In North America, Australia and Europe, many cable operators have already introduced cable telephone service, which operates just like existing fixed line operators. This service involves installing a special telephone interface at the customer's premises that converts the analog signals from the customer's in-home wiring into a digital signal, which is then sent on the local loop (replacing the analog last mile, or plain old telephone service (POTS)) to the company's switching center, where it is connected to the public switched telephone network (PSTN). The biggest obstacle to cable telephone service is the need for nearly 100% reliable service for emergency calls. One of the standards available for digital cable telephony, PacketCable, seems to be the most promising and able to work with the quality of service (QOS) demands of traditional analog plain old telephone service (POTS) service. The biggest advantage to digital cable telephone service is similar to the advantage of digital cable, namely that data can be compressed, resulting in much less bandwidth used than a dedicated analog circuit-switched service. Other advantages include better voice quality and integration to a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) network providing cheap or unlimited nationwide and international calling. In many cases, digital cable telephone service is separate from cable modem service being offered by many cable companies and does not rely on Internet Protocol (IP) traffic or the Internet.
But cable providers didn't factor in that the internet they provide would become their worst enemy via access to streaming video. Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video are the most well-known names in what's become known as "cord cutting"—doing away with pay TV and using over-the-air (like the old days) or internet-based services to get all your "television" programming. That means no more paying a huge monthly fee for thousands of hours of TV you don't watch (in theory). Instead, you pay individual services for a la carte programming. It's a lot like paying for just what you watch. Almost.
On either device, using just Netflix and Hulu Plus (each require $8 per month subscriptions) gives you a good variety of popular programming. Between the two you can binge on previous seasons of everything from Breaking Bad to Downton Abbey, watch current episodes of The Daily Show and Parks and Recreation and make a dent in your bucket list of must-see film classics.
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Not everyone thought this was a good service when it debuted, but it's so far stuck with that "introductory" price that would put it in line with icky cable subscriptions. If you've got an AT&T phone plan, you can add DirecTV Now for just $10 a month; HBO is included if you've got an AT&T Unlimited Choice or Plus plan. You can watch DirecTV Now on your PC via browser, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, ChromeCast, Roku devices, iOS, and Android—it's not on any game consoles. Lacking however: DVR options. There's plenty of video on demand, but not for every show.
If YouTube is a staple of your cord-cutting experience—and with millions of hours of video uploaded every second, it probably should be—then maybe this paid experience will be to your liking. After a one-month trial, 10 bucks a month gets you completely ad-free YouTubing—plus access to original shows behind the paywall. These aren't TV shows in the classic sense, but originals created by YouTube stars. YouTube also partnered with big names like Eminem and Katy Perry, as well as the Sundance Film Festival. You also get access to YouTube Music and Google Play Music. Don't confuse it with YouTube TV, which we discuss below.
Even so, no service we've reviewed is incomplete enough to discourage you from using it outright. If a service sounds like it might be a good fit for you, your best bet is to investigate which channels that service offers and see if it falls within your price range. Most of these services give you anywhere from a week to a month to evaluate them before charging you, and none of them require a contract. At worst, you'll be stuck with a service you don't like for a month.
One of the more popular options for watching streamed TV shows leaves out the media streaming software and network media device altogether, and has you just connecting your desktop or laptop directly to your HDTV. With this option you all you need is a TV and a desktop or laptop with a video output. Our laptop has a HDMI output, so it works well to connect it to our HDTV if we want.
Way back when, cable and satellite TV were initially sold to consumers as an add-on: Get all of your local channels, along with uncut movies, more televisions programs and additional sports. But pulling the plug on cable doesn’t necessarily mean you can just go back to broadcast networks only. Modern homes and apartments are no longer wired-up with antennas the way they were 30 years ago. Indoor HDTV antennas are available at prices ranging from under $20 to move than $150, but the quality of the signal and the number of channels that come in clearly vary depending on external factors, like whether you live near mountains or skyscrapers.
The market is full of streaming devices and sticks that offer viable cable TV alternatives. Some of the more popular devices are Roku, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV. Investigate each option to compare prices and offers and see what works best for the shows and needs you have. These are the splurges that may actually end up costing more than you thought.
For the technically competent, I’d recommend setting up a Home Theater PC. A $70 AMD A6-5400K should handle all of your HTPC needs. If you’d like to game as well, consider a more expensive A8 or A10. Of course, you need to couple this with a case, PSU, motherboard, RAM, HDD, wireless 802.11n adapter, wireless keyboard/mouse, and OS. Most people who go this route aren’t starting from scratch, but if you are, it’s a significantly more expensive option than a set top box.