On both Roku devices and Apple TV, much of the best content does require a pay per view fee or subscription, so you'll want to keep an eye on how many you buy. And there are a growing number of apps like HBO Go that are restricted to those still with a cable/satellite TV subscription. But even if you never venture much beyond Netflix and Hulu Plus, you're getting a lot of content for very little money.
Setting this up was easy, too. We bought an inexpensive antenna at a local store that was on sale and simply attached a coax cable to the back of that antenna (the cable came with the antenna) to the cable port on the back of our television, then simply went into the menu on our television and scanned for channels. It found around 30 of them, and they come in crystal clear in about 480p – not high resolution, but good enough, especially on a smaller television. Once the antenna is set up and running, the programming is completely free.
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.)
Beware of the trial period for Sling, they charge you on the very minute your trial expires and will not refund your money. I just called because there was a 12 hour delay from the time my trial expired and I was charged and when I cancelled (my fault, I know). Thought I'd call and explain the mixup thinking the trial was for the full day and I cancelled at 8am the next day, they will not refund my money. I mentioned that seemed like big cable company treatment and the rep didn't seem to care, company policy is not to refund any partial months. Seems to me like a great way to sucker a bunch of potential new customers into paying for a month, not a fan of that type of business practice.
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.
Remember the days when you could watch network television for free? (those under 25, ask your parents). Well those channels are still available at no cost...if you have an antenna. And no, we're not talking about the clunky rabbit ears of old. Antennas have changed substantially in looks and performance over the last several years. Breakthroughs in technology spurred by development of the tiny but powerful digital antennas in smartphones have been adapted to the realm of TV reception. The result? "TV antennas today are 10% of the mass they were decades ago," says Richard Schneider, president of Missouri-based manufacturer Antennas Direct. "And the move to an all digital transmission that the FCC mandated back in 2009 has put those TV signals in a higher frequency which means a better signal with less noise".
Another thing to consider is if you can set up antenna TV to catch local channels. While it might not work for everyone or everywhere, if there's a network TV show you just have to see live then this is the cheapest option. Digital TV antennas are easy to find with designs ready for home and apartments -- check out our guide for more info on how to choose the right one.