4 Things To Consider When Cutting the Cord

If you know me, you know I watch a lot of TV. I’m not so much a music guy or a movie go-er since we have small kids running all over the house. I’m the type of guy who likes to sit down and watch a good hour long drama once the kids go to bed. After coming home from a two week vacation, my wife and I looked at our DVR and realized most of the shows we had recorded were on NBC, CBS and ABC. Then we realized, these are free channels. Why are paying for DirecTV? This got us thinking about our satellite subscription and possibly cutting the cord.

Have you ever thought about why you have cable or satellite? I mean 99% of the shows on TV are available somewhere else either on demand, a streaming service or on DVD. You pay for cable so you don’t miss out on the water cooler talk with your co-workers. If you’re willing to wait 24 hours to watch a new show there are several options to watch the same programming you are watching now, at a much lower price. This post will walk you through the steps needed to replace your current provider with a streaming option thus saving your money in the long run.

Before I get started I will admit, this is a long post and that’s because there are a ton of options and potential setups. Despite what people might suggest you you, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution here. Yes, you will likely save money after first the 2-3 months but its a lot of work to get there.

For us, we ended up keeping the same quality of TV, maintaining access to about 90% of the shows we wanted AND are paying about $80 less per month. No kidding. Let’s get started.

Over-the-Air HDTV

When we made the move, one of the first things we did was test our Over-The-Air (OTA) signal. You might not remember this but all TV stations in the US were required by the FCC to start transmitting a digital signal back in 2009. This mean you can get free HD quality tv with a simple digital antenna. Believe it or not, I think our OTA picture is clearer than our with our DirectTV connection. Even our visitors have commented on our new picture. No kidding, it’s great. When you cut the cord, chances are you’ll want local channels for news and sports so you’ll want to get a digital antenna to get CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX because hello, THEY’RE FREE!

I purchased the one here from Amazon from for $40 and it works great because I’m fairly close to a transmitter. Depending on where you live, you may need more than a 70 mile range but don’t worry Amazon has you covered. They have some that go up to 200 miles.

They also make indoor antennas but most work for one device. If you have 2-3 TVs, they will need to buy 2-3 indoor antennas which might get expensive. The reason I went with an outdoor antenna was because I learned a major hack to save time and money.

Satellite to Outdoor Antenna Hack

When I got my outdoor antenna I noticed the mounting arm was the same size as my DirectTV arm. Instead of using my provided mounting arm for my outdoor antenna, I decided to mount the outdoor antenna on the DirectTv arm and face the antenna away from the dish. This was a major time saver because I didn’t need to worry about mounting the arm on my house, getting it at the right angle or anything. I simply attached the antenna to the DirectTv arm. The picture to the right is my actual setup showing the antenna on my DirectTv arm.

Once the antenna was on, I then disconnected the DirectTV coax cable from the satellite and connected it to the outdoor antenna and BOOM, all my TV outlets were connected to the outdoor antenna. If you have cable, try and mount your outdoor antenna near where the cable enters the house do the same thing.

I will admit, we do have some days where the picture isn’t crystal clear. On days of heavy overcast or fog, we do sometimes get a broken connection. We knew this ahead of time as we had everything hooked up for about 2 weeks prior to disconnecting cable but decided to move ahead since we had a couple back-up options (as you’ll see below).

Finding Replacement Services

If you’re thinking about cutting the cord and have started looking at your options I’m sure you’ve realized one thing… It gets confusing…fast! We’ve taken the journey here at the Kimber household and after talking to other cord cutters, I recommend people take the following steps:

  1. Identify your top shows
  2. Find your streaming services that have your desired shows
  3. Pick a device that runs your streaming service
  4. Determine if you want a DVR

It’s important to point out the order here. When you cut the cord, chances are you will need to buy some type of hardware to replace your cable box. Identifying your shows first will help determine what hardware you need to buy which is why I tell everyone to start here.

1 – Identify Your Top Shows

I know the thought of saving money on cable is attractive but don’t get ahead of yourself. The first step is to identify the shows you have to watch. If you can, try and think about seasonal programming too like awards, key sporting events, movies, upcoming premiers, everything. Once you have this list, prioritize it. This is going to act as a reference for building your new system. This list will help pick your hardware and streaming option so make sure you have all your important shows covered.

Now that you know what you’re shopping for, you can start digging into your different options.

2 – Pick Your Streaming Subscription

This is becoming a growing category with all the major networks trying to build their own platform or have announced that they will eventually offer their own network streaming option. Right now, I believe there are 2-3 main options but there are certainly more out there. I will be only be covering the major players in the streaming space.

Hulu Plus

Hulu Plus is a streaming subscription that’s $8/month and has more programming then you think. Frankly, the marketing people at Hulu stink because I had no idea the content I could access for only $8. For an additional $4/month you can access most content commercial free. This is a no-brainer people. No commercials = shorter shows. You pay $4 to have more time. It’s awesome.

They have a lot of popular shows from CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX and a handful of cable networks too and most programs are available the day after they’re on TV (view programming here). Hulu also has some movies and kids programming too. Honestly, I would signup for their free trial because you might be surprised what’s available.

One thing to point out with Hulu is, not all shows from a network are available. The network picks what shows are on Hulu so if you’re hoping to catch the newest show on right now, make sure it on Hulu first. This is why step 1 is so important.

Sling

This is a newer option on the market and gaining popularity. Basically they bundle streaming services from the networks and you pay a monthly fee. Right now there are two packages that are $25/month and if you get both they knock it down to $40/month. The main draw to Sling is sports. They have the broadest sports channels including most regional networks too. The downside is, they’re in separate packages so to get all, you need buy both. Check out Sling Packages here.

A newer option to Sling is Cloud Storage which for an additional $5/month gives you the ability to record shows then stream them later. To do this, you tell it what upcoming shows from your subscription you want to record and they store it on their end. When you want to watch them, they stream it back to you. Cloud Storage gives you about 50 Hours of space which for $5 is a no-brainer.

Hulu Plus AND Live TV

This is a newer option on the market and gaining popularity. Basically they bundle streaming services from the networks and you pay a monthly fee. Right now there are two packages that are $25/month and if you get both they knock it down to $40/month. The main draw to Sling is sports. They have the broadest sports channels including most regional networks too. The downside is, they’re in separate packages so to get all, you need buy both. Check out Sling Packages here.

Now that you understand how Sling works there is another Hulu Option which is very Sling-like. Hulu has a Live TV option too which is $40/month or $44 for no commercials. This option basically gives you access to all Hulu’s content plus you can stream and store Live TV. The catch here is, you can’t pick your networks. Depending on your area or network preference, this could very well be your one stop shop for streaming. Here in Minneapolis, it’s missing KARE11 (NBC) and a couple other main cable networks but still has a great lineup so this should be an option for most. For $45 a month I could get the 4-5 main cable channels I want including ESPN and Fox Sports North, get access to Hulu’s content with no commercials and record shows for less than $50/month. Yes, please.

This is a new option, so seriously check out the programming options here to make sure they have the networks you want.

A La Carte

If the two main streaming options don’t have your network or shows, don’t forget you can purchase shows as needed for $0.99-$2.99 per episode (depending on the show) from iTunes or Google Play. Most shows get posted the night they aired so if you can avoid spoilers for a day, could be a low cost option for you too. We use this for some programs on AMC and USA since we only need one show.

I know you’re thinking man, $3 per episode? It seems like a lot but if you only need to do this for 2-3 shows, its still way cheaper than getting a monthly subscription at $50+/month.

Netflix

If you’re looking for current programming, this really isn’t an option aside from Netflix programming like House of Cards or Orange is the New Black. Most of their TV shows get added once the season is done airing on TV meaning its a great place to catchup on past seasons but this really isn’t an option for replacing cable. Monthly cost is $8/month its going up soon. We’re about to ditch this.

Amazon Prime TV

Similar to Netflix, Amazon Prime is a great place to catchup on shows. They too have original programming but not a lot of new programs like Hulu. The one thing to call out about Amazon is they offer more HBO and Disney programs which are hard to find. 

If you already have Amazon Prime for their free shipping, Music or Whole Foods discounts, then you already have it. Yes, Amazon Prime includes a slew of additional options and Prime TV is one of them. If not, Amazon Prime is $13/month or $120. Personally, if you’re looking to catchup on shows or looking to get access to old TV shows or movies, I would lean more towards Amazon vs Netflix but make sure to check on their programming first. 

3 – Do You Need a DVR?

If you’ve decided to do just the digital antenna and not a streaming service with storage I’m sure you’re thinking one of the downfalls is having to watch commercials and (heaven forbid) watching shows when they actually air. Painful, I know. Believe it or not, there are a couple options here for you but both have a steep upfront cost. For us it was a really hard decision. I mean, when you’re looking at both options below remember they mainly record content. They can access additional services but at price. Regardless, they should be considered so let’s get started.

Tivo

Believe it or not Tivo is still around and they have a new product aimed at the cord cutters called the Tivo Roamio. It’s a basic DVR for your digital antenna, can hold up to 150 hours to recorded content and comes with a ton of apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and more. Get the full run down here.

They’ve changed their pricing since my original post but the Roamio is $400 (one time fee) with no additional subscriptions. Yes, that’s expensive but think about it, that one-time fee is about 4 months (maybe 3) with your current cable satellite provider.

Tablo

Here’s a fairly new device aimed specifically at cord cutters. Tablo is not only a DVR but it turns your OTA signal into a stream so other connected devices can watch your content. How does it work? You connect your digital antenna to the device and your ethernet cable. Now Tablo is can be played on other devices like Roku, Apple TV, and others. You also connect an external hard drive to the device which records your TV shows from the antenna making them available on other devices in your house.

There are two models of the Tablo: 2-Tuner and 4-Tuner. The only difference is how many shows you want to record and stream at the same time. The 2 tuner allows you up to 2 recorded shows and streaming devices while (you guessed it) the 4 allows 4. Price difference is $80 with the 2-Tuner running $220 and the 4-Tuner being $300. Unlike, Tivo, there’s also a monthly subscription but its only $5/month or $50 annual or $150 lifetime.

Tivo vs Tablo

If you compare the lifetime cost of Tablo with the Tivo Roamio, you’re better off going with the Roamio. Both allow you to steam stored content to your mobile devices (or tablets) and record Live Tv. It basically comes down to storage. If you want to manage your own storage of shows, then do Tablo. Otherwise, Roamio is better and cheaper option.

I also need to point out that both Tablo and Roamio can run streaming services like Hulu, Sling and more. The downside here is, they’re a bit sluggish. Both products have recording at their core and these streaming apps are convenient addition to users. Some are very clunky so be aware.

4 – Pick Your Device

If you don’t have a smart (or connected) TV and you’re NOT choosing to go the Roamio or Tablo direction you’ll need some new hardware to stream content to your TV. Here’s a look at the most popular devices.

Apple TV

If your household uses iPads, iPods or iPhones, this is a great buy for under $200. It’s a small box slightly larger than two decks of cards and with the latest version, it DOES support 4K. With Apple’s move into TV, most networks have their own dedicated app download and add. There are also apps for Facebook, YouTube and other major websites/apps. I’m telling you, super useful.

One nice app that comes with Apple TV is TV. Here you can search shows and the app tells you what streaming service has that show (Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, etc.). If you have an iPhone this came with their iOS update last year. This is a great app for finding where you’re most watched shows are streamed (step 1).

Two other benefits to Apple TV are 1) you can mirror content (photos, videos, games) from your iOS device via Airplay and watch content from your phone on your TV and 2) you can access all your iTunes purchases (music, movies, tv shows, etc.) on your tv. Yep, I’m a fan.

Roku, Chromecast & Amazon TV

These devices are very similar to Apple TV but slightly cheaper with options starting at $50. Roku has five different devices and Amazon has a couple devices as well. Their newest one adds Alexa to Fire so you tell Alexa what to start playing and she takes care of the rest. Chromecast hasn’t really innovated since this device was announced but Google users might want to look into this $35 device as an option.

These three providers all runapps/channels so make sure you check their lineup before making a purchase to make sure they have what your looking for. The reason these are cheaper than Apple, Tivo and Tablo is they’re simply streaming devices. They don’t store a lot but connect you to the interweb.

My Setup

When we made the move we already had an Apple TV and subscribed to Amazon Prime and Netflix so we did not take these costs into consideration when making the switch. Also, we decided that we were only going to have one main viewing area. We do watch TV in two places but decided the second TV will be connected to just the antenna.

We knew we needed our local channels in HD so we purchased the outdoor antenna and Tivo and chose to subscribe to Hulu as well. Our upfront costs were $250 and our monthly fees went up by $22 ($7 Hulu and $15 Tivo). Knowing we were saving $100/month by losing DirecTV, our costs broke even after 2.5 months then start saving $78/month. To us, this was worth it.

Final Recommendation

Wow, that’s a lot of info so what’s right for you? Here’s where you need to refer to your top programming from step 1 and determine how many viewing areas you want to setup.

If you have one main viewing area, I would lean toward the Tivo Roamio with Hulu Commercial Free (not Live TV). This is because you get a lot from Roamio and tons of content from Hulu.

If you have multiple viewing areas, then you need to buy multiple streaming devices so find the one that works best for you (I suggest Apple TV for iPhone users) then just Hulu Commercial Free. The reason being, Roamio is stationary so buying more than one will get expansive fast.

Finally, I will say there isn’t a one side fits all for cord cutting. You need to put in the time, determine what content you want access to and find a provider to replace cable. The good news is, it’s worth it. There are tons of options meaning more competition meaning lower prices for you. Good luck.

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