Amazon Fire ($39.99 - $74.99): Amazon’s set-top box and its cheaper stick have the advantage of syncing well with any other Amazon devices you may have. You can ask your Alexa to find a show for you, and after you start watching it, you can pause it on your TV and pick it up later on your Fire tablet. As with the Roku, the Amazon Fire’s features have also been integrated into a smart TV. The most expensive version of the box adds an HD antenna for picking up free over-the-air local broadcast signals. One common complaint about Fire devices is that they push Amazon Prime Video content over that of other streaming video companies, but that’s a bit of a nitpick. Netflix and Hulu shows are still easy to access with this interface.
In the face of rising prices, poor customer service and ever more frequent blackouts over fee disputes, many consumers yearn for a way out of the grip of their cable TV subscription. Though companies such as Google, Intel, Sony and Apple are all working on Internet-delivery TV platforms, none have yet secured the content deals needed to launch a credible service. And while industry analysts point out that the number of cord cutters has yet to reach the critical mass needed to force changes to the cable TV business model, the fact is that today there are viable TV options to the triple digit cable bill.
Two of the biggest providers of skinny channel bundles are satellite TV companies Dish Network (Sling TV) and AT&T's DirecTV (DirecTV Now). It seems crazy to consider Sling TV and DirecTV clients to have "cut the cord" since pay-TV companies are continuing to make money off them. Analysts at eMarketer, however, take the opposite view, as do other experts.
Here’s what I’m excited about: I have been recording all of my favorite shows on a Tablo Dual digital video recorder that hasn’t cost me a dime in subscription fees. And I’m loving it. It has truly opened my eyes to the fact that ATT can take its $100/month U-Verse TV service that keeps crapping out on us and stay away. I may never look to cable again.
So how does satellite TV work? Satellite TV transmits signals from a satellite up in space to a dish on the roof of your home. This communication between the two satellites is what gives you the ability to watch television. Satellite TV is a great option for those that live in rural areas, because it's much more widely available than other types of TV. Cable and fiber TV require wires and cables, and this infrastructure is often not present in remote areas. Virtually anyone can get satellite TV, unless the signal is hindered by a foreign object, or the resident can't install a dish. Satellite also offers better picture quality and has the most HD channels available out of all types of TV. Not only is the quality great, but satellite TV packages are typically cheaper than fiber or cable TV. One drawback to satellite is that it usually requires a long term contract. Make sure you're ready to commit, because most providers will charge an early termination fee if you decide to cancel before your contract is up. Also, the quality of your satellite TV programming can be hindered by extreme weather conditions.
It’s really not that big of a shock that a major TV provider has inconsistent customer service at best. We pitted DIRECTV and DISH against each other in the customer service department, and DISH falls short on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI1). From our experience, you can expect longer hold times with DISH’s customer service department.
No cable service truly offers a la carte cable TV. However, through VUDU, iTunes and Amazon (even if you’re not a Prime Instant Video subscriber) you can buy episodes of entire seasons of shows a la carte. This includes shows currently airing. At first, that might seem expensive, but shows are $1.99 an episode and you can get a discount on the season pass. I saved a ton of cash this way when my family cut the cord. My family purchases only 3-4 season passes a year, keeping it under $10 a month.
One included feature -- Tablo Connect -- lets you watch live TV and your recordings from your smartphone wherever you go, as if you were sitting on your couch. After a free 30-day unlimited trial of Tablo, there is an optional, small subscription fee -- ranging from $5/month to $150/lifetime -- that gives you all the features. Or you can opt to still use the device for free, with just its basic features.
Because the content you get with any of these cable-replacement services, especially local channels, can vary by region, you should go to each company’s website, plug in your ZIP code, and see which channels are available in your area. These video streaming services have been adding more local broadcast channels, such as ABC and CBS, but they’re not always available in smaller markets.
If you're opting for streaming you have a lot more control about your choices. While a service like PlayStation Vue brings packages that are cable-like with more channels as they grow in price, Sling TV starts lower at $25, and offers more flexibility in what you can choose to add. If you only need a few channels, picking the right provider will be everything, and without contracts, you can swap services in and out as necessary. Pick up CBS All Access with its free introductory month to catch up on Star Trek, then jump over to HBO Now to binge Game of Thrones while you wait for the next season.