Now that you're a "smart" viewer, you're probably staring at this new menu of choices on your home menu, like Netflix, Hulu, CBS All-Access and streaming varieties of HBO, Showtime and others. They would like you to spend anywhere from $6 to $15 monthly for their services. And with new services in the wings from Apple, Disney and Warner Media, you could imagine that monthly streaming bill rising even more, as we order more and more services.
There are also usually "upstream" channels on the cable to send data from the customer box to the cable headend, for advanced features such as requesting pay-per-view shows or movies, cable internet access, and cable telephone service. The "downstream" channels occupy a band of frequencies from approximately 50 MHz to 1 GHz, while the "upstream" channels occupy frequencies of 5 to 42 MHz. Subscribers pay with a monthly fee. Subscribers can choose from several levels of service, with "premium" packages including more channels but costing a higher rate. At the local headend, the feed signals from the individual television channels are received by dish antennas from communication satellites. Additional local channels, such as local broadcast television stations, educational channels from local colleges, and community access channels devoted to local governments (PEG channels) are usually included on the cable service. Commercial advertisements for local business are also inserted in the programming at the headend (the individual channels, which are distributed nationally, also have their own nationally oriented commercials).
All U-verse packages include one free HD DVR. That DVR is what will take your cheap cable TV experience to the next level, allowing you to record up to four programs at once and watch them from any TV in your home that has a U-verse receiver. What that means for you is no fighting over shows. Now you can record one while watching another. And you don’t have to worry about any hidden installation or activation fees because both are free for online orders.
We haven’t mentioned customer service with other cable TV providers, but we think we should emphasize that Xfinity customer service is known for being especially terrible. We understand if you’re not surprised—Xfinity has earned its reputation. However, many of us still use Xfinity because it’s the best of what’s available (most people have access to only one or two cable TV providers in their area).
Amazon’s library of top-notch original TV series is fairly thin (although it does have the award-winning “Transparent,” and the excellent police procedural “Bosch”), and it includes a paltry catalog of older shows. (It does offer some older HBO series like “Boardwalk Empire” and “Eastbound & Down” at no extra charge; recent seasons of your favorite shows are often available, but cost extra.) On the flipside, Amazon business has been very active lately in producing, buying and distributing top-shelf movies — including the Oscar-winning “Manchester by the Sea.” Also, Prime makes it very easy to expand your options by adding subscriptions to premium cable channels like HBO, Showtime and Starz as part of its Amazon Channels service. The service is aiming to be a one-stop shop for cord-cutters, offering a basic service with a variety of customized channels, some of which (like Acorn TV, Brown Sugar and Shudder) aren’t available to cable subscribers.
You don’t need a cable subscription for everything, but lately I’ve noticed they are blacking out more and more marquee events on ESPN3. I would have cut the cord long ago if it wasn’t for my love of sports. There are illegal streams for most sporting events now, but if you want to go legit you don’t have many options. You could do MLB.tv and things like that, but once you factor in those costs plus going out to bars or friends’ places for NFL games, etc. it’s getting almost as expensive as a cable plan.
One approach is to use one of the cord-cutting “calculators” at sites like The Verge and Slate, which allow users to pick out which services they’re interested in and then tally up your savings relative to cable. These are useful, but they generally don’t take into account a key cord cutting enabler: the ability to purchase shows a la carte through iTunes and Amazon, usually within a day of their original airing. This isn’t new technology—iTunes has been selling television downloads since 2005—but it changes the streaming calculus because it means you can easily and cheaply plug any gaps in whatever bundle of streaming options you choose.
You may need to check with your internet provider before you decide to switch to streaming only options and see what kind of usage limits they enforce. A friend of mine just got burned when he suddenly found out his ISP didn’t appreciate the bandwidth usage and cut off his service for the month after he streamed 10 hours or so of video. He had to ride out the rest of month with no cable and no internet.
PlayStation Vue has an "evolved" interface that is also easy to use once you get the hang of it, but can have a learning curve. Its DVR is excellent, with unlimited storage and the ability to skip commercials on any show -- although unlike YouTube TV, shows in Vue's DVR are deleted after 28 days. The biggest knock is that it's one of the most expensive basic packages, but it has fewer channels than any of the Big Five, aside from Sling TV and DirecTV Now. You don't need a PlayStation 4 to watch it -- just like the others, Vue has apps for numerous streaming devices including Roku, Apple TV and Fire TV, as well as phones and PCs -- but a PS4 is the only way to get its sweet multiscreen view.