If you or someone you know would like to ditch the local cable company and “cut the cord”, the following info may be of use as you make your holiday gift lists, as there are a few things you’ll want to have in place before placing the break-up call to your provider.
Getting rid of cable sounds nice, and it can be for some people, but there is some gear that you’ll need to get ahold of if you want to continue enjoying TV shows. The first thing on the list is an HD antenna. Some HD TV’s come with a built in tuner, and if that’s the case with the TV in question, you won’t need the antenna. But if you need one I would highly recommend the Mohu Leaf antenna which is available for right around $70 from Amazon. It’s paper thin and easy to set up and use. This will get you access to the major local networks near you in HD for free. I have a tuner built into my TV, and I get NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox all in at least 1080i and don’t have to pay a dime for it. You may also pick up some other channels that you wouldn’t get without the antenna.
Next up is a device to stream content through, of which there are many. If you own an iPhone or iPad, or if you’ve already purchased a large amount of movies and/or TV shows from iTunes, the Apple TV might be the thing for you. The Apple TV features the ability to stream any iTunes purchased content in HD, as well as mirror what’s on the screen of your iOS device, as well as stream services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, and several others. However, it lacks Amazon Prime Instant Video which is something that Apple TV owners have complained about for a while now but has not been addressed.
Another small format set-top box option is the Roku. There are multiple models of Roku at different prices, but I would recommend either the Roku 2 or 3 because they both come with a remote that has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack in the side which allows you to plug in any set of headphones or earbuds for late night TV watching that won’t disturb anyone trying to sleep. The Roku line features all of the major streaming services and does include Amazon Prime Instant Video. For my money, the Roku 3 is the one to get out of their lineup. It boasts a processor that’s 5x faster than the Roku 2, has an SD card slot for photos, and is the only Roku device with Ethernet built in.
Another good option is Google’s Chromecast. It’s only $35 and has a lot of the same functionality as the Roku or Apple TV, but there’s a reason it’s only $35. Instead of having a remote, the Chromecast is controlled from inside the app you want to stream from. So, for example, when I was at my buddy’s house and we wanted to finish the first season of “Arrow” on Netflix, I had to open the Netflix app on my phone, find the episode I wanted, then tap the Chromecast button in the corner and tell it to play that show on the Chromecast. Another way to get desired content on the Chromecast is to use the Chrome browser on your computer, then tell it to show the contents on the TV. It’s also pretty slow compared to the Apple TV or Roku, but to be fair it’s only $35. I would probably not recommend the Chromecast as a primary streaming device for cord cutters, but it works as an affordable way to get Netflix or YouTube up on your TV for those looking to supplement their TV watching with some streaming.
Seems like everyone wants to get in on the set-top TV streaming biz, and an unlikely entry comes from Western Digital. If you’re reading this and thinking, “That name sounds familiar for some reason…” it’s because the company has been one of a few major players in computer storage, namely hard drives. Now, they have set their sites on not only occupying a space in your PC, but in your entertainment center as well. The WD TV lineup is comprised of three different boxes with features similar to the Roku and Apple TV and are described this way: WD TV – “Get Instant Entertainment”, WD TV Live – “Stream Entertainment + Your Media Collection”, and the WD TV Live Hub – “Store and Play all of your entertainment from one place.” Basically, you graduate up from basic streaming to streaming and a USB port to connect a camera to a large box with a big hard drive where you can load stuff up. It will be interesting to see how this goes for the hard drive giant, particularly the TV Live Hub as it tries to combine what devices like the original Apple TV did (store a bunch of stuff that you move from your computer) with the current movement of streaming content. The WD TV’s price out at $49, $75, and $229 respectively, but I would hunt down some in-depth reviews before I jumped onto this bandwagon.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 4 can all stream content from the major services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. However, they are triple the price of the afore mentioned boxes. One thing you may want to consider is using the console for streaming on the main TV and having one of the cheaper boxes hooked up to a secondary TV in another room. Just a thought.
Once you (or the person you’re shopping for) has the hardware, you need the services to go along with it. I myself do not pay for cable, and I have all of the services I’m about to mention. I find that if you aren’t going to pay for cable, having all of these really helps to provide a nice mixture of content, as they all do different things.
Netflix has been in the business of streaming content for a long time now, and they do it up right. They have branched out into the business of creating new content and have hit home runs with shows like “House of Cards”, “Orange is the New Black”, and as the guys reported on a recent episode of Free For All, they have signed a deal with Marvel to bring us even more exclusive shows. Netflix streaming is $7.99 per month.
Hulu Plus is a great service that basically acts like a DVR for me. I tell it what shows I like and want to have added to my queue, and the morning after they air they are there. This way if I miss a couple of episodes of “The Blacklist”, no big deal. I just catch up via Hulu. There are some drawbacks with Hulu Plus though. They don’t get content from all of the networks, and some of the content they do get they aren’t allowed to stream to any device except a computer using a desktop browser, which sucks (I’m looking at you USA. I am WAY behind on “White Collar” thanks to you). Hulu Plus is $7.99 per month, and despite it’s drawbacks it’s worth it to me.
Amazon Prime Instant Video is a great service that includes a lot of shows that other services either don’t offer, or has them before anyone else does. A great example of this is “Fringe”. I watched three seasons of “Fringe” on Amazon Prime several months before it ever came to Netflix. Other shows that Amazon has that the others don’t are shows like “Suits” and “Covert Affairs”. Another nice feature of Prime Instant Video is the option to rent and stream something that doesn’t qualify as “Prime”. The biggest drawback of Prime is it’s up-front cost, which is $80. To be fair, if you purchase things from Amazon on a regular basis you will get a lot more out of this subscription thanks to the expedited shipping options. Another thing to point out is that if you divide the $80 fee over a year, it comes out to being $6.67 a month, which is cheaper than Netflix or Hulu Plus.
Roku – $59 – $99
Apple TV – $99
Chromecast – $35
Mohu Leaf Antenna – ~$70
Amazon Prime – $80/yr
Netflix Streaming – $7.99
Hulu Plus – $7.99