Cutting the Cord
You’re sick of paying fistfuls of your hard-earned cash just to watch cable television every month, but you don’t want to miss out on the entertainment of TV altogether. More and more people are ditching their cable subscriptions and cutting the cord in favor of high-tech options that save money by paying to see what they want when they want it.
Options to Replace Pay Television
If you’re looking to make the switch from a cable subscription to a less costly option, you’ve got a few legal choices. There are four basic options: grabbing signals broadcast over the air, streaming media on your computer or viewing device, downloading media from stores and using strictly physical media, like DVDs and Blu-Ray.
Each of the four options has costs attached, especially an initial investment, but the monthly fees you’ll incur are usually less than what you’d pay for cable. If you’re unsure, do the math to decide on the right option to fit your budget (and to see how much you’ll save).
Over the Air Viewing
No matter where you live in the United States, you’ve got access to broadcast television. The signals themselves are transmitted via the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC). They’re digital TV signals and they’re unencrypted, meaning you don’t need a special password or key to unscramble and view them.
To pick up signals sent through ATSC, you’ll need a high definition (HD) antenna and an ATSC tuner, which are pre-installed on most 2000-era and newer televisions. An antenna usually doesn’t cost too much and if your television already has a built-in tuner, you’re looking at minimal startup costs from as low as about $15.
The channels you pick up via over the air signals depend on which channels you’re in range of – usually local stations and national affiliates. Additional channels are hit or miss.
This option for ditching cable subscriptions is one familiar to most people. You subscribe to a service like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime and have access to their catalog of TV shows, movies and documentaries to watch on your own schedule.
The subscription prices vary, but basic services are usually in the price range of about $10 a month. If you own a computer capable of watching streaming content, you can view from there. If you want to watch your content on a television, you’ll need a box that enables you to stream.
Popular stream-to-TV devices include the Roku player and Chromecast. If you’ve got a gaming system like an Xbox 360 (or newer) or a Playstation, you can also stream from those. The equipment can cost $40 or more, although gently used and refurbished players will take the sting out of deciding to stream exclusively.
Each subscription provider features a different catalog of content, so what you want to watch might not be available on your chosen service. Research which content provider shows your favorite programs and use that as a factor in deciding which subscription to choose.
There are also free and legal streaming providers. The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) makes quite a bit of their content available for streaming. Crackle and TV.com also allow you to view content. Individual channels such as Fox TV, FX, AMC and The Discovery Channel also make their content free for streaming for a limited time after the programs air.
If you’d prefer to own, rather than hunt down digital media, you can purchase or rent individual television episodes and whole seasons and movies from services like Amazon, iTunes and the television and movie production companies.
To view downloaded content, you’ll need to either watch it on your computer or hook it up to a streaming device. Some newer televisions come equipped with spots for flash drives; you can put the media file on the drive and plug it directly into your TV. Downloadable content can get expensive quickly, depending on how much you watch, so if you go this route, set a budget and stick to it.
This is the least technological option. Simply get a DVD or Blu-Ray player, hook it up to your television and play only the hard disks you rent or own. Like downloadable content, this option can be expensive. You can rent DVDs from Netflix or Redbox or you can purchase DVDs from shops. Bargain bin DVDs can be incredibly cheap and often offer up some real video gems.
If you’ve got a DVD player, you’re looking at no startup costs. Just quit your cable subscription and start watching your DVDs. If you have a gaming system, you can use that as a DVD player. If you need a player, basic models are available in the $20 range.
A Word about Piracy
Piracy is free – until you get caught. When that happens, you’re facing a fine of up to $150,000 per file and up to five years in jail. The whole goal of ditching your cable television subscription is to avoid paying too much money. Paying $150,000 for one episode of Grey’s Anatomy isn’t being frugal – it’s being a criminal.
When you pirate content, you’re taking away money from the actors you see on screen to the producers who created the show or movie – literally everyone in the production chain, especially those you don’t see. The janitor who cleans the studios, the woman who does the lighting, the set technicians who ensure safe working conditions – all of these people suffer financially when you download movies illegally.
How would you feel if someone came into your place of work and demanded you do your job for free because they just didn’t feel like paying you? It’s kind of like that.