First, the best TV moved from networks to cable. Now a similar transition is moving top talent from cable to the streaming world. Netflix ($8.99 per month for HD streaming) has House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt—all of which have received almost universal acclaim—and Amazon ($99 per year for video and a variety of other services) isn’t too far behind with comedy Alpha House, crime drama Bosch, and the Golden Globe-winning Transparent.
To help you comb through your options, we’ve put together this overview of 2018’s best TV providers and based it on our individual, in-depth reviews of each company. We know that not everyone wants the same thing from their TV provider, so we broke it down by satellite, cable, fiber-optic, and streaming providers. We encourage you to use this as a quick comparison, and dive into our individual reviews for a more thorough rundown of the companies that catch your eye.
Many customers may opt for the “cord-cutting” route and purchase streaming subscriptions directly from networks that have shows they like. Many users lean toward this service because it's cheaper and they can trim the fat by removing all the unnecessary programming they don't watch and pay for the ones they do. While this might seem like a good idea on paper, for just a few extra dollars a month, you don't have to limit yourself to just one network, or one free episode on these streaming services. Access all of your favorite shows and networks in a single place with providers like DIRECTV and Spectrum.
Always take a moment on a new TV to switch off any special features that are meant to reduce motion-blurring. (These go by different names depending on the manufacturer, but the setting typically has the word “motion” in it, as in Sony’s “Motionflow” or LG’s “TruMotion.”) These settings tend to make movies and even most modern television shows look more flat and artificial, in what’s often called “the soap opera effect.”
FilmStruck ($6.99/mo, $10.99/mo., $99/yr.): A cinephile’s paradise, this service offers a range of classic, independent and foreign films from around the world, including (at the higher-tier subscription) most of what’s been released by the boutique home video company the Criterion Collection. (Lower tier subscriptions include a rotating selection.) FilmStruck, which is developed and managed by Turner Classic Movies, has been adding hundreds of classic titles since February from the Warner Archive, which until recently had its own streaming service. Tons of Old Hollywood favorites like “Casablanca,” “Citizen Kane” and “Rebel Without a Cause” are now available on FilmStruck as result. What’s more, its home page is one of the best-curated, best-updated of any streaming site.
However, the notion that cord-cutting represents an ever-worsening existential crisis for media companies is simplistic at best. To be sure, consumers are plenty mad at their pay-TV providers, which have jacked up prices at three times the rate of inflation since 2013 and provided dismal customer service for years. Most people, though, haven't taken the leap to cancel their pay TV service, and those who do oftentimes haven't actually "cut the cord."
Vue may be more expensive in your area if you have more local channels. In our area the cheapest bundle is $29.99, and I’m on the expanded $34.99 package with regional sports networks. In some markets the cost may be higher if you have local channels included in the package – in my market only 2 local channels are included, and as such the cost is less.
Many rely on their cable provider for home phone service. Like most of their services, it can be replaced with a much cheaper internet based service. For those who need a little more than a cell phone after they ditch their cable TV subscription, I recommend PhonePower (formerly BroadVoice.) They are an affordable and reliable phone service provider that uses your existing internet connection.
Eric narrowly averted a career in food service when he began in tech publishing at Ziff-Davis over 25 years ago. He was on the founding staff of Windows Sources, FamilyPC, and Access Internet Magazine (all defunct, and it's not his fault). He's the author of two novels, BETA TEST ("an unusually lighthearted apocalyptic tale"--Publishers' Weekly) an... See Full Bio
Another often-ignored cord cutting technology is the indoor TV antenna, the modern equivalent of the old-school “rabbit ears,” which can cost under $10 and gives free access to network content. It’s not on-demand (unless you shell out extra for a recording device), but for live events like the Super Bowl or the Oscars, having an antenna could be a lifesaver.
I ‘Cut the Cord’ a few months ago on National Cord Cutting Day (it was coincidence). YouTube TV through Chromecast for my older TV’s. Called and threatened to cancel the internet and phone from Comcast until I got hte Retention Specialist. Now I got the cheapest and fastest internet and phone and I’m still saving just over $100 a month. Sad thing is my wife already figured out how to spend those savings and then some…
If there's one particular movie or show you want to watch, your best bet is to look it up with JustWatch: a website that trawls more than 20 streaming, à la carte and on-demand services to show you where your content is available. If there's a series you want to watch, for example, looking it up on JustWatch and subscribing to that service for just a few months could save you a lot of money.
Pricing & Other Info Offer ends 11/27/18. Restrictions apply. Not available in all areas. New residential customers only. Limited to X1 Saver Double Play with Digital Starter, Streampix, and Performance Pro Internet service. 1-year minimum term agreement required. Early termination fee applies if all Xfinity services (other than Xfinity Mobile) are cancelled during the agreement term. Equipment, installation, taxes and fees, Broadcast TV Fee (up to $10.00/mo.), Regional Sports Fee (up to $8.00/mo.) and other applicable charges extra, and subject to change during and after the term agreement. Additional outlet service fee applies for multi-room viewing. After term agreement, or if any service is cancelled or downgraded, regular rates apply. Comcast's monthly service charge for X1 Saver Double Play is $100.00, AnyRoom DVR is $9.95, and HD Technology Fee is $10.00 (subject to change). Service limited to a single outlet. May not be combined with other offers. TV: Limited Basic service subscription required to receive other levels of service. On Demand selections subject to charge indicated at time of purchase. Not all programming available in all areas. Internet: Actual speeds vary and are not guaranteed. Xfinity hotspots included with Xfinity Internet Performance (and above). Limited hotspot access included for Performance Starter and below. Available in select areas. 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee applies to one month’s recurring service and standard installation charges up to $500. Cards issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC, pursuant to a license from Visa® U.S.A. Inc. Cards will not have cash access and can be used everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted. Prepaid Card mailed to Comcast account holder within 18 weeks of activation of all required services and expires in 180 days. Call for restrictions and complete details. ©2018 Comcast. All rights reserved.
For the best in TV entertainment, Wave offers a variety of the most popular cable TV channels, plus local channels, premium subscription channels and even special offers with our streaming partners. Explore here for cable and streaming options, check out digital equipment and learn about the extra benefits of Wave on Demand and Wave on the Go – watch TV your way.
Similar to the HBO service but $4/month cheaper, Showtime lets you stream all of their content using Roku, Android, Apple TV or an Amazon TV device. You can also get a $3/month discount on their service if you subscribe through Hulu and you can also pay full price to get access through Playstation Vue TV. However, if you’re a Playstation Plus member you can add it for $8.99.
Armed with technology that makes a smaller antenna possible and a digital protocol that makes the signals easier to capture over longer distances, antenna companies are now delivering powerful long-range units with home decor as a design directive, resulting in small, unobtrusive and even fashionable indoor models. Mark Buff, CEO of antenna maker Mohu says that with cable TV having been the norm for so long, "many people had forgotten that OTA (over the air) signals still exist. But we're now seeing increased interest by cord cutters. And even customers who aren't cancelling subscriptions are using antennas for second and third TVs as well as for their vacation homes, saving the cost of additional cable boxes."
Sling TV is live Cable TV without a contract. Yes, you read that correctly. Sling TV is a small bundle of the most popular Cable channels, including ESPN, TNT, TBS, History, AMC, A&E, Food Network, HGTV, Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, CNN and more. For sports lovers in particular, the combination of your TV antenna with ESPN, TNT and TBS from Sling TV is going to get you a lot of great NFL, MLB and NBA content. Sling TV has additional add-on packages and a big On Demand library, too. There's no contract, so you have nothing to lose by trying it out!
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Not everything is free: Although over-the-air TV reception and many streaming channels are free, there are many streaming channels and services that require a monthly subscription or pay-per-view fee. If you only pay for one or two subscription-based or pay-per-view services, you can save money over cable/satellite. However, if you keep adding more pay services, those fees can add up, and you might again find yourself with a hefty monthly subscription or pay-per-view bill that could rival that old cable/satellite bill.