By Chris Dato • October 28, 2014
I have never been ashamed to admit that I am a hopeless television junkie. In fact, it is a quality that I wear like a badge of honor. So when my roommate told me that he wanted to save some money by getting rid of the cable, I just about started boxing up my stuff right then and there. However, as he stated his case against my beloved, I had a hard time arguing many of his points. By the time he had finished, I was convinced that, with a little research, I could find a way to eliminate the huge monthly expense of cable without giving up my favorite television programs. In my research, I quickly found that my roommate and I were not pioneering this movement. The switch from cable providers to monthly streaming services has been gaining momentum, and members of this revolution are known as cord cutters. I was shocked to find out just how smooth the transition could be.
The first thing you are going to need in order to sever the ties to cable is a streaming device. If you do not already have one, there are a couple affordable options for you to choose from. Apple TV has been steadily growing in popularity since its debut in September of 2006. It is a $99 digital media player, which supports all of the major streaming services, with the exception of Amazon Instant Video. For those of you, like me, who swear by our Mac devices, the biggest draw of the Apple TV over comparable miniconsoles is the way that it can be streamlined with your other Apple products. A great example of this is the AirPlay feature, which allows your television screen to mirror your personal iOS device. This allows you to seamlessly stream music, photos, and videos directly onto the television. The Apple TV also offers superior video quality compared to similar products.
The other entertainment device I explored was the Roku. I assumed, like many of my fellow Macs, that this product was going to be inferior simply because it did not have the Apple logo stamped into it. As it turns out, the Roku has a lot of unique features that make it stand out. The first is that there are four different models of Roku, so you can choose the one that best fits your needs. The basic model, the Roku 1, starts at just $49 and is compatible with standard as well as HD televisions. The nicest model, the Roku 3, sells for $99 and has a faster processor, remote gyroscope capabilities, and ports for Ethernet, USB, and microSD. The Roku 3, as well as the $49 Roku Streaming Stick, requires an HDTV. The advantages do not end here however.
The Roku remote offers much more functionality than that of the Apple TV. The simple layout is clear and easy to use, and the remote features a 4-way directional rocker that makes moving between on-screen options a breeze. A Roku specific feature which really stands out is the ability to search for content across all platforms, providing you with a complete list of viewing options. The remote communicates with the receiver using Wi-Fi as opposed to infrared, which means you don’t have to even point the remote to use it. Motion sensors built into the remote allow you to download and play games, such as Angry Birds which comes preinstalled, on the big screen.
Another advantage offered by the Roku remote is that it features a headphone jack. Plugging in headphone automatically mutes the television and brings the sound right to your ears. This is great for when you are watching TV late at night while your partner is sleeping. Although the Roku 3 comes with a set of headphone, consider using your own for better sound quality.
Once you have your streaming device, all that is left to do is decide what mix of services best suits you. There are quite a few options when it comes to this category, each with features that differentiate it from the competition. Understanding the differences is the key to finding the right combination.
The most prominent video at home service is undoubtedly Netflix, and that is with good reason. For just $7.99 a month, Netflix gives you access to a massive library of content ready for instant consumption. This library includes older movies as well as new releases, and an extensive selection of television series. They have full seasons, and in many cases entire series, of television shows from nearly all of the major broadcast and cable networks, and the content is constantly being updated. Recently, Netflix has made a big push to produce original content, to great success. Television shows such as House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and the latest season of Arrested Development, were created and produced in house, and are only available to Netflix subscribers. The company plans to continue this focus on original programming, most recently signing a deal with comedian Chelsea Handler. All of the content on Netflix is presented 100% commercial free.
Hulu Plus is another streaming service, which brings its own set of advantages to the table. Hulu Plus, which is also $7.99 a month, does not offer as much original content as Netflix. However, it has a distinct advantage over its completion when it comes to television series. Hulu Plus has exclusive deals with the major networks, which allows them to make current television show episodes available for streaming the day after they air. Especially when considering the goal of ditching the cable bill without giving up your favorite TV show, this is a crucial feature. Unfortunately, this instant availability means that the content has short commercial breaks.
Recently, premium cable channel HBO announced that it would be making HBO Go available as a standalone service starting in 2015. Previously, the service was only available to customers who subscribed to HBO. They have not announced the details of the service, such as its price, but this is great news for cord cutters out there.
Although they tend to feature less volume of content, there are a number of free services available that are worth your attention. Crackle is one of the lesser known streaming services right now, although they are owned by Sony. They are constantly adding bought and original content, such as their original series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee produced by Jerry Seinfeld, which is a personal favorite of mine. The Crackle library also includes classic movies and episodes of television shows you just can’t find with other services, such as Jeopardy. Yahoo! Screen is another free service that warrants your attention with quite a bit of exclusive or unique programming, including current content from networks like NBC and Comedy Central amongst others. Do not make the mistake of immediately disregard these services as unworthy simply because they are free.
Also, don’t be selfish when it comes to your streaming services. There is not a limit on the number of devices you can register to an account, so save money by sharing. For example, there is no reason to pay for Hulu Plus if your girlfriend already has an account. I am speaking hypothetically, of course…
With the affordability of streaming devices, as well as the diversity of available content, it is becoming increasingly doable to get rid of your monthly cable bill. Personally, I was spending over $1400 a year on cable. Even with the initial hardware cost and a monthly subscription to Netflix and Hulu Plus, you will have all your favorite movies and shows available 24/7 for just under $300 the first year!
Chris Dato A Southern California kid born and raised, Chris is happiest with sunglasses on his face and sand under his back. Although a self-proclaimed master money saver, he prefers the term 'responsibly frugal' to 'cheap.'