If you don’t have or don’t like any of the options above, there are a few ways to turn your TV into a “Smart TV.” There are a number of ways to do this. In the next section, I’ll cover the subscription services available. Certain devices only work on certain equipment so I’ll cover a few of these combinations in the Streaming Devices section of the post.
AT&T U-verse’s entry-level package, U-Basic TV, is truly basic — it comes with about 15 channels. If you’re looking for the cheapest cable service, this is it. Looking to level up for a good price? U-Family TV package boasts over 200 channels — more than its competitors’ basic packages. Channels include family favorites like Food Network, Disney Channel and HGTV. If you want more options, you can add on channel packages for additional monthly fees.
If cutting the cord means my wife can't watch the true crime shows she likes or the cooking programs we both like, price may not be the overall deciding factor. Yes, we pay around $300 a month for cable and streaming services, but my wife and I watch about 90 minutes of TV together at night, and at least an hour separately while getting ready for work and/or preparing dinner during the week. On the weekend, we probably each add three hours of solo viewing for sports (me) or whatever she watches when I'm out.
Cable television is a system of delivering television programming to consumers via radio frequency (RF) signals transmitted through coaxial cables, or in more recent systems, light pulses through fiber-optic cables. This contrasts with broadcast television (also known as terrestrial television), in which the television signal is transmitted over the air by radio waves and received by a television antenna attached to the television; or satellite television, in which the television signal is transmitted by a communications satellite orbiting the Earth and received by a satellite dish on the roof. FM radio programming, high-speed Internet, telephone services, and similar non-television services may also be provided through these cables. Analog television was standard in the 20th century, but since the 2000s, cable systems have been upgraded to digital cable operation.
Chromecast: Android and Chrome Browser users will love the easy streaming options provided by Chromecast. This $35 HD streaming stick hides behind your TV and has native integrations with Netflix, YouTube, HBO Go, Hulu, and many other services. A 4k version is available for $69. In addition to natively supported services, Chromecast can be voice controlled with a Google Home. You can stream literally anything that works on the web with the Chrome browser “cast” button. Also cast your screen from modern Android phones right to your TV. I personally use a Chromecast on both of my TVs.
Even so, no service we've reviewed is incomplete enough to discourage you from using it outright. If a service sounds like it might be a good fit for you, your best bet is to investigate which channels that service offers and see if it falls within your price range. Most of these services give you anywhere from a week to a month to evaluate them before charging you, and none of them require a contract. At worst, you'll be stuck with a service you don't like for a month.
If you haven’t heard of Tablo, it is a clever little box. You plug it into your wall socket, connect your over-the-air TV antenna to the Tablo, and then download the sister app to your phone or tablet. The Tablo can connect to your house router via WiFi or by using the included Ethernet cable. I used the cable. Then the app brings up an easy-to-use TV guide on your phone. You can record shows and series as you would with any other DVR, and you can watch live TV through it. Its playback functions and interface are awesome -- much easier to traverse than the one I pay for with ATT -- and let me zip through commercials in seconds. In another part of my home, I have a smart TV with Roku built in. It has a Tablo app on it that allows me to watch my recordings or live TV on the big screen. And I also have a Chromecast on my other TV to do the same.
Currently, you can try DIRECTV NOW free for 7 days. I find the best option to be their “Live a Little” package. It is priced at $40 per month and contains Fox News, CNN, Nickelodeon, MSNBC, Hallmark Channel, ESPN, Disney, HGTV, USA, ID, TNT, Food, TBS, History, Discovery, Disney Jr, TV Land, Nick Jr, AMC, FX, FXX, Bravo, Lifetime, A&E, Animal Planet, BBC America, Bloomberg, BET, Cartoon Network, CMT, CNBC, Comedy Central, Disney XD, E!, ESPN2, Fox Business, FS1, Galavision, HLN, MTV, MTV2, Paramount Network, Syfy, TCM, TLC, Univision, VH1, and more
Before you buy an antenna, use this tool from the FCC to see where local stations are broadcasting from. This will help you know what kind of range you need to look for with your antenna. If you don’t purchase a strong enough antenna, you might not be able to watch certain channels. Also, these are only broadcast channels, so be warned that you won’t be able to watch your cable favorites with OTA TV.
For example, DIRECTV charges $20 a month for every month remaining on your contract. So if you need to get out of your contract but you still have nine months left, you’re looking at a cool $180 plus a $15 deactivation fee. It’s steep, for sure, but it’s all in the contract agreement. Make sure to ask your provider about early termination fees before you sign, just in case.
The best cable TV company will make it easy to find your favorites for a fair price. We took 2017’s 50 most-watched channels and tallied them against providers packages to see which were offering the best plans for the best value. Popular channels like the Food Network hold more value and relevance for most viewers than channels that tally up in your package count, like the Gem Shopping Network or C-SPAN 4. But if you know your TV habits are a little more niche, keep track of the channels you frequent most and then compare the provider packages to see which offers the best price for minimal excess.
YouTube TV and Sling TV give consumers the option to have at least some live TV without paying for a full cable package. That's almost certainly something that's going to increase as consumers look for ways to cut their bills, so while I haven't made the switch, it's easy to see the appeal. Furthermore, it's also a valuable market to help DISH offset subscriber losses, while offering Alphabet yet another way it can grow.
AT&T's has two separate services: DirecTV Now and Watch TV. The much-cheaper Watch TV includes 30 channels and many of them, such as AMC, HGTV and BBC America, are no longer available on DirecTV Now. Watch TV doesn't have any sports or local channels, and many of the shows on its channels can be watched on-demand with a Hulu subscription for less. It also doesn't work with Roku devices, but it is available on the other major streaming platforms. And some AT&T wireless plan customers get it for free.