Cutting the Cable Cord

cutting cable

It’s official. We have made the plunge! No more cable television at the McEllin casa. Over the past 6 or so months, an assortment of our friends and family have ditched cable and the $150+/month bill that goes right along with it.  So here we are, day 14 without cable… no more Top Chef to make me feel inadequate about my cooking skillz, no 746th viewing of Iron Man (how can men do that?), and no more Peppa Pig (*praise it all*). Hopefully that Brit snorter gets lost in the cable abyss long enough to allow my sanity to return.  

I must admit that I dove head-first into these potential money-saving ways without first thinking a few things through.  Like, perhaps, getting an antenna and/or booster so that we can at least watch the big three. Or perhaps if I had just cancelled one day later so that Jimmy Fallon and SNL could have left my marriage in a blissful state. Who knew you couldn’t watch NBC live online without a cable username and password? Not this girl. Again, perhaps I did things a bit too prematurely. 

But seeing as how now it’s been a very educational couple of weeks, I consider myself the next expert on all things related to overcoming the loss of cable, including fun ways to spend the money that will be saved.  My future goes something like this: Yes, dear, I needed these new flippy-floppies. Yes, son, I needed these sound-proof ear plugs. Yes, daughter, I needed a new mega-sized ‘Mommy sippy cup.’  I really think I’m going to like being labeled a Cord Cutter.

There are a BOATLOAD of options to replace cable, but I’m learning that one machine/gadget/thingy-ma-bopper doesn’t cover all of what cable offers. In addition, it’s more than likely that your TV has smart features, but they’re not necessarily all the ones you’d be interested in.  So it’s best to decide for yourself whether keeping the convenience of cable is worth the inflated bill or if you’d like to venture out and take a swim in ‘the stream.’  

I’ll break down for you regarding cutting cable: what I’ve learned, and what I’m already loving:

Antenna: Will help with being able to view local channels.  So if being able to watch the nightly new is a must, then an antenna is perfect for you. These are available pretty much anywhere and some even offer HD options. Pricing begins around $25 and climb pretty steep. Personally, you’ll need to do a touch of research here to make sure you get exactly what you need, and what’s compatible with your television make and model.

Sling (App): Starts off around $20 per month, and includes 30 channels.  It is live television, however, the channels are delivered via the internet instead of through cable or a satellite. You can access Sling through your TV, computer or a mobile device, so if you’re on the go and don’t want to have to lug an actual streaming device with you, this may be the way to go.

Downside: Only one device can be streaming from this app at a time.  So if you have multiple televisions, and Bobby and Suzy are watching Disney Jr. in the playroom, you can’t cheer on UT from the living room.  That is, unless you opt for a more costly Sling package. And you still have commercials just like you would on ‘normal’ television.  There is also no DVR option (BUT you can watch shows via the on-demand feature at a later date if they’re available).

Upside:  Sports packages, kids packages, movie channels, etc. are available for a small additional fee (some starting as low as $5/month) so you can pick and choose exactly what you want.  Also, you can try it out for FREE for a week before making any commitments.

Playstation Vue (app): The base package includes 55 channels, and begins around $30/month.  For $5 more, you get access to regional sports and are a couple more noteworthy stations.

Downside: Even though there is no requirement to have a Playstation to use the Playstation Vue app, you will need either the Roku device or a Firestick TV. Although this app allows for on-the-go viewing, not all channels are able to be seen on your mobile device, so you may want to check all that out before committing. But don’t think about picking up your console and bringing it to a friends, your service may be shut down indefinitely if you’re found sharing your Vue account. There really isn’t an ‘on demand’ option either. Often shows will be saved on the app for future viewing, but usually only for about 3 days, so you’ll have limited time to catch up on what you’ve missed.  However…

Upside: There is Cloud DVR (insert applause)! You can set up separate profiles for each member in the house so that your recommended shows are more appropriate. Also, NFL lovers rejoice, as Vue allows you access to NFL Redzone for just an additional $40/season.

DirectTV Now (app): AT+T’s newest streaming service via the internet.  You will need Amazon Firestick, a tablet, Apple TV, Chromecast, iPad or iPhone to stream this app.

Downside: CBS is not included in any package, nor is Showtime or any RedZone/NFL package.  DirectTV Now currently doesn’t have DVR, but they are working on integrating one at some point later this year. 

Upside: The interface is easy to use and easy to understand.  The video-on-demand feature allows for fast forward, rewind and pause which is not found often with other on-demand services.  For no added expense, two people can stream from DirectTV Now at any one time.

PBS (app): Between the days of cancelling cable and learning how best to stream anything, this app was a lifesaver. This app is friendly from pretty much any device: iPhone, tablet, RoKu, Apple, Firestick, Android, Windows, etc.

Downside: Really can’t think of one.  It’s a great app to have as a back-up in the event that you need immediate entertainment and you’re having problems with your streaming app.

Upside: It’s completely FREE.  Daniel Tiger for the win.

Download it HERE.  

Roku (device): 3,500 channels for your perusal, but not so fast… There are SIX different Roku systems, so I’ll do my best when summing up this streaming device.  They range in price $30 (Roku express) to $120 (Roku streaming media player).  Roku express+ comes with an A/V connection ports, so it’s clutch when attempting to connect to older, non-HDTVs.  Roku Premiere+ comes with a headphone jacket, so you don’t have to bother your sleeping spouse while catching up on trash tv.  The Roku ultra has a remote finder. Yes, seriously. Leave it to me though to be the one to lose the remote and the finder. The Roku streaming stick is not a box, but rather the size of a USB port and plugs directly into your HDMI port, eliminating cords and more ‘stuff’.

Downside: It’s more expensive than most separate boxes on the market.  And buying a Roku does not give you access to their 3,500 channels instantly—you need to have an account or pay an additional monthly fee to access them. The monthly fees begin at $8/month (much like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime).

Upside: There are loads of models to support exactly what you need.  You can even play free games on Roku.  Roku allows you to play any Amazon music you have uploaded in Amazon Music.  Higher-end models allow you to Mirror Play, which means you can stream something from your phone or tablet up onto your television’s big screen (think photos, movies, websites, etc.)

Amazon Fire TV (device): A streaming device that comes in 2 models: Fire TV ($100) and Fire TV Stick ($40).  The stick being a better option for wall-mounted televisions because it plugs directly into the HDMI port without an wires or bulky boxes. Amazon Fire is integrated with Amazon’s video now, but also plenty of other options such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, PBS, Sling, ESPN, YouTube and several others.  In terms of what you’re able to access, for some extra cheese, it’s just about everything.

Downside: You must have an HDMI input to be able to use either product. Screen mirroring is available, but only from Android or Kindle devices. There is no port to connect a home theatre system. There is no Podcast app.

Upside: All Amazon devices come with Alexa. She can help you search for content on your television as well as update you on sports, the weather, 

Chromecast (device): Two options, yet again.  The Chromecast ($35) and the Chromecast Ultra ($70) can be used with either an ethernet connection or Wi-Fi.  The Chromecast works differently than all the other devices listed.  Instead of connecting to the internet via the device itself, you find what you’re wanting to watch or listen to on your handheld phone and then cast it up onto your television.

Downside: Although you can purchase just about anything from Google Play, and cast from Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, Sling, etc. Amazon video is not compatible with Chromecast. There has also been some complaints about audio + video lag.

Upside: Chromecast allows you access to music from iHeart Radio, Pandora, Spotify and Google Music. Unlike mirroring, when your computer or phone screen must remain on the content you’re currently using, casting allows you to play what you need to on the big screen and wander off to do something else on your smaller device.

Hulu Plus (app): For a minimal monthly fee (starting at $8), this app allows you to watch movies and recent television.  They have licensing agreements with major cable channels, so access to most shows that you would view with basic cable can be seen using Hulu just one day later.

Downside: Commercials still exist in the land of Hulu. However, for an additional $4/month, you can correct this madness.

Upside: Updates their television shows more quickly than any other service. Free one-week trial period, and promotions pop-up from time to time (i.e. 3 months free service). Showtime is available as an additional add-on so if you’re really needing to catch a season of Shameless, you can add and drop at will.

Apple TV (device): Price begins at $149 for the 32GB model.  In addition to the apps and movies that Apple offers, Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, ESPN, etc. are easily streamed. This device can be taken with you on trips as well so that you don’t have to leave Moana behind while at Grandma and Grandpas.

Downside: Does not currently support 4K or HDR video, whereas all the other streaming devices offer at least one model that does. Because Amazon is a worthy competitor, Apple does not have any means in which to download the Amazon app, so any Amazon Movie or Amazon Music cannot be played unless mirrored from a tablet or phone via the Amazon app onto the television (in my opinion, no big deal).

Upside: Siri is compatible with your Apple TV, so searching is a cinch. Playing music via your iTunes library is super simple.  Apple TV offers mirror play, so you can stream anything from your phone, tablet or computer up onto the big screen.

Amazon Prime (multi-use membership): For $99/year, Amazon gives you access to a good helping of movies, as well as commercial-free TV shows.  This membership also includes books, more than a million songs, photo storage, prime pantry, a lending library and so much more.  To learn about it all, check it out HERE.

Downside: No current compatibility with gaming systems.  The movie and show selection is not as extensive as some of it’s competitors, but since it’s still quite young, this could change.

Upside: In addition to the membership, you get benefits when ordering online goodies from Amazon such as free shipping and exclusive member discounts.  Amazon Prime also offers a FREE 30 day trial for those that are unsure.

Please keep in mind that in addition to these streaming fees, having a high speed internet is key.  There are two major providers of internet in the Austin area, but plenty of other smaller companies are around too, so do your research.  If you’re lucky enough to be a part of the 39% of Austin residents that have fiber, you can stream 1,000 mbps for around $35/month! But if you’re like we are, and fiber hasn’t yet made it’s way to your neck of the woods, you have access to 100 mbps starting around the same price (which is still plenty fast for regular movie-viewing pleasure).

I wish you all the luck in joining our cord-cutting bandwagon. It certainly feels good knowing that our next $200 cable bill isn’t waiting in the mailbox. However, you’ll still catch me wearing my floaties for awhile because effectively learning to swim in the stream has proven to take some time.  


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