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Cord cutting: a beginner's guide

This is a better time than ever to cut the cord. Instead of paying more than $ 100 a month for an inflated channel bundle, you can replace it with streaming TV services – and perhaps a TV antenna – for a fraction of the cost.

It is not always easy to sort these new options, though, especially if you are not technically skilled. While the cable made everything simple, the cable has to be selected from a dozen different hardware options and many more online video services, not all of which are compatible. Adding an over-the-air TV antenna to the mix creates even more headache potential.

I have been a cutter for more than ten years, I have written a weekly column on the subject since 201

4 and I am writing a string-cutting newsletter for more than 16,000 subscribers. With so many people priced without cables, it now seems the perfect time to make a definitive guide to cutting cables for people who don't know where to start.

I will tell you how to cut cables or satellite TV while answering some of the most common questions, concerns and issues I have heard from readers over the years. I hope you have all the information you need at the end.

Updated October 30, 2019 to add information about various changes in the cable cutting market.

Do I have to cut the cord?

Before we dive into how cut the cord, let's take a step back and think about whether you should be at all. Consider the following:

Do you pay at least $ 50 a month for TV service? Most live TV streaming services start at $ 40 to $ 45 a month, so cutting cables may not save you much if your TV provider gives you a lot. It is possible to spend less with cheaper services such as Netflix, but not without giving up much of the cable.

Do you already have an internet service at home? If you pay for internet and use often, cutting cables is likely to make financial sense. On the other hand, it is probably a wash to add home internet only to cut cable TV. I do not recommend using your phone's mobile hotspot for internet services if you cut the cord.

Are you just tired of the cable? Some arguments for cutting cables aren & # 39; t strictly about saving money. It is also a way to see fewer advertisements, to make your living room well-organized, to set up TVs everywhere in the house and to avoid the annual ritual of negotiating for lower rates.

Are you willing to be flexible? Despite its many virtues, cutting cables is not a magical solution that gives you exactly the same experience as cable for less money. You must be familiar with the use of new technology or new apps, and retaining every channel you had with cable can limit your ability to save money. The more willing you are to adjust, the better your experience will be.

Basic principles of cable cutting

At the basic level, cutting the cable requires various elements:

Internet service: You will almost certainly need home internet to put the cable together with a wifi router, cut through, so that your streaming devices can come online from any part of the house. As a rule of thumb, home internet speeds should be at least 15 Mbps (megabits per second) for each device that you want to use at the same time. If you tend to play three TVs at the same time, you should ideally have an internet speed of at least 45 Mbps. That is hard to get with DSL or satellite service, so you may have to stay with your cable company for broadband service (unless you are lucky enough to have access to fiber optic broadband or a similar thick pipe).

Streaming services: To replace your TV service, you must subscribe to one or more online video services. These can include on-demand video services such as Netflix or a bundle of live TV channels such as YouTube TV. There are also plenty of free video streaming sources that you can use to record your subscriptions.

Streaming Devices: Once you have subscribed to some streaming services, you can access these apps by downloading their apps to a streaming device, such as Roku & # 39; s Streaming Stick or Amazon & # 39; s Fire TV Stick. These devices connect to the television's HDMI port and connect to the internet through your home Wi-Fi network, and they work even if you don't have a smart TV that connects to the internet.

If you have a smart TV, you can use it instead of a separate streaming device, provided it has all the apps and services you want. (TVs that are more than a few years old, probably not, especially if they don't run on Roku & # 39; s software.) But for clarity, you don't need a smart TV to get the cord through to cut . [19659002] One more thing: Every television must have its own way of streaming whether it is a streaming device or a smart TV. If you have four TV & # 39; s and only two have up-to-date smart TV software, you need to purchase two additional streaming devices. The good news is that devices such as Roku and Fire TV, unlike your cable box, do not entail ongoing rental costs for equipment, so you only have to pay the costs in advance.

(optional) An antenna: With a wireless antenna (you can find our top choices here) and good reception, you can watch broadcast channels such as ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and PBS for free, together with some less well-known subnetworks such as MeTV and Comet. Most modern TVs have an input for your antenna coaxial cable, so you can simply connect it, perform a channel scan, and start watching without a separate tuner or other additional hardware. You can also purchase a DVR to record channels from an antenna. More about that later.

  cordcuttingflow Jared Newman / TechHive

A basic cable cutting configuration includes one or more televisions, each connected to its own streaming device that can download apps via your home Wi-Fi connection.

My short and sweet recommendation

Now that we have determined the basics, should you ask me about the simplest and easiest way to cut the cord, I would probably tell you that you must sign up for YouTube TV and Netflix (my favorite live and on-demand streaming services respectively), purchase a Roku Streaming Stick + (my favorite low-cost device that supports both services), and be ready with it.

But as we know, TV is no longer one-size-fits-all. If so, we would all absorb cable and its prices are increasingly expensive. The ability to choose and choose makes cable cutting great. The trade-off is that it takes some work to get there. Let us tackle that now.

Streaming services: choose your path

When you figure out which streaming services you need before you can cut the cord, there are two possible paths that you can follow.

most or all channels that you are currently viewing with cable. For that you need a live TV streaming service such as Sling TV, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV or Hulu with Live TV. These services essentially replicate the cable bundle by offering dozens of live channels, along with well-known features such as DVR and a channel guide. Depending on where you live, you may also be able to view most or all of the local broadcast channels. You will not maximize your savings with these services, which usually cost more than $ 40 a month, but you do not have to make many sacrifices.

  directvnow4 Jared Newman / TechHive

Live TV streaming services such as DirecTV allow you to watch cable channels over the internet.

The other path includes together your own TV plan together via on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, free video sources such as Pluto TV and perhaps a wireless antenna. If you follow this route, you have to completely abandon traditional cable channels such as ESPN, regional sports networks and CNN, but it can save you much more money.

These two approaches provide some overlap. For example, you can combine a YouTube TV subscript ion with Netflix, or supplement Sling TV with an antenna. Unfortunately, cable cutting offers no middle ground in the form of "a la carte" cable TV channels. For various complex reasons, you cannot simply lose 80 percent of your cable channels and pay 20 percent of the price. Instead, you can cut along the edges with a live TV streaming service or blow up the bundle completely with alternative services such as Netflix.

How to choose a live TV streaming service

If you choose a live TV streaming service, there are currently seven options available in the United States: Sling TV, AT&T TV Now, Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, FuboTV, Philo and AT&T Watch. Each of these services has a different channel overview, so your first step should be to exclude those who miss your favorite channels.

Here are a few resources that can help:

  • With the Streamable channel finder you can type in the channels, shows and sports teams you want and then spew out a list of matching services based on your zip code. It is super easy to use, although I have noticed that it sometimes happens that YouTube TV is mentioned in the top choices, even if it is the cheapest option. (Look under the site's recommended choices to see how each live TV service works, including YouTube TV.)
  • Suppose TV offers a similar channel finder service, and while it is not that slippery, it offers some extra tools for refining your search. For example, you can limit services based on the streaming devices they support, or on how many screens you can view a particular service at the same time.
  • If you only want to see a large list of channels and what services they support, our own live TV streaming guide has you covered.
  streamable Michael Brown / IDG

The Channel Finder of the Streamable is a fast way to find out which live TV services have all the channels you want.

Once you have reduced things through channel setup, you can compare functions. Here is an overview of what to look for:

  • DVR: Some live TV services limit your total number of recording hours, while others limit how long you can save each recording. (AT&T TV now places limitations on both.) [19659038] Skip ads: Some services charge extra fees to skip ads in your recordings, while others block ads from being skipped on certain channels.
  • Simultaneous streams: Live TV services do not limit the total number of televisions that you can set, but they do limit the number of devices that you can use at the same time. With some services you can pay extra for extra streams.
  • Outdoor Display: If you plan to take a streaming device with you on vacation or share your login with a family member, please note that some services limit this behavior.
  • Video quality: Most cable TV channels stream at 720p, but some services are better than others in supporting the smooth 60 frames per second video that sports and news broadcasts use. [19659038] Surround sound: Unfortunately, 5.1 audio is still unheard of in live TV streaming, although there are some exceptions for on-demand video.

The table below, which is current from February 2019, provides an overview of the comparison of these functions:

  streaming bundle features Jared Newman / TechHive

of all this still having a possible match, I suggest trying them out after you have chosen a streaming device. (More on that soon.) All of these services offer free trial versions, so you can get an idea of ​​how they work and cancel online without hassle.

Wait! There is more! Click here for recommendations for the best video-on-demand services, TV antennas and streaming devices.

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