What you get: With its updated pricing, Sling’s Orange package is now $25 and includes about 30 cable channels but no broadcast TV. It supports one user at a time. Sling Blue, also $25 per month, supports three users and a different mix of about 40 channels, including local broadcasts and regional sports. (Among other differences, Sling Orange includes ESPN.) A combined plan costs $40. Themed add-on packs cost $5 per month, and you can add HBO, $15; Showtime, $10; and Starz, $9.
The moment for me when the idea of dropping TV service became a long term prospect rather than just a short term experiment so I could write this article, was when I plugged in the antenna. The fact that I can get such high quality output, for network and PBS channels I had been paying for makes it hard for me to envision going back to a cable TV subscription. In addition, I have to sit through far fewer commercials (though I suspect that may change over time). Watching Netflix movies on the TV is much more satisfying than on the smaller computer screen and of course the freedom to watch current TV programs on my own schedule is a huge benefit when juggling the demands of work and family. I know there will be times during the year when a sports event I want to watch will be unavailable. But there's just no arguing with the dramatic cost savings. Pay TV is undeniably a richer experience, but is it worth a 330% premium? Not for me.
You can use a TV antenna to watch live TV, sure, but this isn't the 1970s. You need a DVR (digital video recorder). Consider the Tivo Bolt Vox (above), a system with six tuners and 75 hours of recording on a 500GB drive for $199.99, or get 150 hours for $299.99. Four of the tuners support OTA recording. (Don't get the high-end $499.99 version—that's cable-ready only.) The companion Vox Mini box sold separately lets you expand DVR coverage to other rooms. As the "vox" implies, you utilize voice control through the remote to run the DVR. Plus, it has plenty of built-in streaming apps. TiVo has a few other OTA DVRs, as do companies like Tablo and Channel Master.
Sony's cable-replacement service began life as a PlayStation exclusive, but now you can find PlayStation Vue just about anywhere. Viewers can choose from among four packages, ranging in price from $45 per month to $80 per month (although these prices can vary by location). Each plan will land you staples such as Cartoon Network, CNN, Discovery, Disney Channel, FX, Syfy, TBS and a variety of broadcast networks, depending on where you live. You can also record hundreds of programs and hang onto them for 28 days at a time. What really puts PS Vue at the top of the list is the service's interface, which is sleek, fast and instantly comprehensible. The service's DVR feature is also simple and robust.
YouTube is the most popular streaming-video platform online; it was only a matter of time until YouTube tried its hand at providing live TV, too. For $35 per month with this service, you'll get almost 40 channels — which is, admittedly, not that many. Still, there are some good networks, especially for sports fans: multiple stations from ESPN, CBS Sports and Fox Sports. YouTube TV's biggest draw is the service's unlimited DVR feature, which lets you record as much as you want and keep it for up to nine months. The integration with the rest of YouTube feels half-baked, though.
The cost to networks of paying huge sums for sports rights get passed on to customers in the form of higher monthly bills. Broadcast channels like Fox, CBS, and NBC are also shelling out billions of dollars on sports because it’s one of the few things consumers still watch live, which helps the companies sell advertising. Those broadcasters are raising the prices they charge cable operators, leading to higher consumer bills. Congress handed that new-revenue stream—known as retransmission consent fees –to broadcast channels in the early 1990s.
When it comes to standalone streaming services like Hulu or Sling TV, your viewing experience is completely dependent on your internet connection. So if the internet goes down or there are a ton of people in your neighborhood online at the same time, your speeds might be slow. You'll likely experience buffering, lagging, or even a completely frozen screen. With cable TV, you'll never have to worry about missing a moment, because the connection doesn't rely on your internet. Don't be that guy that misses the last 2 minutes of the Super Bowl: NO ONE wants to be that guy.
What you get: The Hulu with Live TV service offers about 50 channels, including major networks in some areas and sports channels such as CBS Sports, ESPN, and Fox Sports. You can watch on two devices at a time and record 50 hours on a cloud DVR. You can pay extra for more users and extra DVR storage, and the option to skip commercials. Hulu now also offers a combined plan, priced at $13 per month, that bundles a Spotify subscription with Hulu’s entry-level on-demand service.
Credit: ShutterstockTom's Guide compared all three services head-to-head-to-head, and discovered that Netflix is generally the best of the three. However, the services do not offer exactly the same thing. Netflix is a good all-purpose service, while Hulu focuses on recently aired TV, and Amazon Prime is part of a larger service that also offers free shipping on Amazon orders, e-book loans and other perks. (Viewers who just want Amazon Video without any other perks can now subscribe to it for $9 per month.)
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Modern cable systems are large, with a single network and headend often serving an entire metropolitan area. Most systems use hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) distribution; this means the trunklines that carry the signal from the headend to local neighborhoods are optical fiber to provide greater bandwidth and also extra capacity for future expansion. At the headend, the radio frequency electrical signal carrying all the channels is modulated on a light beam and sent through the fiber. The fiber trunkline goes to several distribution hubs, from which multiple fibers fan out to carry the signal to boxes called optical nodes in local communities. At the optical node, the light beam from the fiber is translated back to an electrical signal and carried by coaxial cable distribution lines on utility poles, from which cables branch out to a series of signal amplifiers and line extenders. These devices carry the signal to customers via passive RF devices called taps.
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.