I have finally done it, America. After years of dreaming about this day, researching alternatives, and angrily threatening customer service representatives, I, for the first time in my adult life, have cut the cord and am free from big cable…free from oppressive contracts, hundreds of worthless channels, and lousy customer service.
Even better, at 1/3 the cost, I still have everything I loved about DirecTV. I watch live sports, record shows to watch later, and watch Game of Thrones when it airs and before some Internet dipshit can play spoiler.
But there’s more. Are you ready for the best news you’ve heard all day? Okay…in just two easy steps, you can have this too! If you’ve long endured the tyranny of big cable, let this guide free you from your shackles, nurse your wounds, and deliver you to the promised land. You’ll never look back.
Editor’s note: If you know big cable is awful and just want to cut some cord, then skip to step 1. But if, on the off chance, you awoke this morning and thought: You know, I’d like someone, using real-life examples and raw, uncaged passion, to illustrate the misery of life with big cable, then this next section is for you.
The Benefits of Being Cable Free
I am unsigned and unrestricted. Don’t ask me what a contract is because I don’t have a clue, nor do i know how it feels to pay one price in year 1…
…only to get fleeced in year 2.
Today, I sign nothing. I pay as I go and add or remove programming based on the season, when my favorite shows air, or just because I feel like it. This, my friends, is freedom.
I pay what is advertised. The most frustrating and terrible part of big cable’s frustrating and terrible pricing model is that you never know exactly how frustrating and terrible it is until you see the bill. Because while your standalone service may be, say, $69.99, after HD fees, and DVR fees, and multiple TV fees, and regional sports and broadcast fees — both of which are categorized as taxes, by the way — what you’re paying is a lot closer to, say, $169.99.
Now for those accustomed to DirecTV’s deceptive (and potentially illegal) pricing model, what I’m about to show you may be shocking. Here is a side by side comparison of the actual bill and the advertised price for my TV charges last month.
Would ya look at that. Balanced like grandma’s checkbook.
I am free from gaudy and impractical programming packages. The guy responsible for DirecTV’s programming has a seat reserved in hell…
Oh, you only watch ESPN and FX? Tough; we offer no fewer than 145 channels. You want NBC Sports? Pony up then, playboy, because you’ll need our Choice package. Oh, you want to watch It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia? Well, fuck you; we exclude FXX from our 3 cheapest packages.
Yes, I still subscribe to predetermined programming packages, and yes there are some channels I do not watch and others I wish I had, but seriously you should see these options. They’re fantastic. Here, I’ll show you.
Step 1: Select Your Replacement Service(s)
How do you watch TV without cable? You stream it.
Recently, streaming services have evolved into a bonafide cable killer. Playstation Vue and Sling TV — newer, more cable-like cable alternatives — have joined traditional on demand services like Netflix and Hulu to give cord cutters plenty of firepower in the war with big cable.
But while each service is technically similar, understanding their differences is important when selecting what will be your primary source of television. Here’s your crash course:
Playstation Vue, a Sony owned and Millennial Man recommended online video service, allows users to access live tv, on demand content, and a cloud-based DVR.
Vue was, without a doubt, the primary contributor in my decision to drop DirecTV. But before making the switch, I needed some questions answered. I have included them here to hopefully make your decision easier.
Do I need a Playstation game console to use Vue? No. Vue is available on a handful of streaming devices, which are covered in the next section.
Is a contract required? No. You pay monthly as you go.
How much does it cost? Packages begin at $30. More details below.
Is the interface easy to use? Yes. Vue features a guide similar to that of big cable, a search feature, and a menu bar containing your favorite and recently watched channels, recommended programming and ‘My Shows’.
How does the cloud-based DVR work? When you add a show to ‘My Shows’, any new episode is saved for up to 28 days after air date. So while you’re not hampered by storage space or recording conflicts, you are given a limited time to watch.
What is the recommended internet speed for using this service? Sony recommends 10 mbps.
Is there a loss of video quality compared to cable/satellite? Currently, maximum resolution is 720p, and while this isn’t full 1080p, I’ve never been able to see a difference between the two resolutions. I was more concerned with the choppy, laggy look that has plagued streaming video for years, and in this regard Vue passes the test, producing video quality that makes you forget you’re streaming.
I should mention that when watching hockey, the quintessential fast-moving sport, I noticed a minor stutter. Not a deal breaker, but I’d say the overall loss of quality (for hockey only) was about 5%. I didn’t expect Vue to produce superior video, and it doesn’t, but it did exceed my overall expectations.
Can I pause/rewind live TV? Yes, but with limits. I was able to pause the NBA playoffs for about 5 minutes before the feed started up again, enough time to take a leak or grab a beer, but you wouldn’t be able to pause for 20 and then fast forward through all the commercials.
Are there commercials? It depends. Since live TV is live TV, the commercial structure is no different than that of cable. ‘My Shows’ saved to the DVR contain commercials, but you are able to fast forward through them. For on demand programming, commercial structure varies. Example: In a 46 minute episode of The Americans, I counted 4 commercial breaks at around 1:25 each.
Am I allowed simultaneous streams? Yes, you are allowed to stream on 5 devices simultaneously, however, streams from Playstation 3 and Playstation 4 game consoles are each limited to only one. So if you’re watching the game on your PS4, any additional stream must come from a PS3 or other compatible device.
Are there any other restrictions? Yes, the most significant being that your service is anchored to your home location. So while you can watch on your game console and streaming and mobile devices, you must be connected through your IP address to have access. This prohibits you from sharing your password, watching ESPN on your iPhone in the office, or bringing your game console over to your buddy’s.
Can I watch local sports? Vue offers a variety of sports programming, but availability depends on your location. In Minneapolis, the basic package includes NBC Sports and 2 Fox Sports stations. For $5 more per month, the middle package includes 2 Fox regional sports stations, so I can watch the Wild or Twins during hockey/baseball season.
Do I get local channels? Again, it depends on your location. If you live in Chicago, Dallas, LA, Miami, NYC, Philadelphia or San Francisco, you have access to all programming. The rest of us can purchase ‘slim’ packages at a $10 discount with one major difference: no live broadcast of ABC or NBC. Instead, these networks offer only a handful of on demand programs.
You cannot choose between the standard and slim versions; availability is dictated by your zip code. And while this might be a bummer for some, others will prefer to save the $10 and receive NBC and ABC for free via an HD antenna — more on that shortly.
What are the programming options? Both the standard and slim packages are available in 3 tiers; Access, Core, and Elite. Slim packages begin at $29.99 and a $10 premium is added for standard.
Playstation Vue Recap
- Cheap, practical packages starting at $30
- No hidden fees or annual contracts
- Premier non-cable option for live and local sports
- A variety of ways to watch — live, on demand, DVR
- Shows saved to the DVR are available for only 28 days after air date
- On demand shows are available for varying amounts of time
- In most markets NBC and ABC are unavailable
- Minor loss of video quality for some programs
Sling TV. Starting at $20 per month Sling TV is a cheaper, albeit stripped down alternative to Playstation Vue. With the monthly savings of $10, you sacrifice DVR capabilities and a lot of quality stations.
What are the programming options? Sling TV is available in three packages:
1. Sling Orange – A single stream package offering 25 plus channels for $20.
2. Sling Blue – A multi-stream package offering 40 plus channels for $25.
3. Sling Orange & Blue – A multi-stream combo of both packages for $40.
While Sling Orange offers access to live sports on ESPN, the rest of the channel lineup leaves a bit to be desired. Sports fans will also notice that ESPN is absent from the Blue package, meaning that anyone looking for both ESPN and regional Fox Sports networks will have to subscribe to the $40 package.
- Cheap, cable-like alternative
- Ability to watch ESPN live
- Mobile viewing outside the home
- Some on demand programming
- No DVR
- Channel lineup leaves a bit to be desired
- Regional sports stations and ESPN aren’t available in the same package
Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video
While the three most popular on demand streaming services are all easy to use, similarly priced, available on multiple devices, and fill the same general niche, differences in programming and when/how programming becomes available is good enough reason to think twice before selecting a service.
- Commercial free
- Binge watchers can purge on a variety of entire seasons
- Quality original content like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black
- Shows often aren’t available until a season after air date
- Basic plan is standard definition
If you’re looking to catch up on current seasons, Hulu is your best bet. Hulu, a joint venture owned in-part by ABC, NBC, and FOX, offers next day availability for tons of big network programming.
While availability varies, as a whole, shows appear on Hulu much sooner than they do on Netflix, and Hulu is transparent with show specific guidelines.
- Next day availability
- Especially great for ABC, NBC, and FOX programming
- No simultaneous streaming
- Base package contains commercials
Spending over $3 billion on content in 2015, Amazon is serious about its streaming service. The company also secured exclusive rights to the HBO archive, with seasons of current shows arriving three years after the original air date. And just this year, Amazon began offering video as a standalone service, separate from Prime and available to monthly subscribers.
- Commercial free
- Growing library of prime exclusives
- Allows up to 2 simultaneous streams, unless it’s the same title
- Access to HBO’s archives
- Shows aren’t available until months after air date
It used to be that I needed a cable subscription in order to watch my favorite Game of Thrones characters get slaughtered by my least favorites. But with HBO Now, not only can I watch when it airs, but I have on demand access to the HBO archives, all for $14.99 per month and without contract.
- Commercial free access to HBO programming when it airs
- Full access to the HBO archives
- Allows simultaneous streaming as long as it’s not the same episode
Streaming Services Recap
Here is a summary — by basic plan — of each service provider.
Step 2: Select Your Streaming Device
With your streaming services selected, all that separates you from big cable independence is a compatible streaming device.
If you want a recommendation, get the Amazon Fire Stick. It’s cheap, easy to use, compatible with every service we’ve covered, and offers quick access to Prime’s movie rental library.
If you already own a device, our ultra-handy compatibility grid will show you compatible services. And should you need an HD antenna to get local channels alongside, say, a Playstation Vue subscription, links to the antenna and other devices can be found below. Happy streaming!
*not compatible with Xbox 360
I purchased this HD antenna to get NBC and ABC alongside my PS Vue subscription, and while antenna technology seems incredibly outdated, the picture is just as good as the one I received with DirecTV. However, picture quality will depend on the distance between your antenna and the nearest broadcast tower.
Click below to see or purchase any of the following streaming devices.
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