Cable subscriptions can be a drag. The rates are bad, the companies are hard to deal with, and rarely do you get every channel you want with your package (unless you bundle it together with a phone line you’ll never use, of course.)
Nobody likes paying for cable these days. And with so many excellent streaming solutions out there, why would you? Between Amazon Fire, Apple TV, and Roku devices, users have a selection of premium gadgets and streaming services to choose from — each with more choices and original content than any basic cable subscription could come up with.
If you’re interested in taking the plunge and cutting the cord once and for all, we’ve built a guide to show you how. We’ll be outlining some of the critical steps you need to take in order to get the cable out of your home, as well as our takes on the best products and services you need to stay cord-free.
Choosing a streaming device
Just like how you use a cable box to receive TV service, streaming requires the use of a device to grab content from the internet. These devices don’t run very high in price and will offer virtually the same streaming services between them. Instead, the main things you’ll be deciding on between devices are manufacturer and features.
Each device offers a unique gimmick that acts as a primary selling point. The best choice for you will be whatever fits into your existing setup or hardware ecosystem the best.
Here are just a few of the top-rated streaming devices:
Apple TV: Apple’s very own streaming device is currently on its 5th edition, and the features it brings to the table are nothing to sniff at. By default, the device includes access to the most popular streaming services, as well as several of Apple’s own unique apps.
These apps work in sync with your Apple devices, allowing you to do things like share pictures to your TV, stream your phone’s display on the big screen, and control the device with your phone as a remote. Speaking of remotes, the device comes with a cool, touch-sensitive Siri remote for voice assistance.
On the flip side, if you aren’t entrenched in Apple’s ecosystem, you won’t get as much out of Apple TV as you would with other devices.
Amazon Fire: The retail giant offers a few Fire products that take advantage of Amazon’s massive media catalog. The Fire Stick is a cheaper device that plugs directly into your TV, giving you access to streaming services instantly.
The Fire TV Cube combines the function of the Fire TV Stick with the voice assistant features of an Amazon echo to give you truly Alexa-controlled TV in your home. Alexa isn’t just available on the Cube, however. The Fire Stick remote comes with Alexa as well but lacks the in-room mic features you’d get with an Echo or Cube.
The main draw here is Alexa, which no other devices currently have. Other than that, the functions of the Fire family are more basic and common throughout streaming gadgets.
Roku: Roku’s been around for a while, but the original titan of streaming video isn’t going anywhere for the moment. It’s still one of the most popular devices on the market — and for good reason.
Roku prides itself on being “content agnostic,” which means streaming services and channels you can use come from a diverse range of sources. Roku can use nearly every streaming service out there. You can install third-party apps as well, giving you the most flexibility in how you consume content.
As good as myriad streaming options are, the interface on Roku can feel a bit outdated. Thankfully, the system does continue to receive regular updates from its parent company, but there’s no telling how long that will last.
Google Chromecast: One of the cheapest streaming gadgets, Chromecast connects to your TV much like the Amazon Fire Stick.
From here, you can stream the majority of your content, including content directly from your mobile device. Chromecast, with Google as its parent company, meshes well with nearly any Android system, making it easy to set up your own smart home or streaming system.
Interestingly, though, Chromecast does not include either Amazon nor Apple services, so if you’re looking for those, you might want to try a different product.
For more detailed profiles on each of the most popular streaming devices, click or tap here to check out our full breakdown.
Choosing your streaming services
A streaming device is nothing without your favorite shows or video-on-demand services. These platforms let you access content whenever you please, with many of them offering compelling original programming that can’t be seen anywhere else.
That said, the sheer volume of exclusive content makes choosing your services more important than ever. If you choose too many, your new streaming bills might end up costing you more than your cable package ever did.
We’ve previously tallied up the costs of the most popular streaming services, but we can recommend a few of the most essential here. These platforms were chosen based on the quality of their content, quality of exclusives, and volume of content they have to offer.
Netflix: The granddaddy of all streaming services. Netflix is a household name at this point, and when it comes to original programming, it takes the cake as some of the best on the market.
Only on Netflix can you find exclusives like Stranger Things and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Its content catalog isn’t too shabby either, although movies and shows tend to appear and disappear from the platform sporadically.
Hulu: Perhaps even more essential than Netflix due to its massive library, Hulu sets itself apart by offering a huge selection of movies, TV shows, and original content. Hulu offers its services in a few tiers, with the cheapest being supported by ads. You can even upgrade your Hulu service to show live TV in your area, making it an interesting alternative to a cable subscription.
Amazon Prime Video: Prime boasts arguably the largest library of content in the streaming game, but only some of it is free. In line with its retail persona, Amazon Video is mostly a rental service, with far more beloved movies available on-demand than either Hulu or Netflix. There’s also some free content you can watch as a Prime member, but most of the time you’re on Amazon Video, you’ll be paying.
Expand your options with these apps
If you picked up a device with the ability to download apps, you can greatly expand its functionality by picking a few of them. There are a variety of apps on the market with features that are tailor-made for cord cutters, including apps for free TV and video streaming, internet videos, and even the news.
Here are just a few of our favorites, along with some of the cool features they grant your device.
YouTube: Yes! You can totally get YouTube on your TV system with the YouTube App. Once downloaded, you’ll have access to every video hosted on the platform. You’ll also have the ability to log in to your account, which gives you access to recommended videos, your subscribed channels, and the rest of your feed. Some social functions are limited, however.
Sony Crackle: If you ever enjoyed watching movie channels, then you’ll love what Crackle can do for your device. Drawing its content from parent company Sony’s enormous back-catalog, the platform serves up different movies on a regular basis and comes with no cost to download or use. Keep in mind, many of these movies are older, but there’s a good amount of gems in Crackle’s media library.
Sling: An essential if you want to cut the cord but keep your favorite channels and shows. Sling presents itself as kind of an “a la carte” TV subscription, where you can pick and choose your favorite channels and roll them together as part of your plan.
For $20 per month, you get access to 30 channels, which you can stream to your TV, as well as every device you install the app on. It’s one of the most popular live-TV apps, but once again, it isn’t free.
Choosing an antenna
If you’re cutting the cord but still want live TV, downloading an app isn’t the only method you can use. In fact, you can avoid paying a monthly fee for your channels by setting up an over-the-air antenna for your TV instead.
Despite the fact that all broadcasters have switched to “digital” in the past few years, that only refers to the standard in which the content is relayed. You can still pick up signals using an antenna — all without having to pay for the service.
To get access to over-the-air TV, you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth it to purchase an indoor or outdoor antenna. Indoor antennas are compact, clean and require very minimal setup. In many cases, an indoor antenna is very much a “plug-and-play” kind of affair, but you won’t get the same range of service as you would with an outdoor antenna.
Outdoor antennas, on the other hand, require a good deal more setup than the indoor variety. Most systems need to run wires from the inside of your home to the outside, which may require a drill and some basic hardware knowledge.
Additionally, outdoor antennas are typically mounted on the roof of your home, making installation even more challenging than you might expect; however, the range is far greater than what you get with indoor antennas, meaning picture quality will benefit as well.
Protecting your device from malware and hackers
Now that you’ve set up a killer home-media station, you’ll want to make sure it’s protected from cybercriminals and similar bad actors. After all, its difficult to enjoy streaming video when you’re worried out of your mind about data being siphoned.
Thankfully, hackers don’t typically target streaming devices directly. However, that doesn’t mean you’re totally in the clear.
Smart TVs and streaming devices are usually infected by other gadgets that communicate with them — including smartphones, tablets and personal computers.
Downloading a shady application or service can accidentally lead to the spread of malware, so one of the best things you can do to stay safe is to carefully vet every single item you download, without exception. That way, you’re not accidentally moving things to your streaming device that you don’t want.
It’s worth mentioning that you should avoid bootleg streaming services and devices as well. A significant number of websites and platforms exist online that promise you the latest Hollywood movies for no charge whatsoever. When downloaded, these programs can install a variety of malware on to your device, and potentially spread to devices you connect with. As a best practice, only download streaming apps and services from the device itself.
As for bootleg devices, these should be avoided at all costs. Not only can one of these devices potentially hurt another gadget on the same network, but using one can also put you in hot water with the law.
As such, you’re better off leaning towards brand-named devices with genuine services to get the most bang for your buck. Skirting around the fringes of the internet to save money might end up costing you far more than you could imagine.
Cutting the cord may not be the easiest process in the world, but once you do, it can be extremely rewarding and liberating. You’re no longer bound to a single provider with a package you hate. With streaming, you can have your media your way, and that alone is worth the price of admission. Stream on!
If you’re looking for an in-depth guide to cutting the cord, Kim has you covered. Our How to get FREE HDTV and Cut the Cable eBook will teach you all the basics of living cord-free, along with recommendations, tips, and instructions to create the best streaming ecosystem for your home.