In general, streaming hardware all works the same way. The device connects to both the Internet (via Wi-Fi or Ethernet) and your TV (via HDMI), streaming content from channels that are either free or require a monthly subscription. You browse through channels directly on your TV screen via a remote. A large part of the appeal here is that you choose which channels you want to subscribe to. Netflix and Hulu Plus, the most popular channels (available on the Apple, Roku and Google devices) provide access to a robust selection of movies as well as current and past TV shows.
Cable-replacement streaming services work exactly the same as having cable — live channels presented in real time — except they come streaming over the Internet rather than via an analog wire. The upside is that you don't have to give up the channels that you love. Sling TV carries multiple ESPN stations, plus Cartoon Network, TBS, Bloomberg, CNN, History and dozens of others. PlayStation Vue offers SyFy, Spike, USA, VH1, Fox News, Nickelodeon and more. You can also record programs to watch later on PS Vue, just like you would with a cable DVR box.
Comcast reported a loss of 275,000 subscribers in the third quarter of 2010, bringing the total for the calendar year to 625,000. The company said most of these losses were not from people leaving for another service. Moffett pointed out that cable companies needed to offer lower-cost packages, but a survey by Strategy Analytics revealed financial considerations were not the primary reason. People were not satisfied with what they could get, and online sources had a wider array of content. The survey showed that 13% of cable subscribers intended to cancel service in the next year. Slightly more than half were under the age of 40, and nearly all had a high school education. Two-thirds had or planned further schooling, and just over half earned at least $50,000 a year.
If streaming is, indeed, just New Television — or, perhaps more accurately, Old Television Again But Arguably More Expensive And More Complicated — then what benefit does that actually have for the end-user? The material has migrated to platforms where the audience already exists, but in a more unwieldy fashion that all but eliminates the free-view option of broadcast television, limiting its potential audience and penalizing low-income customers.
By the time you factor in functionality, premium channels, etc., most of these cord cutting options fall short in their ability to even keep up with what Comcast can provide a household. People paying over $200 for cable are also paying for their voice lines as well as their high speed internet, which, mind you, is required to even sustain these cord cutting offerings.
There are other TV providers, such as RCN, Mediacom, and Suddenlink, but we didn’t include them in the “Best Cable TV Providers” because either 1) they are not widely available or 2) they did not meet our criteria. We determined which cable TV providers are the best (or better than most) by comparing prices, contracts, fees, channels, DVRs, and availability.