Not long ago, our monthly Cablevision bill passed $250. Yes, it includes phone, Internet, and some premium movie channels and several cable boxes/remotes around the house.
By Mitch Silver
Not long ago, our monthly Cablevision bill passed $250. Yes, it includes phone, Internet, and some premium movie channels and several cable boxes/remotes around the house. But, come on! So I enlisted my son and daughter-in-law to educate me on the alternatives out there. And I’m passing what I learned on to you.
This is the key thing to understand: choosing among the new TV services is like ordering from an old-school Chinese menu — one from Column A and two from Column B. Now, apply that to your viewing.
Before you start, make sure you have a robust broadband connection. That’s because nearly all the Netflix/Amazon Prime/Hulu services will come from your Internet router. Netflix suggests streaming speeds of 5 Mbps, but families that might want to stream more than one show or movie at a time will need faster speeds to avoid loading and buffering delays.
The TV set will probably need a new piece of hardware to enable it to receive those Internet streams. The Roku 3 costs about $100 from Amazon or Best Buy. With over 2,000 available “channels,” it connects to virtually every major streaming service online. Roku’s remote and on-screen interface are very easy to use — you can search for content from any provider by actor, series, movie title, or genre you’re looking for. Roku will even tell you which services offer what you want for free, and which will charge for it.
Apple TV (about $70 from Apple or Amazon) is a good alternative to Roku for Mac fans, and it currently has an exclusive deal with the new HBO Now service.
Thirdly, Amazon’s Fire TV ($100 from Amazon) is another speedy way to stream, and also offers voice-activated search and a wide selection of games.
A fourth choice is Chromecast, a dongle that’s available from Amazon for about $35. A dongle is a thumb-sized USB-type thingie that plugs into the HDMI port on your TV. Simply use an Android phone, tablet, iPhone, iPad, Mac or Windows laptop, or Chromebook to “cast” your favorite entertainment and apps right to the big screen. In effect, it turns your smartphone or tablet into a TV remote.
But…maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. If you’re a sort of TV-watching Luddite — someone who’s happy just watching the four major networks along with 10-15 other basic cable selections (PBS, CW, etc.) — an HD antenna will pull in those offerings, in full HD, for free. Before you cancel your cable or satellite subscription, go to antennaweb.org to learn which channels you can expect to receive. Think you might want to record programs on network TV stations? Consider a Channel Master DVR or TiVo.
Okay, the rest of us are ready to consider which streaming services will best meet our entertainment needs. One that’s nearly essential to any cord-cutting list is Netflix. A subscription can cost between $100 and $150 a year (for up to four users at once), with a catalog loaded with full TV series (past seasons only), scores of movies, and original shows like “House of Cards,” all of which come commercial free.
The Amazon Prime video service overlaps much of the Netflix catalog, with the addition of classic HBO series like “The Sopranos” and “Oz” along with its own original series such as the critically acclaimed “Transparent.” Parents will like its extensive catalog of young children’s programming, and Amazon offers video- on-demand content, allowing you to rent or buy newer movies and TV shows. Plus, if you shop a bunch on Amazon anyway, Prime’s free two-day shipping makes the subscription a no-brainer.
Hulu Plus ($8/month) offers current and previous shows from ABC, Fox, and NBC (but not CBS), cable channels like Comedy Central, and older BBC shows, but with commercials. Hulu Plus offers plenty of titles, but depending on how much new TV you catch from your trusty antenna, it may not be totally necessary.
CBS All Access ($6/mo.) is their alternate version of Hulu.
Then there’s Dish Network’s new Sling TV service. Available as a simple app for $20 per month, it offers a basic package of 11 live channels including ESPN, ESPN2, CNN, Cartoon Network, TBS, HGTV, and others. All of the channels run with the same schedule and commercial breaks as cable, but the service is accessed from your streaming device, smartphone, or computer. And wouldn’t you know it, the Roku 3 is one of the first devices compatible with Sling TV.
Finally, Sony’s Playstation Vue is coming. Starting at $50 per month, and moving up to $60 and $70 tiers, it’s a much bigger investment than Sling TV. And it doesn’t include Disney-owned properties like ESPN, though it compensates with several Fox Sports channels. Moreover the service’s huge collection of bundled cable channels makes it, well, a lot like cable.
Hmmm…now that I survey the wreckage, it’s possible I may have cut the cord without cutting the cost. Um, remember when TV was free?