Cord cutting is more popular than ever these days. After all, most people aren’t exactly thrilled with paying $200 a month just so they can watch ESPN once in awhile. Of course, the downside in cancelling cable is that you lose a lot of content. People tend to take for granted how much cable content is actually out there. Sure, most of it is crap, but still.
Thankfully, technology is always moving forward, and the people behind that technology get that you’re sick of being a slave to Big Cable and their insistence that yes, you want to watch 19 different home shopping channels. And so they have created options for you. Lots of options.
And thankfully (?) for you, I’m here to break down those options for you, so that you can cut that cord and move forward in the way that makes the most sense for you. After all, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Doing what’s best for you, and not being forced to watch TV in the same way your 90-year-old neighbor does, right? Right. So let’s get to it, the pros and cons of your cord cutting options.
If you’re cool with something basic – extremely, get back to TV’s 1950’s roots kind of basic – then you can drop anywhere from $20 to $60 on an antenna, which will let you pick up whatever local channels you can for no extra cost at all.
The pros here are obvious, and, well, singular: once you’ve paid for the antenna, you don’t have to pay for anything else. It’s all free. Okay, fine, one other pro: if you live in a city, you can probably pick up more local channels than if you live out in the country. In New York, for instance, you can get around 40 channels. Sure, most of them are small and probably shitty, but how’s that different than most cable channels?
The cons are, well, the cons are that you are pretty much stuck watching the major networks, complete with commercials, no DVR, no streaming options, and basically no quality content. Yeah, that’s a pretty big con.
If you still want that sweet, sweet content and are willing to pay for it, and don’t want any extra clutter from devices, a Smart TV is always an option.
The pros include that lack of clutter, plus a streamlined experience that allows you to simply turn on your TV, point your remote and start watching whatever apps you have on your TV.
The cons are that you still have to pay hundreds of dollars for a TV, and from my own personal experience, sometimes Smart TVs aren’t, uh, aren’t all that smart. Connection issues, constant updating (and the wait involved) and a general sense that the “smart” part of your TV was secondary to the, you know, “TV’ part during the design are all a concern, which sucks when you’re paying a pretty big chunk of change up front.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to call this, but I’m talking services that essentially allow you to turn a normal TV into a “smart” TV. Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast. That sort of thing.
One pro is that this a much cheaper option than buying a Smart TV, although it varies depending on what service you use. Apple TV runs anywhere from $150-$200. Amazon Fire TV is around $100. And Google Chromecast is only $35.
Of course, you tend to get what you pay for, but is there really that big a difference between Google Chromecast and Apple TV? Eh, it depends. I know that’s a shitty answer, but it really does depend on what you’re looking for. If you’re cool with essentially just using your phone to stream content to your TV, then Chromecast would probably work for you. Apple TV, on the other hand, has a much richer interface. In short, it “feels” more like TV, something stable and tangible, rather than the more jury-rigged feel of Chromecast.
Amazon Fire TV is closer to Apple TV, and for half the price is probably the better option, unless of course you’re married to Apple the way many Apple fetishists are, and need to feed that iTunes addiction.
But that’s kind of an issue with both Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV. They both push you towards using their own services – iTunes, Amazon Prime – which isn’t a huge deal, but can be annoying, especially when you just want to find something to watch without feeling like you’re entering into some sort of deal with the devil. I mean, that’s why you’re cutting the cord in the first place, right?
Roku has several generations of their device now, each offering slightly different options and features. They run from $50 for the oldest, most basic versions, to $130 for the newest, the Roku 4.
The big pro with Roku is that it eliminates all that funneling towards a company’s pre-existing service. With Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, for instance, you get the sense that the product just exists to get you to use their other products. Again, not a huge deal, but annoying nonetheless. Roku, on the other hand, doesn’t give a shit what you use. It exists simply to let you watch a lot of great content.
Another pro is that Roku’s various generations provide a lot of versatility so that you can pick the best one for your needs. For instance, the basic Roku 1 allows those still hanging on to their old CRT TVs to stream through old-school A/V cables. You won’t find that anywhere else.
Meanwhile, the Roku 4 would be the choice if you need something that lets you watch video in 4K. Your needs might be somewhere in the middle, which Roku accommodates with its Roku 2 and Roku 3.
Roku is also renowned for having an extremely user-friendly interface, and an intuitive menu that even Grandma can figure out. This is a big pro if you’re not all that savvy and, hell, even if you are, it’s nice to be able to just sit down and use something without having to dig our your phone or sign up to another service.
Roku’s biggest con is probably that it’s an external device, which is a problem if you’re worried about clutter, and it pretty much tethers you to a single TV, also a problem when you consider how much more mobile our media gets virtually every day.
The Roku Stick is $50, while the Fire Stick is only $40, so price is a pro here, especially when compared to their more expensive brethren.
The biggest pro, though, is mobility. You can just unplug a stick and plug it into a different TV and off you go. This is especially cool when traveling. The Amazon Fire Stick probably has the edge here, as it retains all your information even when not plugged in, meaning that you don’t have to set it up again every time you use it on a new TV. That’s a big pro.
The downside is that they don’t pack quite as many features as their parent devices/services. It’s not really a huge problem, especially if you don’t need much more than a neat device to stream your favorite services. Again, Amazon tends to push its own services, and Fire Stick is no different, as Amazon Prime is the default user menu, and you are asked to sign up for Prime as soon as you start using it. Not a huge deal, especially if you’re already a Prime member, but it’s not really necessary, now is it?
The TiVo Bolt is interesting because it offers something no other devices can: a DVR service. After all, that’s TiVo’s entire reason for existence. This is useful if you have an antenna but still want to DVR your favorite shows. In addition, TiVo Bolt also serves as a streaming device, so you can use it to watch Netflix, or whatever apps you want. It’s basically two devices in one.
Those are the pros. The cons? Well, the cons are massive. To start, the TiVo Bolt starts at $300. But that’s just what you pay up front. TiVo was basically the O.G. of the DVR game, and as such, way back in the day they could get away with charging people a monthly fee to use their service. The problem is that TiVo is still stuck in 2003 and makes you pay a $15 monthly fee. You can pay a “lifetime” fee up-front, but that’s going to run you another $600. Uh, fuck that. Especially if you just want it so you can DVR whatever shitty show is on Fox. Gotham isn’t worth a $1,000 investment, bros.
Gaming Consoles can be used to stream Netflix, Hulu, or whatever you want, really. The big pro, whether it’s a Playstation 4 or an Xbox One, is obviously the gaming. If you are a gamer and also want a device to stream with, then this makes sense. Sure, it’s going to run you a few hundred dollars, but you were probably going to pay that anyway just to play vidya like a teenage degenerate. The streaming is almost a bonus.
Of course, if you don’t want to play video games all day then this probably doesn’t make much, if any, sense for you. You can get far better choices for far cheaper. And as a side-note, many services, specifically Apple TV and the Amazon line of products, are incorporating games into their service, so if you’re just a filthy casual, then that might work for you. Dudes into playing Call of Duty with their bros? Not so much.
TV Streaming Subscriptions
There are, of course, plenty of streaming services out there. You all know about Netflix. Sign up for just one of these services for somewhere around $10/month and you’ve got a lot of entertainment options. Of course, it starts to get a bit pricier when you add Hulu and Amazon Prime and whatever other services you subscribe to into the mix. And then you’re right back to paying a bunch of money every month when you just want to watch one or two shows from each service. It’s basically just an evolved version of the cable model you just tried to escape.
Still, you can’t argue with the sort of quality these services have proven to bring. These days, if you don’t have Netflix, you’re basically missing out on a cultural touchstone, and you always have the choice to pick and choose which services you subscribe to, which is a definite break from the cable model.
But what about all those cable channels you’re giving up? Well, you’re in luck because there are a couple of different services which offer streaming channel packages for a monthly fee.
Let’s start with Sling TV, which for $20/month lets you stream around 20 popular channels, including ESPN. You can add different packages for $5/month extra each, including a sports package which includes all the ESPN networks.
That’s great and all, but the problem is that once you start adding packages, you’re – again – just sucked back into the cable model you tried to leave.
Another problem with Sling TV is that most of the channels don’t allow you to pause or rewind or record or any of those features we’ve all gotten used to and come to expect. It just allows you to watch the live versions of the networks.
Playstation Vue, on the other hand, does let you save and watch programs at your own convenience. It’s a little more expensive at $30/month, but you get more channels too – up to 75 at the latest count.
Of course, Playstation Vue comes with its own cons. Not every channel is available in every market, which, uh, kind of sucks, Beavis, and as a replacement you get a lame “On Demand” version of the channel featuring paltry choices. Basically, you sign up not knowing what’s available in your own market and play Russian Roulette with it. And again, at a certain point you’re just replacing cable with… shittier cable.
The pro? It’s fucking free and you can find anything you want.
The con? It’s illegal and your ISP will send you back to the Stone Age where you’ll have to resort to, ugh, reading books, if you get caught too many times. And even if that doesn’t happen, you’re risking downloading something that will probably give your computer AIDS at some point. Torrenting is basically like banging hookers without a condom.
So, what should you do?
Really, it all depends on your specific needs. You know what works for you and what doesn’t, and hopefully this guide will help you figure out the details. Personally, I think the best bet would be a combination of services/devices. Get an antenna and get those free channels, then get whatever device you think is best and subscribe to whatever services get you going. All the networks plus Netflix plus a good streaming suite (Sling TV or Playstation Vue are crucial if you need your ESPN) would probably cover most, if not all, of your needs.
Of course, the thing you have to be careful of is just replacing one expensive service with another, but at least this way you get to balance it yourself, and really, isn’t that the whole point, the whole impetus behind cord cutting? We all just want to have a choice in what we watch and, more importantly, what we pay for. And, as you can see, thanks to all these options, no matter their pros and their cons, choice is exactly what we have today, and we’re only going to have more tomorrow.