some of the most popular shows on TV the day after airing, including The Big Bang Theory, Mom, The Good Wife, The Late Show with David Letterman, and various flavors of CSI. There's also a few thousand old TV shows streaming here, such as Cheers, all the versions of Star Trek, Brady Bunch, The Twilight Zone, and Hawaii Five-0. You can insert your own joke here about how the Tiffany Network is for your grandparents.

[HR][/HR]Sling TV
($20 per month for basic package)

Consider Sling TV the best hope you have to get all the rest of that cable content you want—you know, the channels that aren't always the top of anyone's fave list, but still highly desirable.

The service, operated by Dish Networks, is entirely Internet-based and gives you access to programming from HGTV, TBS (Home of Conan O'Brien), Food Network, TNT, Travel Channel, Cartoon Network (including Adult Swim!), Disney, CNN, Bloomberg, AMC, and perhaps most importantly, ESPN and ESPN2. It's also available on a decent number of devices: iOS and Android apps, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and it's coming soon to Nexus Player and Xbox.

It's not available over the Web like many other services, but there are apps for MacOS and Windows. Signing up for the service now can get you a free Amazon Fire TV Stick or Roku Streaming Stick, $50 off an Amazon Fire TV, or 50 percent off a Roku 3. There are also $5 per month extra channel packs, one each for sports, entertainment, kids, and news/info junkies.

This could be a dream come true for the cord cutter who misses all that non-network programming. But be aware, this isn't like a la carte viewing of shows. It's actually showing you live TV, though some of the channels let you go back and watch anything from the last three days. At least you can jump back to the beginning of a show you're currently watching. But don't expect Netflix-like control over what you watch. Also, you only get one stream at a time, so you can't have it running in multiple places simultaneously.

For more, see PCMag's full review of Sling TV.

[HR][/HR]HBO Now
($14.99 per month)

HBO GO has been around a while, and is a great streaming service, but technically only available to existing HBO subscribers with a cable plan. There are no limits on concurrent streams right now, though, so plenty of people without pay TV use shared passwords for their Game of Thrones fixes.

With HBO Now, though, the need for a pilfered password is removed. Soon, anyone with Internet and supported hardware will be able to subscribe and watch the plethora of original HBO programming like Game of Thrones, Veep, Girls, and True Detective, plus the entire back catalog of shows. HBO GO will still be there for existing subscribers—no need for them to pay for HBO again.

The rub is, when HBO Now launches next month, the only way to sign up for it in the first three months will be via Apple devices, be it iTunes, Apple TV, or any device running iOS or MacOS.

(Stay tuned)

You can pretty much assume that if HBO is going to do a standalone streaming service, so will its rival Showtime. In fact, the president of CBS Corp., which owns Showtime, announced it on March 11. The date of launch is up in the air. Showtime original shows you can't legally get any other way include House of Lies, Homeland, Penny Dreadful, Master of Sex, Shameless, Episodes, Nurse Jackie, and more—it will also carry the 2016 revival of Twin Peaks.

Showtime already has a service called Showtime Anytime, which is analogous to HBO GO, in that it's limited to use by current subscribers to the cable channel. It's currently available on mobile devices, the Web, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, and Xbox One and 360 (but not on PlayStation 3 or 4).

Other Options

What about other networks like Starz, FX, and AMC, all with well-known and beloved cable shows? Starz is supposedly considering a standalone premium streaming service. Until then, there's Starz Play, which is on a plethora of devices including iOS, Android, Xbox, Chromecast, Kindle Fire tablets, even the Nook. You need a cable subscription to Starz to use it.

FX's older shows, like The Shield and Damages end up on other services like Netflix and Amazon; currently running series like Justified, Louie, American Horror Story, Archer, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia typically show up about one year after they originally air. If you can't wait, FX does indeed have its own app for mobile, hubs, and consoles, called FXNOW. But, like HBO GO, it requires you to have a cable subscription to watch any of the newer stuff.

Same goes for AMC: Breaking Bad is streaming on Netflix in its entirety, Walking Dead and Mad Men are there sans their most recent seasons, while the new Better Call Saul hasn't showed up streaming anywhere yet. Like HBO and FX, AMC will stream shows to you, via Web browser and apps, if you have credentials from your cable company (and if your cable company participates).

The other thing to consider is streaming services not tied directly to existing TV/cable networks. Probably the most significant is YouTube itself. The king of Internet video has billions of hours of video to keep one entertained, and is typically available as an app on just about any mobile device, media hub, or smart TV. Sony's Crackle is also pretty ubiquitous among the hubs, and offers an eclectic selection of free content, mostly with commercials.

Crackles original shows include Sports Jeopardy! and Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

There are also a number of networks that have mobile apps. They include A&E, Comedy Central, Nick, Food Network, History Channel, Lifetime, PBS, PBS Kids, Smithsonian Channel, and TNT. Some are available on hubs or consoles; check each individual app store. Many of them pull an HBO GO—you'll need to be a cable subscriber to access content.

We'd be remiss in not mentioning Yahoo Screen, not because it's amazing or anything; Yahoo's attempt at taking on this world is hardly that. But it's the service that will exclusively carry the sixth season of Community, a top geek show, and for that, we give Yahoo our thanks. It starts on March 17.


TV isn't all shows and movies. What about the big games? How do you steam those? As mentioned above, for ESPN-aholics, Sling TV is probably the best bet. You're not going to find SportsCenter on other services, though you can watch clips at the website.

Individual leagues have their own ways of doing things. The National Hockey League has services to watch out-of-market games on devices like Roku, PS4, or phones and tablets. Major League Baseballs' At Bat apps for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire show all the games from opening day to the World Series for a fee of $2.99 a month or $19.99 for the year. MLB.tv streaming is available on some consoles and media hubs, and costs as much as $129.99 per year. The National Basketball Association (NBA) has streaming games through its website. For NFL fans waiting patiently for the return of football, this year DirecTV started offering NFL Sunday Ticket over the Internet for as little as $41.99 for six months. There's also NFL Game Rewind, where you can watch full replays of games via the Web or apps.

Consider the Cord-Cutting Cost

Cord cutting has its conveniences, but will it really save you cash?

Consider that the average cost of cable television in the U.S., according to projections by NPD Group, is around $123 a month for the year 2015. That's for basic service plus premium channels like HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz. Over the course of one year, that's $1,476.

Now consider all of the services we've mentioned above, not even factoring in the cost of buying a media hub or smart TV if needed. Assuming you need subscriptions to all of them to get as thorough a cross section of channels as you'd get with cable, it's not cheap. Remember, all these prices are before applicable tax.

[TABLE="align: center"]
[TD] n/a
[TD]Sling TV (with full complement of content)
[TD]CBS All Access
*Amount corrected; does not include Amazon Prime fee, which is collected yearly.

That total, $974.52, is not inexpensive. But it is only two-thirds the cost of regular cable TV. And that's not factoring in other costs like DVR subscriptions for cable users, or adding new services for cord cutters as they become available, such as Showtime or Starz, or the games you miss out on not having a slew of sports channels.

Take it all into account if you want to go cable-TV free.



Midas Member
Midas Supporter
Apr 2, 2010
Well 3 1/2 years now & I finally get fiber optics @ 100Mbps 24/7, no usage limit & only $40/mo ! I tied the can to Dish's ass.
The only reason we got it way out here (25 miles out of town) is the state fish hatchery ordered it & the rest of us were offered it.
We have Amazon Fire Stick/Prime & Netflix, that's all we need.


Metal Messiah
Midas Member
Mar 30, 2010
Solarmovie...........search "the duck"