We've all seen stories like this one about folks who've cancelled their cable or satellite TV service in favor of getting television programming over the air or via the web, either for free or at reduced cost . That many people are considering such a move comes as no surprise, given the state of the economy and that cable bills can run well over $100 per month for anyone desiring more than just the basics. This article at WalletPop.com explores just how much cord-cutters can save. On the other side of things, research indicates cancelling the cable subscription is probably not yet right for everyone. Whether it's right for you depends on factors like what you watch, how much you watch, the quality of your Internet connection, and even where you live. ConsumerSearch already has a number of reports that lay out some of the considerations for you, including brand new reports on video streaming services, and on digital media players that bring those services to any TV. Let's pull all of that together so you can see whether cutting the cord to your cable or satellite TV provider will work for you and your family.
What to watch
To receive TV programs from national and local broadcast channels, your best bet is to do things the old-fashioned way, using an over-the-air antenna. TV stations continue to broadcast signals, albeit now in digital format so you'll also need a TV or another device (such as a digital converter box) with a digital tuner. In some cases TV reception is better than it was under analog broadcasting, but it's worse in others. You can find out more details, including how to find out which signals are available at your location, in our report on TV antennas.
If you're out of range of some or all the TV broadcasters you want to see, you're not necessarily out of luck. Hulu Plus is an all-you-can watch video streaming service that carries lots of current-season programming. Netflix and the just-launched Amazon Prime streaming video service also offer unlimited viewing of TV shows, but mostly from past seasons. You can also rent or buy individual current-season programs from Amazon Video on Demand and iTunes -- but if you watch a lot of TV, that can get expensive in a hurry.
That takes care of the basics, but what about the extras such as movies and sports? There the news is good and not so good; let's explain. On the movie front, some premium cable networks (HBO, for example) aren't in a hurry to give up their hard-fought-for and highly-paid-for exclusives. Others are more giving. For example, many of the movies and series available on Starz, and some of the content available on Epix, is available to Netflix users as part of their streaming video subscription -- a good thing as Netflix has little else in the way of recent top movie titles.
If you want to watch new Hollywood hits, look to video on demand services such as Vudu, Amazon Video on Demand and iTunes, but at a cost per film that's on a par with renting discs at a video rental store, and often higher than what you'd pay for rentals done through the mail or at a kiosk such as Redbox. On the other hand, the movies are often available on the same day and date as their DVD release -- and weeks or months before they appear on the cable networks. You can find more about these and other sources for streaming TV shows and movies in our report on video streaming.
The picture is darker for sports fans, however. Bottom line: if a regional cable sports network holds the rights to your favorite local team, there's likely no legal way to stream its games online. Of course, if you can receive your local TV stations over the air, you will get any local sports they carry. That covers most local NFL games, some but likely far from all MLB games, and few if any (depending on the market) NHL and NBA games. If your favorite teams play elsewhere, out-of-market NHL and MLB games can be streamed on line and to your TV via a few devices, such as the Roku XDS digital media player. Still, the bottom line is that sports fans who need or want to watch their hometown heroes play should probably think twice before cutting their cable ties.
How to watch it
Content is an important part of the cable-less TV picture, but so is the hardware. As noted, getting TV signals over the air requires an antenna and a TV or other device with a digital tuner.
Getting streaming content from the Internet to your TV used to be a pain, but it's getting easier all the time. All major video game consoles have some streaming abilities. So do many Blu-ray players and some LCD TVs, plasma TVs and rear-projection TVs released within the last year. The retail version of the TiVo Premiere DVR also has built in streaming. You can read about the streaming abilities of all of those in their individual ConsumerSearch reports. If you don't own any hardware with built-in streaming, or if the company that makes your gear hasn't partnered with a specific streaming provider you want, the gap can be filled with a digital media player, and the top options are covered in our report on those.
However, just because a piece of home-electronics gear has built-in streaming doesn't mean that streaming from the Internet will necessarily be a good fill-in for cable or satellite TV. Every expert says that the quality of the experience will depend greatly on the quality of your Internet connection. Ultimately, broadband is a must -- and the faster the better. At the other end of the spectrum, don't even consider streaming video as an alternative if you still use a dial-up connection.