Are you tired of dealing with your cable TV company?
Do they raise your rates every other month, blackout your favorite channel due to disputes with the networks or have frequent outages?
While many of us have grown up taking cable TV for granted, there is growing disenchantment with the major providers, inspiring thousands to cut the cord every year.
But don’t fear because you have options that can keep some of your hard earned money in your pocket.
Cable TV has been around since the late 70s, so long that some of us have never been without it. Before that, we had outdoor antennas that picked up broadcast stations for free, at least after you paid for the TV and the antenna. Nowadays, some people believe that you can’t get TV shows without paying for cable, but it’s not true.
Those broadcast networks are still sending out their signals, and you can still pick them up with an antenna. In fact, broadcast TV quality is better than ever since the digital conversion of a few years ago. Now you can get HD broadcasts of some channels that rival the quality of cable without paying a monthly fee.
If you’ve considered sparing yourself those monthly cable TV bills, here are some questions to ask yourself, and some ways to watch your favorite shows without paying for cable.
Are you getting your money’s worth out of cable?
If you’re spending $50 or more per month to watch a few shows per week, maybe your cable isn’t cost effective, especially if most of the shows you watch are available online the next day. Shows from the broadcast networks can be picked up with an antenna costing less than one month of cable.
Do you need to watch shows the minute they air?
If you’re addicted to some of the current hot cable shows and can’t wait for them to show up online, then you’re likely to miss cable. Plus, you can’t get networks like HBO, Showtime or USA without subscribing to cable or satellite TV. Some cable series become available later via online services like Netflix and Hulu Plus.
How much do you watch sports?
Sports are what cable does best, and if you don’t have it, your options are limited. ESPN is available only on cable and that’s where you’ll find most of the hot games. If you’re glued to the big screen all weekend, watching game after game, then you’re getting your money’s worth out of your cable subscription and should keep it.
Cutting the Cord
My decision to cut the cord came in June, after all my favorite network shows had their finales and I didn’t even turn on the TV except to watch CNN’s coverage of the tornados in Oklahoma. At the end of the month, I got my cable bill for over $100 and asked myself, “Why am I paying for something I’m not using?”
I called up my wireless/landline phone provider and got a cheaper deal for my Internet, then called my cable company to cancel their service. They didn’t take it well, which made me even happier to haul their equipment down to their office and dump it on them.
I spent the summer happily watching films and TV shows via Netflix and Hulu Plus on my computer, but with fall TV show premieres and football coming, I decided to look into cable alternatives. I knew I could watch most of my favorite shows the next day online, but I was interested in ways to catch them when they aired, plus watch local news and college football. I did some checking around and found there is life without cable, but it takes a little doing to get what you want.
If you are considering cutting the cord keep reading to see what alternatives are available for you to help you save some money.
Netflix started out as the more convenient alternative to Blockbuster, sending a steady supply of DVD movies through the mail. Then a few years ago, the company added streaming video to its service, offering a constantly growing collection of films and TV shows. More recently, Netflix has started to produce critically acclaimed series including House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. This service has the largest collection of content among the three listed here. Netflix also has entire seasons of broadcast and cable series, with a monthly rate of $8.99.
Regular Hulu is free, but of you want to watch network programs like Bones and Law and Order: SVU the day after they air, Hulu Plus is a good deal at $7.99 per month. That subscription gives you full access to tons of network shows old and new, plus an ever-changing selection of movies. At just $17 per month, many cable-cutters subscribe to both.
Amazon Prime Instant Video
If you’ve been getting recent film releases from On Demand through your cable company, you may miss getting to watch new movies. For $79.99 per year (averaging out to less than $7 per month), Amazon Prime Instant Video offers access to all of their streaming titles without paying up to $5 for each one. Included in the subscription is free two-day shipping on all Amazon orders and access to one free Kindle book per month. This summer’s blockbusters like The Great Gatsby, World War Z and Iron Man 3 are now available for streaming with Amazon Prime or a la carte at $3.99 each for a 48-hour rental.
If you have a newer TV that receives digital signals, you should be able to get local stations with just the addition of an antenna. If you have an older analog TV, you’ll need a digital converter. I picked the HomeWorx HW0150PVR ATSC Digital TV Converter Box that sells for $45.99 at Amazon. This converter comes with a recording function and HDMI out.
While you may be able to get all the stations you want with an $8 rabbit ears antenna from Radio Shack, many cable-cutters report the best results with the Mohu Leaf Indoor HDTV antenna that sells for $39.99 direct from Mohu or from Amazon.
If you have a “smart” TV, you can watch streaming video from your computer beamed directly to your set, but a standard television set requires an additional media player. The most popular are the Apple TV that sells for $99.99 and the Roku models ranging from around $50 to $100. A newer, cheaper choice is the Google Chromecast HDMI Streaming Media Player going for just $35. All of these plug into your TV’s HDMI port.
Here’s the tricky part. How many broadcast stations you can receive with an antenna is totally dependent on your location. If there are mountains or high-rise buildings between you and the broadcast transmitters, you’ll have trouble getting all the stations available in your area. It also takes a bit of experimentation to find the best spot in your home for reception.
In my area of SoCal, I’ve been able to get up to 43 broadcast TV channels with my Mohu Leaf antenna, including the local CBS, NBC, Fox and WB stations. I also get shopping channels, ION and a bunch of stations in languages I don’t understand. Unfortunately, the one station I’m having problems with is the ABC affiliate, which is a pain since four of my favorite shows are on ABC. Fortunately, all of them are available at Hulu Plus a few hours after they originally air.
Will I ever go back to cable? Maybe, if I win the lottery, or come across a really tempting (meaning cheap) deal on cable. Also, we have no way of predicting what may happen in the next few years, as more options may come along. For now, I’m perfectly happy to be watching my favorite shows without getting that huge bill every month.
Written on 10/5/2013 by Linda Cauthen.
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