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Cord Cutting Guide

Updated February 15, 2015: added more premium streaming options.

If you have ever thought about canceling an expensive cable, fiber, or satellite TV subscription in favor of receiving your favorite video programming via the Internet or local broadcasts, aka "cutting the cord", this article is for you. Times are changing, and there are more options for getting the content you desire at prices that can save you a small fortune.

If you are poised to become newly minted cord cutter and are looking for encouragement, then just do it! Remember that you can always return to the old ways if you really need to, but nothing speeds up the adoption process like total immersion.

The benefits of cutting the cord are numerous and almost always result in an improved viewing experience: unedited and often commercial-free programming, uncropped video presented in the correct aspect ratio, and extensive libraries of new and archived content.

THIS WEEK'S DEAL ALERT!

Live TV Options
Cord cutting does not mean giving up the live television experience! Two ways to enjoy free live TV are by receiving local broadcasts using an antenna connected to a tuner and online streaming.

Every HD/UHD TV has a built-in over-the-air (OTA) digital TV (DTV) tuner, and the type of antenna you will need to receive digital broadcasts depends on many factors including your distance from the broadcast towers.

The TV Fool website is an excellent resource for finding what stations are transmitting digital TV goodness in your area, and I always suggest starting with the least expensive antenna option and upgrading only if needed. If you have a set-top TV antenna (aka "rabbit ears") laying around, then try it first! If there is a giant old-school antenna on the roof that is still wired up and ready to go, it may prove to be an excellent reception option.

I'm fortunate to have relatively unobstructed views of my local broadcast towers here in Northern California. Using a quality indoor antenna from WallTenna, I'm able to receive dozens of channels - many broadcasting in HD formats.

The main drawback of using a TV's built-in OTA tuner is its inability to record programs for later playback or to provide multiple tuners for viewing one channel while recording another. The Samsung HU8550-series UHD TV (read my review) actually has a built-in DVR app, but this feature is factory-disabled for North American markets - sad. Options for adding a digital video recorder (DVR) include building your own custom home theater PC and set-top recorders like the excellent dual-tuner Channel Master DVR+ (read my review) and multi-tuner Tablo (read my review).

TV Picture Setup Guide

Video Streaming Gear
Take inventory of the cord cutting gear that you may already have! A new TV, AV receiver, Blu-ray player, HD game console, or other Internet-enabled device may feature music and video streaming services that you can use right now. Explore the feature sets of any such devices and try using them to access available services.

Dedicated streaming devices like the Amazon Fire TVApple TV, Chromecast, and Roku 3 are affordable options for adding popular apps to a TV that may have limited or no built-in streaming functionality.

YouTube makes it easy to pair your smartphone or tablet to a connected TV also running the YouTube app. Once paired, you can queue up YouTube videos through the app on your mobile device that will then playback in order on the connected TV.

2015 CES: Home Theater

Video Streaming Sources
ABC, AMCCBS, CW, Fox, NBC, PBS, and other broadcasters now provide some free TV viewing through a web browser or mobile app. However, many broadcasters restrict online access of the latest episodes of popular shows to only those viewers with a current cable/fiber/satellite TV subscription by requiring them to login with valid account information in order to watch the selected program.

This article assumes that the cord cutting individual has no cable/fiber/satellite TV subscription, and thus no related account login information. However, you may know someone willing to share their account information with you, and some video streaming services like HBO Go and Netflix have indicated that limited account sharing is acceptable.

Blu-ray Movies for Less Than $10!

More Movie and TV Streaming Options
Netflix is an obvious choice for streaming TV shows and movies with high quality 1080p and some 2160p content now available. If you are an Amazon Prime member, then you also have full access to the ever-growing Amazon Instant Video collection. For network TV junkies, a Hulu Plus subscription for $8 a month gives you current season access to shows like Glee, Family Guy, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, New Girl, and Modern Family. Hulu Plus also offers all episodes from every season of past popular shows including The X-Files, Arrested Development, Desperate Housewives, Battlestar Galactica, Monk, Saturday Night Live, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Ugly Betty, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and dozens more - explore the Hulu Plus lineup.

Dish Network introduced Sling TV at the 2015 CES that enables a no-contract/cancel anytime streaming subscription to live TV and sports programming. The basic $20/month channel package includes ESPN/ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Disney Channel, El Rey Network, Cartoon Network, and Maker. There are also three additional packages available for $5 each: Sports Extra, Kids Extra, News & Info Extra. Sling TV streams content to all Amazon Fire TV devices, Roku LT and higher, iOS 7+ devices, Android 4.0.3+ devices, OSX Snow Leopard 10.6+ , and Windows 7+. Sling TV's limitations are that not all channels can be paused DVR-style, and content can be streamed to only one device/platform at a time. Sling TV includes a 3-day replay feature for select channels (not ESPN/ESPN2), and Sling International customers have an 8-day replay on all international channels.

The online database CanIStream.It will tell you if a particular movie is available for online streaming, what services offer it, and what you can expect to pay.

Sony 4K Media Player Review

Sports
Subscription cable/fiber/satellite television services make it easy to receive all of the live sports a fan can afford, but OTA TV often includes some live sporting events such as baseball, basketball, bicycling, football (all kinds), mixed martial arts, motor sports, tennis...all free to enjoy. Options for streaming live sports are as varied as sports themselves and include app and browser-based viewing options. Here are some good places to start:

NBC Sports - includes Sunday Night Football and Formula 1


Sometimes the patient are rewarded. I've found that some streamed sporting events that require a valid cable/satellite login for live viewing can be rewatched later without a login after the live game completes.

How to Watch 4K

Paid Sports Streaming Options
Paid streaming sports options exist, and professional baseball fans have an easy choice with MLB.tv. The MLB.tv service allows you to stream non-local live games and all completed games commercial-free and in good HD quality. I also appreciate MLB.tv's alternative audio/video options including radio and stadium sound audio feeds.

If ice hockey is your professional sport of choice, the National Hockey League (NHL) has taken a cue from MLB.tv by offering fans the GameCenter LIVE subscription service. GCL streams live out-of-market games and on-demand full-length replays in HD quality. GameCenter LIVE can be accessed online through a web browser or an app is available for viewing on Android, iOS, Apple TV, Roku, HD game consoles, and other popular platforms.

Professional motorcycle racing fans can get their fix with a subscription to MotoGP that features 720p live and archived streaming content.

American football fans have a couple of paid streaming options to try: NFL Sunday Ticket and NFL Game Pass. The latter is not available in the U.S. or Mexico, but...

Overscan is Evil

Bypassing Location Limitations
If your streaming options are limited by your location, consider a service like Unlocator. Unlocator is a Danish company that provides smart DNS services that make it simple to enjoy the streaming services that you pay for no matter where you live. Setup is easy and the service is transparent and fast. Unlocator offers a 7-day free trial, and more information about supported devices and services can be found on its website.

Feedback is Welcome
I plan to update this regularly update this document, and I encourage everyone to send me information about their favorite cord cutting gear and services so I can evaluate them for possible addition. For more information about cutting the cord, I recommend exploring these resources:

RabbitEars.info - DTV technical information
The Green Button - Windows Media Center and beyond!
/r/cordcutters - Reddit's cord cutting sub-Reddit


Also, check out Robert's favorite home theater gear for more recommended cord cutting gear!

Reader Comments (7)

Nice guide! I just wanted to add another service like Unlocator called Unblock Us. I use it to watch baseball and hockey games from mlb.tv and NHL Gamecenter that would otherwise be blacked out. I'm sure Unlocator does the exact same thing but I just wanted to throw an alternative service out there.

Also, you may want to include that the Xbox 360 is a Media Center Extender, so if someone has a computer that has Media Center then it isn't very hard to connect the two over the home network. If you hook the ota antenna to the computer you automatically get free dvr and guide data!

Good info! Thank you, Mike.

--Robert

September 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Decoding QAM from Verizon FiOS, the tuner in my Samsung LN40D630 displays the program information perfectly. I gave the Mediasonic HW-150PVR a try -- for $35, why not? -- with the QAM firmware update, but finding the stations was painful, and it doesn't support the program information.

October 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDoug

Hey Robert, the streaming services mentioned will require a wifi connetion/ home network internet. The problem is most providers of TV "triple" play subscriptions don' offer stand alone internet delivery. In my case using Verizon fios, they only offer phone and internet wich is almost as having cable added...less 20 dollars. Also, the providers that do offer stand alone internet have a very slow speed. So streaming in very frustrating. Buffering, loading. So that the only reason im hesitant on cutting the cord. Any suggestions im not thinking of?

Ryan

Hi Ryan! I've yet to see any company with "triple play" deals not offer stand-alone service for Internet (or two of the three). They want your money more than they want you to say no to everything. Even after I went with only Internet service from my provider, I talked them into a long term discount to make it even more affordable.

--Robert

October 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Don't fall into that trap. They advertise it as only $20 extra, then they add all the multiple fees on the bill like box rental. I only pay Time Warner for internet. If a better option comes along for internet service in my area (*cough* Google Fiber *cough*) I will gladly go with someone else, though.

October 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike

That’s a good article. Robert I personally prefer UnoTelly. It’s similar to unblock-us (or other DNS service) but they offer a DNS server close to physical location and I can achieve better performance.

November 20, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterchevysnow

Well written and good information, I've got nothing to add! I guess I will say that as this is an important aspect of many developing careers, we're also all responsible for keeping an eye on how this affects the industry over time - especially with "free" becoming a more common price tag every day.

February 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGeo news

I was about ready to cut the cord and then I learned that you can only stream to one device at a time. My household has three TVs and as such I could not make the cut. P

January 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDerek

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