Here’s where it all begins: You’re sick of paying an exorbitant cable or satellite bill, and you have a strong sense that if you just limited your spending to a few streaming subscription services, you would be much more satisfied with your home entertainment experience. So let’s say that you already have a good TV, a speedy internet connection and a set-top box. (If you don’t, we’ll get to that later.) Who gets your money?
Sometimes called "TV Everywhere" apps, these are the apps for individual networks or cable channels that provide video-on-demand of their current shows (usually a day or two after they air). All of them have wildly different interfaces. Almost all of them require you to sign in using existing credentials for a cable or satellite TV subscription. And even then, almost all force you to watch commercials while viewing shows, with no way to skip them.
The Fire TV Cube adds voice controls to your TV, sound bar and even (ahem…) a cable box — if you’re into that sort of thing. Being able to turn on your TV, or even start a show on Hulu while you’re TV is still off really feels like a luxury coming from a more expensive television. I just reviewed the new Fire TV Cube and thought that Amazon did a really great job.
Nothing is perfect. I can easily imagine more flexible user interfaces and certainly look forward to more customer friendly and consistent licensing rights for TV episodes. Long term, the good news is that content creators are essentially carrier agnostic. "They've learned the lessons of the music industry and want to get their content in front of viewers on whichever platform they choose to consume it," says Robin Diedrich, media analyst at Edward Jones.
If you prefer to self-install and troubleshoot your own technology, Cox Communications’ website makes that possible. Its vast resource library offers educational how-to videos on setting up, using, and troubleshooting your services. If you have a problem, just select your issue in its search tool, and it’ll direct you to the right instruction manual.
Navigate Computer With Mouse & Keyboard: You connect your computer to the HDTV (for the big screen) and then proceed to go to your favorite websites like hulu.com, Netflix and others (see some options above) to view your shows. You can use the Hulu Desktop application. You can also watch shows that you've downloaded from Amazon, Itunes or other online video sources – or your own videos. You will most likely need a wireless keyboard and mouse to make this easy – although it isn't required.
There are drawbacks, most having to do with content licensing restrictions. Netflix still has a good number of films in its vast library that are unavailable for streaming. With Hulu Plus, TV shows are generally embargoed until at least the day after their original network air dates. And there can also be restrictions on which seasons of a show are available. Perhaps most frustrating, licensing terms for some shows stipulate that while they can be watched on a computer or mobile device for free on Hulu's website, they are prohibited from being viewed on the TV even with a paid Hulu Plus subscription. But remember, an antenna gets you free OTA network channels, so if you're able to work your schedule around the networks' (like in the old days) you can minimize this inconvenience.
If you subscribe to DirecTV Now, you can add HBO for $5 per month. Same goes for adding Cinemax — $5. Showtime or Starz will cost you an added $8 per month. It doesn’t matter which channel bundle you subscribe to, so you can even just get the 60+ channel bundle for $35 per month. Parent company AT&T has offered this deal since 2016, and there’s no indication that it is going away anytime soon.
(It’s worth noting that Sarah’s not really a television addict, but that she likes to have the TV on in the background while she’s doing busywork, of which she has quite a bit from her job. You can often find her in the late evenings with about 70% attention on some low-intensity work task and about 30% attention on something on the television. Personally, I prefer to listen to white noise when working, but to each their own.)
As a #1 New York Times best-selling author and seasoned communicator, Rachel Cruze helps Americans have a life and a bank account they love. She’s authored three best-selling books, including Love Your Life, Not Theirs and Smart Money Smart Kids, which she co-wrote with her father, Dave Ramsey. You can follow Cruze on Twitter and Instagram at @RachelCruze and online at rachelcruze.com, youtube.com/rachelcruze, or facebook.com/rachelramseycruze.
Most cable broadband ISPs offer packages that include both internet and television. A few cable providers also offer mobile and phone options. In a lot of cases, there is a discounted subscription price if you bundle your internet, cable TV, and other services. Many customers are surprised to find that buying only one or the other is actually more expensive than choosing a bundled service package.
One last point on what to watch: If you really want to pay only for what you want to watch and nothing else, don’t forget that iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Fandango Now, Cinema Now, Google Play and others will gladly sell or rent you movies and episodes of TV series, to watch on your computer or TV. If you’re thinking of your various subscriptions as an analogue to cable, then think of this option as akin to the old-fashioned “pay per view.” The fees can add up if you watch a lot, but these vendors have some free videos, too.
Lots of satellite TV plans include a DVR or HD DVR which allows you to easily record shows, set parental controls, watch shows from any room, and access On Demand programs and movies. Cable companies may also offer you a free DVR when you buy a TV service plan. With both satellite and cable TV service providers, you will usually have to pay a monthly fee for the DVR even though the DVR itself is included at no extra cost. Service for a DVR costs around $10+/month with either cable or satellite service.
Netflix.com: There is a monthly cost associated with Netflix , but the added convenience of keeping the movies and TV shows as long as you want, and being able to stream a selection of movies and TV shows over the computer through one of the options above, make it worth it. $8.99 for the basic package, plus you can get a 1 month netflix free trial!
DISH also has the best DVR available. The Hopper 3 Smart DVR lets you record up to 16 shows at once, and you can record 2 ½ times more HD content (500 hours) than the Genie from DIRECTV (200 hours). However, keep in mind that the advertised package price doesn’t include the DVR price. You’ll have to pay an extra $10 per month for the Hopper and an additional $5–$10 per month for each added receiver.
Now we come to the one thing that's still a challenge for cord cutters, depending on what sports and teams you want to watch. Sports programming is by far the most expensive content on TV. For the average U.S. pay-TV subscriber, about 40% of your monthly programming cost is due to the sports content that is carried on the various cable network channels in your TV package.
Amazon has already taken steps toward this idea. Its customers can subscribe to different content providers through Amazon Video Channels, including traditional television providers like HBO and Showtime as well as streaming content providers like Britbox and IndiePix Unlimited, then view them all through Amazon Prime Video. Individual accounts and payments are still required, but the notion of one killer app or portal that allows access to everything is such an enticing idea that it’s difficult to imagine that companies aren’t already discussing the possibility. And Xfinity’s deals with Netflix and Amazon suggest that even guarded companies with a strong proprietary interest in their original content are willing to come on board.
If you're purchasing satellite TV, a professional will come to your home and set up a dish on the roof or balcony. This installation process tends to take longer than it would for cable or fiber TV because of the large equipment that's required. You can expect the installer to be at your home for several hours, whereas cable installation typically only takes 1-3 hours. Take advantage of that time by asking any questions you might have about how your new TV connection works. The installer will be happy to help! DIRECTV installation comes free with all of the provider's packages. Many customers can even opt for next-day installation. However, if you want to start watching your favorite shows before your installation process, with DIRECTV you can! As soon as your order has been confirmed, you can log into the DIRECTV app and start watching from your mobile device. The installation process for cable or fiber TV will be relatively easy if your home already has a cable or fiber connection from past service.
Also, a little note, because my family uses ATT Unlimited for their cell phone service. I only pay $10/month for DirecTV Now. And every other package that I may want to try is $25 less than the general public (e.g. the "Just Right" package for me would cost $25, vs. $50 for the general public; the "Go Big" package is $35 for me, $60 for most others). Also, the premium channel HBO only costs me and anyone else just $5 more per month. I haven't experienced the "inconsistent video quality [and] a suboptimal interface" that you describe, but then again, I have 1 Gbit speed for my Internet connection. Even if I didn't have that speed, I think for the price of $15/month with live TV, and HBO to boot, it's a great deal, and DTV Now is getting better month-by-month. Yes, DVR is in beta, but it is going to happen.
When you’re looking for an Internet Service Provider (ISP), it’s important to narrow down your search by zip code because coverage may vary depending on your location—even within a service area for a single provider. However, don’t assume that a narrow search means limited options. In addition to cable providers, there are likely DSL, fiber, and satellite providers available at your address. We’ll help you compare all your options so you get the best service at the right price. Enter your zip code below to compare plans and choose the best fit.
The question of "when does it make sense?" can easily be rephrased as "how much money can I save?" and one of the biggest factors will be the price difference between combined internet and TV service or just internet. These are also the options that vary the most widely based on where you live, and the availability of promotions or contracts that can keep prices down for a short time.