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Home / Tips and Tricks / Cut the Cord in 2021: Your Guide to Ignoring Cable TV

Cut the Cord in 2021: Your Guide to Ignoring Cable TV


Sarah Tew/CNET

The cable box is an old fashioned and expensive way to get TV. Yes, it̵

7;s known, but you can still enjoy your favorite TV shows and movies if you cut the cord. The apps built into your Smart TV or run on a cheap streamer, such as a Roku or Amazon Fire TV, can offer more great shows for less than any cable box.

More Americans than ever are cutting the cable TV cord in favor of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime video, Disney Plus, HBO Max and hulu. There are thousands of TV shows and movies to stream on demand, but that’s just the beginning. Live TV streaming services, available at o.a Sling TV and YouTube TV, can stream most live channels available on your cable box with no contracts to sign, so you can cancel at any time. And if you don’t want to pay at all, plenty of other services stream free tv shows, free movies even free live news.

Whether your favorite shows are on Netflix or TNT, Disney Plus or ESPN, Amazon Prime or your local ABC, NBC or PBS station, you can probably stream them without ever needing a cable or satellite TV box. .

Here’s how to get started.

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Set up a home internet plan with unlimited data, if you can

Even if you cut cable TV, you still need an internet connection at home to stream. Many people get their internet as part of a cable TV bundle, perhaps with phone service as well. Often your cable company is the same one that provides your internet connection, but sometimes you can look around for multiple internet providers.

You need to know how much broadband at home costs per se, without TV bundle. If your bundle is $130 per month, you may have to pay $60 for internet only. That leaves $70 in potential savings by cutting down on cable TV. That’s a lot of money each month to trade or spend on new streaming services.

Other things to consider when shopping for Internet-only plans:

  • Are you under contract? If so, you’ll either have to wait, renegotiate a new Internet-only deal with your cable company, or eat up the early termination fees.
  • How fast do you need a connection? Start by pricing out the same speed you already have, but keep in mind that if everyone in your house streams more, you might end up with a faster connection.
  • You will need to purchase a plan with unlimited data, if available, which may cost more than plans with data-limited data. Streaming video can add up quite a bit.

Live TV services like YouTube TV have grid-style program guides, just like your cable box.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Which TV shows and channels are your must-haves?

Now it’s time to find out what your TV must-haves are. canceling cable means you have to stream the stuff you normally watch on your cable box.

List the programs and channels you and your family watch regularly. In some cases, you can replace your favorite channel programming with a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu, but keep in mind that many episodes of the current season won’t be available immediately.

The best option to directly replace your cable box is with a live tv streaming service. Each offers a pack of live channels you can watch on a streaming app that, with a bit of a learning curve, works just as well as (or better than) a cable box. They include program guides, cloud DVRs and extras that your box can’t provide, including user profiles and mobile streaming. Prices start at $25 per month but to get live local channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox or PBS) you have to pay a minimum of $50 per month. For premium shows, HBO ($15 per month), Showtime ($11), and Starz ($9) all have standalone services, too.

The best of any of the above services? Unlike cable, you can cancel and restart the service at any time without contracts or penalties. For example, you can subscribe to follow a particular show and unsubscribe after the finale.

Read more: Top 100 Channels You Can Stream on Any Live TV Service


Roku offers support for a wide variety of streaming services.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Try replacing your DVR shows with streaming options

Do you use your cable box’s DVR a lot? Live TV streaming services offer a “cloud DVR,” but often it isn’t as capable as a TiVo or your cable company’s DVR. They often have smaller storage limits, shows that expire after a certain amount of time, restrictions on which channels can be recorded, and even force you to watch commercials. YouTube TV has the best cloud DVR we’ve tested, but in some ways it’s still not as good as TiVo.

However, thanks to on-demand, you won’t miss your DVR much. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and others allow you to watch on-demand programs — often the same programs you use your DVR to record. And live TV services like YouTube TV and Sling TV offer many on-demand shows, and you can often pause or even skip commercials. On the other hand, not every episode of every show may be available.

Read more: Best live TV streaming services for cord cutters

Install a TV antenna for local channels

One way to get around the high cost of local networks when streaming is to use an antenna. To qualify as a television and not a monitor, a display must have a built-in wireless tuner so you can plug in an antenna and watch broadcast networks such as ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and PBS. However, reception varies greatly depending on where you live, and unless you buy an aerial DVR like the Fire TV recast, AirTV or TiVo Bolt OTA, you are limited to live viewing only.

Read more: Cut the Cord for $10: The Best Indoor TV Antenna in 2021


Over-the-air antennas are affordable and easy to install.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Are you subscribing to the right streaming services: Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus?

You don’t need that cable box anymore, but you need some kind of streaming device to watch services like Netflix, hulu, Amazon Prime video and HBO Max. Maybe the app is built into your smart TV, maybe your game console, or maybe you need to buy a new streaming device like a Roku or Apple TV. In any case, you should also connect such a device to any TV that is currently connected to a cable box.

At least they’re relatively cheap ($17 and up), and you don’t have to pay the cable company every month to rent one. And with most services you can also look on your phone, tablet or computer.


Sports fans can also cut the cord.

David Katzmaier/CNET

Do you think it is important to watch sports?

Most live sports are back and sports fans have more and more options to follow live. Unfortunately, sports fans will have the hardest time cutting the cord.

Some channels dedicated to professional baseball and basketball teams, known as RSNs (Regional Sports Networks), are available only to cable subscribers. Live TV streaming service AT&T TV’s $85 plan is the best option if you want to watch your local RSN, but coverage varies widely by sport, team, and city. To find out if the service includes your team’s games, visit AT&T’s website here.

NFL pro football games are usually run on local networks, but you usually need an antenna, a live TV streaming service, or Paramount Plus (for CBS games only) to watch them. An exception? Amazon Prime Video will carry some 2021 NFL games for free, and will host Exclusive Thursday night football from 2022.

Read more: Best Streaming Devices of 2021: Roku, Apple TV, Fire Stick, and More Compared

Take a test drive before cutting the cord for good

Cutting the cable cord can save you a lot of money, but you’ll need to do some planning to make the transition as painless as possible. It pays to get all your streaming ducks lined up before you make that last fateful call to your cable provider.

Go through your checklist and find out which services to subscribe to and which devices you need. Install everything on your main TV, unplug your cable box and get used to streaming instead. Familiarize yourself first and then move on to helping other members of your household.

Chances are you will encounter some bumps along the way. The menu systems on some streaming services are different, the remote controls on devices are different, even the lack of channel numbers and the need to search can be difficult. However, give it time and patience, and you’ll be fine.

Ready? It’s time to actually cancel your cable service

After living with streaming for a while and getting comfortable with the process of clicking an app instead of booting up your cable box, it’s time to make the fateful call. Your cable provider may offer you incentives to stay close and you will have to weigh these against the benefits of cutting the cord, but do this carefully. Especially if the offer is dependent on signing a two-year contract. A lot can change in two years and with the freedom of streaming it is just a lot easier to save money than with cable.

Ultimately, cutting cable TV isn’t for everyone. No device or service has as many channels as a premium cable package. Juggling different services to find the shows you want to watch can take more effort than some people are willing to do.

On the other hand, cutting cables is getting easier with every new option that comes on the market. In addition to the savings, you get the freedom to choose the service you want — and drop it like a hot potato if you don’t like it anymore, your favorite show stops or something new comes up. Cutting cables is all about choice and if you do it right you will never miss that old cable box again.

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