This is by no means a comprehensive list of alternatives to cable, but it’s a great mix-and-match way to get started. And you can usually get a free trial of almost any of these before you commit. If you’re not quite ready to give up your favorite sports or movie channels, you can always call your cable or satellite provider and try to negotiate a better deal. Knowing your options will usually work to your advantage!
We’re not talking about those adjustable rabbit ears of the 1950s, but a modern antenna that sits atop your roof or behind a picture in your living room—wherever you get the strongest signal—to deliver live TV (but not streaming videos) without cable. “One of the best cable TV alternatives is the tried-and-true antenna,” says Chris Brantner, known as Mr. Cable Cutter from the website Cut Cable Today. “Most people don’t realize just how many free TV stations they can get with a quality antenna.” According to Brantner, chances are good that you’re in range of dozens of great over-the-air (OTA) broadcast channels, including NBC, ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, PBS, ION, and other regional stations. “Many of the most popular TV shows, local sports games, and local news come on OTA TV in crystal-clear high definition,” he adds. “And get this: The broadcasts you can pick up with an HD antenna are higher quality than what cable provides, because their broadcasts are compressed!” Did we mention that these channels are totally free? Remember these money-saving tips that don’t actually pay off in the long run.
You will see a map of your area. Wait a few seconds for the colored list of stations to appear on the left. You should be able to pick up the green and yellow channels with a good indoor flat antenna. The ones in orange will probably require an outdoor antenna. The list is not exact, but will give you a ballpark idea of the number of channels you should be able to get.
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.
Having bundles, also helps. While with DTV and AT&T, you still get access to DTVN streaming content, but also 15 channels of HBO and HBO GO. After the bundle rebates, the cost is $50/mo, for the lowest tier. Certainly not cable, and your money is going to the same company, but you do get the best of both, full 5 tuner DVR whole home DVR service, plus on the go streaming. What I am trying to say, Satellite service isn't Cable or Streaming. They traditionally were the rebels against Cable TV prices. However after some time they turned into nothing under $110/mo, a lot like cable. But while there's a lot of customer churn, the prices and business modeling has changed. I am liking it, while it lasts.
Hulu With Live TV ($39.99/mo.): The package varies from region to region, but for the most part this is one of the most conveniently cable-like services out there. It has most of the major basic cable channels — including ESPN and the big cable news outlets (CNN, MSNBC, Fox News) — and some local broadcast channels. The base price also includes everything that standard Hulu has to offer and up to 50 hours of DVR recording of live telecasts. For additional fees, users can eliminate commercials on Hulu shows, expand the DVR storage and add subscriptions to HBO, Cinemax and Showtime.
Keeping recordings on a server has its benefits, like making them available on different devices or a backup when your connection (or the service itself) fails, but it can also complicate things. Sling TV adds an extra $5 for DVR access, and on certain services you'll find that recording doesn't work with channels like HBO. Some YouTube TV customers have complained that the system points them to video on-demand copies of shows that include unskippable ads instead of their recordings, so read the fine print and check user reviews first.