About three years ago, after much premeditation, I walked outside my house – hatchet in hand – and severed the single line of coaxial cable that kept my household wired to the universe. I killed the cable.
…Ok, not literally. That would have been pretty stupid, especially considering the fact that our Internet came through that same line of coax. What really happened was my roommates and I got together and made a decision that many people are making today: we decided to ditch cable TV in lieu of streaming all of our media from the Internet.
Mind you, back in 2009 set-top streaming boxes weren’t nearly as prevalent as they are today, so ripping all the wires from the walls and sending all of the cable boxes and remotes back to Comcast was a rather intrepid maneuver at the time.
Long story short, we built our own home theater PC rig, and quickly became familiar with the various fledgling Internet TV services available at the time. After three years of streaming, I’ve gained a deep understanding of the pros and cons of going cableless. If you’ve finally decided to come to the dark side and cut the copper umbilical cord, this guide will help you make the transition as painless as possible.
Things to consider
Just like giving up the grocery store and dedicating yourself to foraging for food in the wilderness for the rest of your days, giving up cable in favor of Internet television is not a decision to be made lightly. Before you make the switch, it’s best to do a careful evaluation of your media consumption habits, and assess whether or not you can get a comparable experience solely from the Web.
A good first step is to make a list of the things you watch. If there are certain shows you just can’t live without, make sure there’s a way to stream them. If the majority of the media you consume is only available through cable, then you might want to stick with it. This is highly unlikely though. Most major movies TV shows are available online and live events like news and sports are quickly catching up.
Think of it like jumping into a pool: immediately cancelling your cable subscription and diving head first into streaming isn’t necessarily the best way to go about it. You can dip your toes in and test the waters by signing up for free trials. Services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, and Hulu Plus all offer free trials – so before you cut the cord, test out some services and get a feel for them. If you like what you see, then go ahead take the plunge.
Be conscious of costs
Sometimes cutting cable entirely isn’t the best idea. If you get bundled cable and Internet, it’s sometimes cheaper to downgrade your service to the most basic cable package with high-speed Internet. Pricing differs for each provider and also changes based on your location, but in some cases it’s more expensive to pay only for a high-speed internet connection than it is for internet and basic cable in a bundle.
You can also expect a few start-up costs. While streaming all of your favorite media is generally cheaper than paying for cable, it isn’t completely free in most cases. Unless you already own a gaming console, or you have an old computer you can turn into a home theater PC, you’ll probably need to invest in a set-top streaming device. The good news is that there are tons of great options out there available to consumers. Here’s a list of some of our favorite streamers, and here’s a good chart for comparing specs and pricing. Also, if you’re fond of DVR, check out Boxee’s latest box.
It should also be noted that many Smart TV’s come equipped with software that allows them to run popular media streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus. If you’re in the market for a new TV, you might be able to save a few bucks by getting a Smart TV and skipping the set-top streaming box. Do some shopping around though – even the best streaming boxes aren’t more than $99 dollars, and you might have to pay considerably more than that to get streaming functionality built directly into your TV.
Streaming services aren’t free either. Netflix will run you $7.99 per month, as will Hulu Plus. Amazon Prime costs $79 a year (approx. $6.59 per month), but in addition to their video streaming services, you’ll also get free two-day shipping and instant access to thousands of Kindle books.
We won’t discuss the benefits of every streaming service out there in this article, but here’s a solid analysis of some of the best ones available. Despite the fact that there are so many of them, it will always be true that you just won’t be able to find certain things anywhere other than an obscure website. For this reason, I highly recommend getting a streaming box that’s equipped with an Internet browser. This will fill in the gaps, and ensure that if it’s on the Web, you can get it on your TV.
Embrace the fact that live sports and local news aren’t easy to get just yet
Unfortunately, live local news broadcasts and sports events are still relatively difficult to get on your set-top streaming box. Major national news networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox) have apps that you can install to get past and present news broadcasts, but local news remains rather elusive.
Rather than waiting around for this to change, I suggest re-structuring the way you get news. After three years of going without cable, I generally get all of my news via RSS, and my TV has become more of an entertainment-oriented device than an information portal for current events.
Major sports networks have also dropped the ball when it comes to offering live streams comparable to those seen on cable, but they’re slowly getting better. Currently, there are a handful of ways to stream games, but they typically can’t match live TV broadcasts when it comes to quality or speed. This is likely to change in the years to come, however, as services like NFL Game Pass become more common.
Prepare for a fundamental change in the way you consume media
Gone are the days of channel surfing and mindless media consumption. If you ditch cable, watching TV will no longer be a passive activity where you click a few buttons and get random stuff beamed into your eyeballs. Instead, you’ll generally have to spend more time locating the programs that interest you. This is a bit of a mixed blessing, and there will definitely be times where you miss the brainless convenience your cable box offered, but that’s really the only thing you’ll miss.
Ditching cable will force you to become a more active consumer of media. Sure, this means a bit more time spent locating the programming you want, but it also means that you’ll cut back on junk TV that you only watch because it’s on. In the words of Digital Trends’ managing editor Nick Mokey, “ditching cable allows you to declare psychological independence from cable programming just as much as it allows you to declare financial independence from it.”
All in all, switching to streaming is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. Cable is doomed. Outside the outrageous fees, inflexible bundles, and horrendous customer service that most scum-sucking cable providers have become famous for, the existing cable system doesn’t provide the freedom or variety that the Web does, which makes cancelling cable an increasingly attractive option for the discerning consumer. Ten years from now, cable will be a relic akin to AM radio, so why not be ahead of the game and cut the cord today?