Tech Matters: It's easier than ever to cut the cable TV cord

Wednesday , June 07, 2017 - 5:00 AM

By Leslie Meredith

It’s been almost exactly six years since I first wrote about cutting the cord to cable TV. At the time, that was a pretty radical idea, but it’s a trend that continues to grow.

In the first quarter of this year, more than 750,000 more Americans gave up their cable TV subscriptions. Saving money is part of the equation, but the other part is the growing number of internet options. If you’re still tied to your cable provider, it may be time to seriously consider cutting the cord.

First a look at the numbers. According to Leichtman Research Group, Americans spent an average of $103 a month on a cable subscription in 2016 — that’s $1,236 a year. For the price of a month of cable, you can get a lot of content, including TV shows, movies, many of which are current season entertainment.

Here is what you need to say goodbye to cable TV without regrets.

You’ll need an HDTV antenna. I’ve been using the same Mohu Leaf “antenna” since I wrote that first story. Unlike big rooftop antennas, the Mohu Leaf is really just a piece of laminated paper on a cord that plugs into your television. It allows you to receive all over-the-air channels. (And yes, you can watch the NBA Finals with an antenna.) You will need to place it away from any unusual obstructions, and near a window is best. This small piece of technology will cost you about $40 from www.gomohu.com.

The second essential is access to streaming shows and the ability to stream at a good rate, which means reliable, high-speed internet service. If you don’t have good internet, you won’t enjoy streaming anything because of the constant buffering as a show tries to load. Once your internet is in place, determine what device you will use.

If you enjoy watching on your big-screen TV, you’ll need one that is equipped with internet access — a smart TV — or you can use a streaming device like Roku, Chromecast, AppleTV or Amazon’s FireTV Stick. These devices range from a low of $30 to a high of $150. Do not pay extra for 4K or UltraHD because there’s not enough content to justify the higher price.

If you plan to watch on your computer, tablet or phone, you can skip the extra hardware and proceed right to the apps.

The top three entertainment apps are Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. The first two run about $10 a month. But Netflix allows streaming on up to four devices at the same time and is basically ad-free. Hulu has some great shows, but the frequency of ads are about the same as network TV, which can feel very disruptive, particularly because you’ll see the same ad or two over and over during a show.

Amazon Prime Video, part of its Prime membership, is available as an annual subscription for $100 or $11 per month. Along with unlimited and ad-free streaming, Prime members receive free two-day shipping, some music, plus a few other perks. Students can subscribe at half price.

But any of those, or even all three, may not give you the shows you want. Are you an HBO fan? Then you might want to look at HBO Now, a monthly service that does not require a cable subscription. It costs $15 a month.

The next big jump is a broader service such as Hulu’s relatively new Live TV plus streaming service, which runs about $40 a month. For $4 more, you can watch those on-demand programs free of ads. Hulu LiveTV includes CNN, MSNBC, Fox Business, ESPN, ESPNU, HGTV, The Travel Channel and about 50 more.

How you configure your no-cable package is up to you, but even at the higher end, you’re bound to save at least $50 a month. Choose a more modest offering and you’re looking at twice that amount.

So what will you do with the extra cash?

Leslie Meredith has been writing about and reviewing personal technology for the past eight years. She has designed and manages several international websites and now runs the marketing for a global events company. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

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