HSI’s Definitive Guide to Cord Cutting
4 Simple Steps to Cutting the CordAre you cut out for cord cutting? There has never been a better time to take the leap and ditch your cable service. With so many streaming devices and services, you can get many channels and shows online without the hassle of a cable company. Cord cutting is not for everyone, though. Some channels and shows aren’t available through streaming services, and if you aren’t careful, you may end up spending more than you were with your cable company. With the right planning, cutting the cord is one way to save some money and no longer have to deal with your cable subscription. We are here to give you a few easy steps to follow to make a smooth transition when cutting the cord. We have also compiled a massive list of streaming devices and the channels you can get on each one, so you can make sure you are making the right decision before you cancel any plans with your cable company.
Step 1: Make sure you have high speed Internet service.Once you cut the cord, one of the main things to consider is that all of your viewing activities are reliant on having a fast internet connection. We recommend testing your current connection first. You can use HSI’s Speed Test tool, or one of the many others on the web. Not getting the speed you pay for? It may be time to call and see what you provider can do to increase your speed or search for a new ISP. Then if you want to get an idea of how much speed you are going to need, jump over to our Speed Calculator and answer 7 simple questions to find out how much speed we would recommend in your house. When you get to question 6, just make sure you answer “All of Time” for how often you stream video. Once you cut the cord, you will most likely increase your video streaming considerably. We also recommend taking into consideration the requirements of some of the more common streaming services like Netflix (which recommends at least 3 Mbps) and Hulu (which recommends at least 1.5 Mbps). If you don’t think your current service will give you enough speed, then start the search for a new provider, just input your zip code here on HSI and see who else you have in your area. Already with the fastest company? Call and see if there is a different package you can upgrade to for more speed. [zipfinder]
Step 2: Choose a streaming device.The number of streaming devices are plentiful these days. Many TVs even have streaming built into them. Choosing the best device for you is critical. Some are cheaper than others and some offer channels others do not. We recommend balancing price and channel availability, along with other uses the device may serve. Here are the ones we would recommend. Roku 4 ($120) – Roku has a wide range of devices to choose from. Our top choice not only in the Roku family, but in the device category, is the Roku 4. With 4K capabilities and over 2500 channel choices, you won’t find another device that can beat it for streaming all of your favorite channels. If you want to jump into the Roku family a little cheaper, give the Roku Stick ($40) a shot. It won’t be quite as feature packed, but may get you far enough to begin with. Google Chromecast ($35) – When it comes to price, there isn’t a better deal than the Chromecast stick. With over 1000 channel choices, it isn’t exactly lacking in the entertainment department either. Amazon Fire TV ($100) – If you use Amazon for most of your media purchases, then this might be the choice for you. 4K ready, over 800 games (optional game controller), and access to Amazon Video and Music make this an avid Amazon user’s dream. They currently have over 1000 channels to choose from as well. If you want to get into the Fire TV family at a lower cost, they too have the Fire Stick ($40). Apple TV ($150) – This is the best choice if you are a cross-platform Apple user. It will play your music and videos you house in iTunes, plus connect you to over 1000 channels to stream from. Siri integration also means voice search is more advanced than some of the options on this list. NVIDIA SHIELD ($198) – Nvidia created something of a gaming system/streaming system hybrid with the Shield. It does have a lot of online games you can download and play on the console, but if you are looking for a true gaming system, this isn’t for you. It is, however, a great choice if you want something that is going to be a little more than just a streaming device. Unfortunately, it is fairly lacking in the channel department and only has around 30 options to choose from. Xbox One ($320) – The latest installment by Microsoft, the Xbox One comes with a hefty price tag and is one of the most expensive devices for streaming. Since it’s primary purpose is for game play, the number of channels available is also limited to just over 50. That being said, it isn’t just used for streaming but can be a full entertainment system, including playing DVDs and Blu Ray. Xbox 360 ($170) – If you want the features of the Xbox, with a lesser price tag, you can pick up its predecessor for about half the price. You will not be able to play the most up to date games, but you will still have many options to choose from, plus all of the video streaming capabilities of the Xbox One. PS4 ($350) – Much like the Xbox One, the PS4 is not just a streaming device, but more of an all encompassing entertainment system. With its own range of games and online services, the PS4 has plenty to offer someone looking for more than just a streaming device. Want to see which channels are available on each device? Go ahead and jump to our Go ahead and jump to our comparison chart of devices and available channels.
Step 3: Choose your streaming services.This might be the most complex part of cutting the cord. There are some streaming services that have been around for a while, like Netflix. Others are newer, like CBS All Access. Luckily, many channels are launching their own streaming channels like CBS, so cutting the cord is easier than ever. Some of our recommendations include: Hulu ($8-12/month) – Truly the grandfather of streaming services, Hulu has it down to a science. With their recent upgrade to no-commercial access, you can watch many of your favorite shows without interruption. They also recently started allowing a Showtime Add-on ($9/month) which makes their selection even more enticing. Some companies have started restricting show access on Hulu though, so make sure to check on the shows you love before investing. The ones we know of are: NBC, FOX, and ABC have their most recent seasons locked. CBS has started restricting access as well with the launch of their own channel, CBS All Access. Netflix ($8-12/month) – If you are a movie buff, then Netflix is a must. They do have a large range of television shows, but Hulu still reigns supreme when it comes to rapidly updating episodes of TV shows. For a few dollars more, you can also add a DVD subscription, which makes Netflix an even better deal for movie watchers. Amazon Prime ($99/year) – With a large library of movies and TV shows (rivaling that of Netflix), this is a great option especially if you are going to utilize the other Prime services (free 2 day shipping anyone?). Prime also allows you to rent and buy movies and shows and stream them, which makes this one of my favorite services. Recently, they have also added a Showtime add-on ($9/month) and a Starz add-on ($9/month) which makes it an even better deal if you want to have premium channel access. If you buy these streaming channels on their own, they run about $11/month. HBO NOW ($15/month) – An important note here. HBO GO is tied to your HBO subscription through a provider. HBO Now is standalone, meaning you get HBO services without the cable subscription. HBO Now allows you to stream all of your favorite shows, plus has a pretty vast collection of movies to choose from as well. Really, if you are an avid Game of Thrones fan, then the HBO Now app has to be on your list of streaming services. Still there are other services that allow standalone payments and streaming. These include: NFL Sunday Ticket ($50/moth) – 2015 was the first year DirectTV allowed NFL Sunday ticket to be streamed outside of a DirectTV package. This is a huge break for anyone who doesn’t want a year long subscription but loves the NFL season. This stand alone service only lasts for 4 months out of the year, meaning a $200 investment, but that is a lot cheaper than having a year long TV subscription because you want to catch all of your favorite NFL games. CBS All Access ($6/month) – CBS is the first major cable channel to break into the stand alone streaming space, and at $6/month it is doing so quite successfully! If you have shows that you really enjoy on CBS, then the $6/month price tag isn’t so bad. One thing to keep in mind is that since the launch of this service, CBS no longer makes their shows available to stream via Hulu. Disney Life ($15/month) – Although not currently available in the United States, this standalone streaming service is being test driven in the UK right now. Once you pay, you have access to the suite of Disney movies and shows. For anyone with several kids, the subscription also allows for up to 10 devices to stream at the same time. Additional Premium Channel Streaming: Showtime ($9-11) – Similar to the HBO Now subscription, you can now access your Showtime shows, plus a wide range of movies. Showtime can also be added on through Hulu or Amazon for only $9, but by itself it will cost you $11. Starz ($9/month) – The only way to get this “standalone” services is through Amazon right now, but if you already have Amazon prime, then this is a great deal! Really more of the same as far as movie selection goes, but if you have a show you can’t live without, then you may want to look at investing in Amazon Prime and the Starz add-on. If you still aren’t getting what you want from these major streaming services, there are plenty of others to pick from. The only issue with most of these streaming channels is that they are cable-authenticated, which means you have to sign in with a username and password. From our research, there is not very much restriction on sharing of usernames and passwords, so if you have a friend or family member who already has a cable subscription and is kind enough to loan it to you, you could have access to many, many more channels. You can see these and cross reference device compatibility in our comparison grid at the bottom of this article.
Step 4: Look into more traditional TV-like options.If you still can’t completely break away from your traditional TV habits, you have a few other options you can look into. If you don’t want to add any additional monthly subscriptions to your accounts, try getting an HD antenna, like the Mohu Leaf. You can usually get around 15 – 20 HD channels depending on your area. Most of these will be your main cable channels and local channels, but it still lets you channel surf every now and then. If you want another streaming option, Sling TV is a great way to fill the TV void. For $20, you can get their base package of channels which includes: ESPN, ESPN2, AMC, Food Network, A&E, History, TNT, El Rey, HGTV, IFC, Disney Channel, Polaris+, Maker, TBS, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, CNN, H2, Cartoon Network, ABC Family, Lifetime, Galavision, and Bloomberg Television. They also allow you to add other packages on for an additional $5/month. Our favorites are Sports Extras and Kids Extras. There are also three Spanish specific packages, which is great for anyone looking for Spanish channels. Most of our streaming options are lacking Spanish speaking options except for Hulu, which has a large selection of Telemundo shows. Once you sign up for the base SlingTV package, they also have some additional Spanish add-ons that are even heftier for $15/month each. HSI’s Overall Recommendation Ultimately, cutting the cord is really about buying and watching exactly what you want without the hassle of a cable subscription. This doesn’t mean it is going to be easy. If you are wanting to make the smoothest transition, we would recommend subscribing to: Netflix or Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Sling TV. If you get Amazon Prime and are a major movie buff, go ahead and pay the $18/month for Showtime and Starz. If you are into sports, go ahead and add the Sports Extra for Sling or the Kids Extra if you have kids. This will give you access to almost all of the programming you would have previously had, without needing the cable subscription. And as we noted above, we recommend the Roku 4 for your streaming device. Another thing to consider is music streaming. Although this is not the main concern of this article, it is a factor when picking a device. Many only stream services internal to their brand, while others (like Roku) have several different music services available. So what does this look like head-to-head with your cable bill? Ultimately, only you can compare what your needs are, but the package we suggest above would come out to $36/month base, and then the potential of $18/month for movie add-ons or $10/month add-ons for Sling TV. Get it all and you are looking at $64/month plus your internet bill. Like we noted in Step 1, make sure you have the best possible provider and package before you to cut the cord. All of the suggestions above use a large amount of bandwidth and you don’t want to make the transition only to have a slow connection. Get started with a provider search right here on HSI: [zipfinder] For an in-depth look at what apps and devices are compatible, we have created the streaming device comparison grid below, with app compatibility noted.
Streaming Device and Channel Comparison ChartChannel Color Key: Red – Standalone Streaming Channels, Green – Free Streaming Channels, Blue – Combination of Free and Paid Content, Black – Cable Authenticated Streaming Channels
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*Pricing and options are current as of writing. Pricing and options are subject to change. This is not an endorsement or guarantee for any particular streaming device or streaming service. Consumers should thoroughly review all options before deciding to purchase any streaming device or streaming channel.
Lynn Phillips is a writer, social media marketer and illustrator. In her spare time she plays video games (badly) with her cat.