According to the FCC, the average American household spends $64.41/month on cable TV. Most people I talk to pay around $100/month. But if we keep the conservative number, that comes out to $772.92/year, which, according to MarketWatch, is only going up. Those kinds of costs might seem reasonable if cable companies treated us like human beings (they don’t), and only charged us for the channels and shows we watched (they probably never will). But the truth is, the Cable TV industry is broken, and is in dire need of disruption.
Luckily, disruption is well on its way.
There is an entire swath of TV viewers who don’t pay for cable and watch everything they need with a simple internet connection.
My own dad who knows close to nothing about technology or the internet, for instance used to pay around $120/month on a cable package that he only used to watch a handful of shows. Now he pays around $35/month for an internet-only package and has access more content than he ever did with his cable company. That’s a savings of 70%.
How did he do it?
All you really need to know are three things:
- Where to find your TV shows online.
- How to get them to play on your TV.
- A pain-free and workable way (for you) to do that.
Number three is important because there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of different ways to approach the first two items. Each one of them is more convoluted and confusing than the next. And even if you think your way is the best, you’d have to know almost every single approach out there to make sure it was the best way to fit your lifestyle and TV habits. And that’s why most people out there are still paying cable companies exorbitant amounts of money. It’s just easier to stick with something you know than to venture out into wasteland of gadgets, buzzwords, and technical jargon that “cord cutters” (that’s what they call themselves) are spewing out all across the internet.
Trust me, I get it. I’ve written this article and I still don’t think I’ve scratched the surface of what’s possible.
But the good news is you don’t need to know all the latest gadgets, buzzwords, and jargon to get rid of cable. All you need to know are a few tips to help you answer those three questions for yourself as quickly and pain-free as possible. And that’s exactly what this article seeks to do.
Below you’ll find an exhaustive list of tips that will help you get the answers to those questions. I can’t promise that they’ll be jargon or buzzword free, but they will be clear. I’ll explain everything you need to know in plain English. Hopefully, you won’t even need to read all of it to get started (although I think you’ll want to eventually).
By the way, I owe a big thank you for this to /r/cordcutters on Reddit. Couldn’t have done this without them.
So without further ado, here’s 25 tips to help you get rid of cable…
Tip #1: Physical media is the easiest way to watch what you want without cable
RedBox and Netflix make it really easy to just cancel your cable and use Blu Ray or DVDs for all your entertainment needs. It could probably get expensive if you let it get out of control, but if you set a budget that is significantly lower than your cable bill, it would be well worth it. Both Redbox and Netflix offer TV shows on DVD in addition to movies. And nothing is simpler than popping a DVD into a player and tapping “Play.”
Tip #2: A TV antenna will give you about 30-40 free channels if you’re near a city
Just like in the days before cable, a TV antenna is probably the quickest way to get a lot of television content for free (minus the initial cost of the antenna). The good news is, according to cord-cutting Reddit user upofadown, “nothing about the radio aspect of TV has changed and good old fashioned rabbit ears are often the best option for an indoor antenna.” Usually you can pick up 30-40 channels with a good antenna. All you need to do is make sure your antenna can get UHF and VHF channels.
Here’s five high quality antennas you can buy if you don’t have an old one lying around:
- RCA ANT751 Durable Compact Outdoor Antenna
- Mohu Leaf Paper-Thin Indoor HDTV Antenna – Made in USA
- AmazonBasics Ultra-Thin High Performance Indoor HDTV Antenna – Made in USA
- Antennas Direct ClearStream4 HDTV Antenna
- HD Frequency Cable Cutter Indoor/Outdoor HD Digital TV Antenna (CC-17)
Tip #3: You can build your own TV antenna for relatively cheap
I’ve never tried to build my own antenna, but apparently it’s fairly easy. If you want to try, you should read this, this and probably anything from this. We’ve also written about the coolest DIY TV antenna plans.
Tip #4: A DVR or PVR device will let you record and store anything that plays on your TV screen digitally
DVRs (Digital Video Recorders) and PVRs (Personal Video Recorders) are essentially the same thing and they’ve been around for a while now. It’s essentially a VCR for the 21st century. You can record anything that gets on your TV screen digitally. So no more VHS tapes. Now you just get video files that you can put on a USB flash drive and carry with you anywhere.
Just beware that for a lot of these devices, you get charged a subscription fee because they need to communicate with an external Electronic Program Guide. So, for instance, in order for the device to know which shows to record and when it needs to communicate with something like a cell phone tower as TV programming is always changing. As you know, communicating with cell phone towers costs money. That said, there are a few that don’t require a subscription. Listed below are a few options (some with and some without a subscription).
- Channel Master DVR+ Bundle – subscription free digital video recorder with web features and channel guide (CM7500BDL2)
(No subscription required, but does need hard drive storage.)
- TiVo Roamio HD Digital Video Recorder and Streaming Media Player (TCD846500)
- SiliconDust Simple.TV Dual ATSC Tuner with Simple.TV EPG , DVR Streaming Media Player STV2-2ATSC
(Inexpensive subscription required and needs Set Top Box [Tip #6] with optional hard drive storage for more space)
Tip #5: Your cable company still provides the best internet service, but there are a few alternatives
While we do have a guide to getting cheap, fast internet, all you really need to know is that it’s probably best to stick with your cable company for internet. They’ll give you the fastest and most consistent service for the money. That said, there are a few relatively cheaper options out there. So if you’re absolutely sick of your cable company you might want to give that article a quick read for the alternatives.
Tip #6: A Set Top Box is the easiest way to stream your shows from the internet to your TV
A set top box is a small computer that pulls in TV content from all over the web and puts it on your TV. If all you have right now is a TV, a Set Top Box is the best place to start if you want to stream TV over the internet. There are a lot of different options for Set Top Boxes. Here’s a few of the better ones…
If you truly want to dive into which Set Top Box would be right for you, here’s some further reading:
- How to Buy a Set Top Box (Tom’s Guide)
- How to Find the Best TV Set Top Box and Ditch Cable Once and For All (LifeHacker)
- Compare Streaming Media Players (FindTheBest)
If you just want to know which one to buy, read the next tip…
Tip #7: Roku is the most popular, widely used Set Top Box. It’s the one you should get if you’re not sure which to buy.
It has the most content options. It is incredibly easy to set up. And it is incredibly easy to use. I recommend spending the extra money on the Roku 3. But the other ones are good too.
Tip #8: Smart TVs do the same thing that Set Top Boxes do, but they are more expensive and currently don’t work as well
A Smart TV is a TV with Set Top Box-like software pre-installed on it. The promise Smart TVs is that you don’t have to buy another piece of electronics to get streaming content from the web. The problem is the software that Smart TVs come with is generally not as good as the software Set Top Box companies make. Not only that, but because it’s pre-installed on your TV, when the software becomes painfully outdated, you’ll still have a good working TV that you won’t want to get rid of. So you’ll have to just suck it up or buy a new TV if you want better software.
Good software on a $100 device is much better than bad software on a $2,000 device. And the money you could save on NOT buying a Smart TV would be significantly more than that $100 you could spend on a Set Top Box. I personally always steer clear of “Smart TVs.”
Tip #9: An HTPC (Home Theater Personal Computer) works exactly like a Set Top Box but gives you an infinitely larger number of options for TV content
If you absolutely have to have the maximum number of options for watching TV shows and movies, then you’ll need an HTPC. An HTPC is essentially a desktop computer that you hook up to your TV and use solely for entertainment purposes. Most dedicated HTPCs come with a remote so that you can use it like a TV.
The reason HTPCs have so many more content options than Set Top Boxes is that they are only limited by everything the internet has to offer. Set Top Boxes are limited by contracts they have in place with certain companies to integrate their content onto the box. The idea of a Set Top Box is that it’s supposed to be simple and seamless. In order to be simple and seamless, you need to be working with the content providers themselves. HTPCs just pull in content from anywhere and whatever software you install has to try to make it appear seamless. Which isn’t always the case, and brings me to my next tip…
Tip #10: HTPCs are significantly harder to set up than a Set Top Box, but they are a DIYer’s paradise
The cool thing about HTPCs is that you are only limited by your imagination as far as your set up is concerned. You can either buy a pre-made HTPC from Amazon or NewEgg, or you can build your own from any computer you like. You can use anything from a $35 Raspberry Pi, to a completely tricked out system that you can sink endless amounts of money into. You can even re-purpose an old laptop or desktop for the job. The possibilities are pretty endless.
With all that said, however, BEWARE. HTPCs are probably not for the beginner. If you don’t want to spend countless hours tinkering with your system, just buy a Set Top Box and be done with it.
Tip #11: The most popular software for HTPCs is Kodi (Formerly called XBMC)
If you end up going with an HTPC, you’ll need to install some software on it to make it act like a Set Top Box. Otherwise, you’ll just have the default Windows 7, iOS (if you use a Mac Mini for instance), and the more and more popular Android operating systems on your TV. Those are significantly harder to control with a remote.
To fix that problem, there are a couple of software solutions that can either run from or replace the default operating system on your device to make it act more like a TV/Movie dashboard. The most popular software that does this is free. It was formerly called XBMC (short for XBox Media Center) but in an effort to re-brand is now being called Kodi. While it started as a way to turn XBoxes into HTPCs, it’s now graduated beyond that and can be installed just about anywhere.
You can also use Windows Media Center which is included with most Windows machines. It’s a little more stable than Kodi, but not as customizable.
Again, let me warn you, an HTPC running Kodi is not for the casual TV watcher. It’s for tech savvy people who want to spend hours tinkering with a hobby.
Tip #12: If you think an HTPC is what you want, you should use these resources to get started
I could probably list about a thousand things you should read if you’re going to go with an HTPC, but here’s a short list of some of the best resources I’ve found:
Books on Kodi (XBMC) and HTPCs
- The CTRL+ALT+DEL Plan: Cut Cable TV in 7 Days (from HDTV Antenna to Home Theater PC(HTPC) with MythTV or XBMC, complete how to)
- Configuring XBMC for Your HTPC
- XBMC Android Internet TV User Guide: 2000 Free Movie & TV Channels: Updated regularly – Android Raspberry Pi Windows Apple Linux
Forums (You’re going to need these for your specific questions)
- Chromecast not cutting it? Here’s how to build a full-bore home theater PC
- How to Build a Home Theater PC (HTPC)
- Build the ultimate Windows 8 home-theater PC for under $500
- 8 Things I Wish I Knew Before Building My First HTPC
Tip #13: A Playstation, XBox, or Wii can be used as a stand-in Set Top Box or HTPC
While not as flexible and much more expensive than a Set Top Box, gaming consoles like Playstations, Xboxes, and Wiis are a popular way to stream TV online. This is mostly because almost every household has one, and it’s really easy to connect Netflix to them. But if you want to connect anything beyond Netflix and a few other content providers, you’ll probably still want a Set Top Box.
Tip #14: Mirroring your laptop screen is another way to watch everything you want online
If you want to get set up for streaming in the quickest way possible and don’t want to put up much money on the front end of your cable-free life, you can just mirror your computer screen with an HDMI or VGA cord depending on your computer’s output plug.
With this method, however, you’ll need to hook up and un-hook your computer every time you want to watch TV. But it is a fairly easy method.
Tip #15: Streaming shows for free over the internet is technically legal
As of this writing, streaming anything (including copyrighted materials) over the internet for personal use is legal. That means if you want to use the method in the next tip, for watching just about any movie of or TV show, you won’t be breaking the law. It also means that you have the freedom to let your conscience be your guide. While it may be legal, some people still can’t bring themselves to watch copyrighted content for free. No judgment here either way. Just know what you’re doing and make a decision you feel comfortable with.
Tip #16: Googling “[insert movie/tv show name] streaming online free” will give you just about anything you want to watch for free
And that brings us to the cheapest way to watch anything you want. Essentially, just about everything you could imagine (as of this writing) is available to watch for free with a single Google search. All you really need to do is search Google for “[movie/tv show name] streaming online free” usually the first one or two links will give you the full movie. There will usually be a small icon in the lower right corner of the player that will let you view the movie in full screen mode.
The easiest way to use this method is by mirroring your Laptop/Desktop screen (See tip above). If you are using a Set Top Box, you’ll probably need a significant amount of setup to Google something and play it from a browser.
Tip #17: If you don’t want to use Google, there are sites that list everywhere you can watch shows for free
Some of these sites are a little on the sketchy side, but here is the most complete list I’ve found for watching just about anything from TV shows and movies to sports and news.
Tip #18: If you are not paying for your streaming content, you need to install an ad blocker
Before you search for free movies in Google, you’ll need to download an ad-blocker extension for your browser. The sites that host free movies are normally loaded with ads of a nefarious nature. They also tend to get in the way of watching the actual movies. I use AdBlock Plus in Google Chrome, but you can use whatever you want.
Tip #19: Paying for streaming content is a lot easier and less sketchy
Between Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, iTunes, and a few others, you should be able to pay for just about anything you want as well. Paying for the content usually means you can either rent it for a limited amount of time and view it On Demand, or you can buy it outright and have access to it anytime you want. Amazon seems to be the cheapest of those if you’re wondering. iTunes and Google are theoretically better if you mostly use Apple or Android devices respectively.
Tip #20: You can stream HBO, ESPN and most news channels now with Sling TV
If you want to pay money and feel really good about watching HBO or ESPN online, your best option is Sling TV. It still costs some money, but it’s the only way to get live HBO, ESPN, or news networks on the internet without a cable account login.
Note: You can also view on-demand content from HBO with services like Amazon.
Tip #21: Some streaming sites are still free but have much higher quality experiences over the Google method
Here’s a quick list of the more popular ones:
*YouTube is getting higher and higher quality content that is being independently produced. Don’t discount it because of all the cat videos.
Tip #22: Sports are difficult to stream without a cable subscription (but it can be done)
If you’re a huge sports fan, you may want to consider keeping cable, or spending a lot of money on drinks at sports bars. It’s very difficult to stream sporting events over the internet. ESPN, for instance, is only available through a paid Sling TV account or with a Cable TV account login (hint: you can use your friend’s login). With that said, however, you do have a few other options.
First, you can buy online streaming subscriptions to most major leagues:
- The NFL has a few options, the most notable one is their Game Rewind package with lets you view games on-demand after they’ve happened. The only way to pay for live games is to go through DirecTVs NFL Sunday Ticket.
- The MLB has a great paid streaming option. Simply called MLB.tv, you can pay $130/year and get every game on any device.
- The NBA also has a streaming option called League Pass. You can pay for access to all games per season, or just your team’s games per season.
- The NHL offers NHL GameCenter for live out-of-market games.
- The MLS has a paid streaming service.
Second, you can go the ethically murky route and watch just about any sporting event live with a select number of ever-changing websites. FirstRowSports.eu is one for example. There is a sports section in the list I linked to in Tip #17.
Tip #23: While I don’t recommend it, you can illegally download anything you want via Torrents
While streaming might be technically legal, downloading content via Torrenting sites is definitely not legal. That said, if you feel like breaking the law, that’s your choice. I’m not going to go into any detail here because I’m not really a fan, but if you want to learn more, TorrentFreak is the industry publication that covers basically everything you need to know.
Tip #24: If you have a lot of downloaded content that you can put on a computer or hard drive you can use Network Attached Storage (NAS) to stream it anywhere in your house
Network Attached Storage (NAS) is not for the beginner, but a good setup will let you stream anything you can store on a home computer to any one on your network. So in theory, you could create a server in your house somewhere out of the way with all your downloaded movies and TV shows and stream them to any device that is connected to that network. No more dealing with DVDs, no more relying on streaming services. You own and control every piece of content on your network.
This is another black hole for DIYers, but if you’re up for it, here’s a few resources:
- How to rip your Blu Ray collection and serve it up via NAS
- NAS Search on Reddit/r/BuildaPC
- Best network attached storage of 2014
- Network Attached Storage on Amazon
Tip #25: If you’re still confused, just do these four steps:
- Order a Roku from Amazon ($100)
- Get Netflix’s streaming service ($8.99/month)
- Pay a teenager $20 to set it up for you when you get it ($20)
- Call your cable company and tell them you only want to pay for internet (internet-only plans are usually around $30)
Aside from the $120 up-front costs, you should be paying around $40/month for TV. Granted, you won’t get to watch sports, and you likely won’t have all the most up-to-date TV programming, but you’ll basically have enough TV to last you a lifetime, and over time, it’s significantly cheaper than the $100/month cable bill you’re used to.
BONUS Tip #26: JustPlainTV is a great resource to help you navigate the world of TV in the 21st century
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