According to MarketWatch, cable subscribers have been declining since 2004, and cable companies are expected to lose about 1.3 million more subscribers in 2014. Both as a result and a cause of cable’s decline, alternatives have been popping up to snag both cable subscribers and nonsubscribers alike. Many of these are centered on the Internet, such as streaming services, websites, and set-top boxes, so they are newer developments than Blu-rays and DVDs, though these are still viable options to traditional cable.

If you’re thinking it’s time to unplug, let’s look at your internet-based entertainment options.

Streaming Services

Streaming services have been on the rise for more than a decade as internet connectivity has increased and improved. Not only are streaming services available to be hooked up to a TV, but they can be watched on a laptop and mobile devices as well, which means that the home entertainment experience no longer has to be kept in just one or a couple rooms of the home—it can even be enjoyed away from home.

While cable TV is expected to lose 1.3 million subscribers this year, according to CNN Money, Netflix, the streaming movie and TV goliath, saw an increase of 16 percent in subscribers when more than 2.3 million new American households signed up for the service in the fourth quarter of 2013 alone. In response to this influx of users, Netflix has shortened wait times for new programming, increased their list of available movies, and improved customer service significantly.

Another popular streaming service, Hulu, passed 5 million subscribers for its Hulu Plus service in December 2013, up from 3 million in 2012, according to Engadget. Amazon Prime, both a video streaming service and a two-day shipping perk, has about 10 million subscribers, according to Business Insider. While these two services can’t quite touch Netflix just yet, they and other streaming services are also cable alternatives that more people—both with and without cable—are turning to.

Websites

Instead of just streaming from dedicated video services, you can also find websites that allow you to stream movies and TV. Some of the major networks, such as ABC and NBC for example, offer streaming of their programs. ABC even offers live streaming for viewers at home who want to be in on the action as it’s shown on traditional television. Other cable networks, such as Bravo, MTV, and Cartoon Network, also offer streaming of either full episodes, clips, or even live streaming of their programming.

Still other websites simply allow you to stream movies and TV programming without going directly through the channel or distributor itself. For example, Stream2Watch.me offers HD streaming of television networks and sports from across the world. Livestream allows you to both watch and broadcast live programming, and users can find many channels streaming live on this website as well as user-generated content that might not have made it to TV.

You can find many larger websites to go through, such as these two, but there are also many smaller sites that offer this same service. You just need to be careful because some may want you to download files that could potentially have viruses attached.

Set-top Boxes

Amazon’s FireTV is the latest set-top box to hit the market, released earlier this month, but it enters an increasingly crowded market. Though Apple TV hasn’t been updated since 2012, owners of other Apple devices can easily stream content from their iPhone, iPad, or Mac to their TVs. Roku 3 includes just about every streaming app you can think of besides Apple’s iTunes and Google Play. You can also use a device like Chromecast, which is not technically a set-top box but is about one-third of the cost of one and uses a USB port to stream videos to your TV from your desktop or laptop.

Also, some TV and Blu-ray players (while similar but not technically set-top boxes) come with streaming apps either built-in or installable. Another way that you can stream videos via a semi set-top is by using an app on a game console, such as a PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, or Xbox One.

Blu-rays and DVDs

As long as you don’t mind watching a movie or TV show several months after release, you can always purchase DVDs or Blu-rays of your favorite programming. TV shows are often released in full seasons, and movies are sometimes released in an entire series, like the “Star Wars” or “Harry Potter” series.

Both TV shows and movies often come with bonus, behind-the-scenes content that you can’t find on cable TV. Also, once you own the DVD or Blu-ray, you can watch it whenever you want, regardless if it’s on Netflix, Hulu, or cable. So while you can’t watch it live and have to wait a few months to own or rent a Blu-ray or DVD, these physical discs have their own benefits.

Cable alternatives abound these days, and it’s just a matter of the devices you have or want to buy versus paying a cable TV subscription. Most require a reliable internet service, so double-check your internet speeds before subscribing to a streaming service. If you’re not happy with your internet provider, maybe it’s time to switch.

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Photo: Keith Ramsey

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