Here are a few things to think about:First of all, spend 15 minutes and list the channels you consistently watch and care most about. I suspect that your short list will include local news and entertainment channels, generally not available via streaming TV services. As I mentioned earlier, many local channels are available OTA–with some limitations. Accessing these channels is not quite as easy as purchasing a $20 digital antenna and connecting it to the integrated tuner in your TV, and the available channel guide is very crude (usually only showing channel call signs without program descriptions). In addition, you will find it very frustrating to jump to a specific channel that you watch frequently. There are solutions on how to solve this (more on it later), but first things first: determine what local channels are available to you. The websites of popular antenna manufacturers like Winegard (www.winegard.com) or Mohu (www.gomohu.com) have convenient online wizards that can instantly tell you what local channels you have access to based on your zip code. After you complete the first step, then comes the hard part: determining which streaming service makes the most sense for you, so that you can access the “premium” content that is generally part of most standard cable or satellite packages. The usual suspects in this area are companies like DirecTV Now, CBS All Access, Hulu (or Hulu With Live TV), Sony PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, and YouTube TV–many of which provide relatively decent live TV channels (though not local TV). All of these services generally are priced with base packages that start as low as $10 per month per month with the ability to add tiers of other channels for additional cost. What’s particularly appetizing about these services is that most of them allow you to turn their services on and off on a monthly basis without a long term commitment (unlike your existing cable or satellite subscription). Personally, I like Dish Network’s Sling TV service (www.sling.com), because it has an extremely easy-to-use interface and numerous different packages, so you can avoid “over-buying” on channels you don’t need. Perhaps most importantly, Sling TV offers its own streamer called AirTV, and a small OTA adapter that connects to your digital antenna and integrates OTA channels into the Sling TV interface; this way you don’t have to deal with the crude embedded interface that comes along with connecting a digital antenna directly to your TV. The AirTV streamer is optimized for the Sling TV service, but also allows you to access premium content services like Netflix and Google Play. In addition, the content truly looks magnificent—it supports 1080p HD and 4K Ultra HD. One important side note: don’t confuse Sling TV with Slingbox. Slingbox, which has been around for years, is only useful for accessing your cable or satellite subscription content outside of your home.
You might be wondering—do I have to forego DVR capability if I cut the cord? Not necessarily—the Sling TV service, for example, provides “Cloud DVR” support that allows you to record programs (like a conventional DVR) in the cloud. Other companies, like Channel Master (www.channelmaster.com), offer an OTA, dual-tuner DVR with rich program guide capabilities (though it requires an external USB drive in order to record TV content locally). I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention TiVo’s “Roamio OTA” solution, which provides OTA access in TiVo’s venerable, easy-to-use interface, as well as access to popular streaming content from Netflix , Amazon Prime , Hulu, YouTube , Pandoraand many others. Roamio also boasts an integrated 1TB drive for DVR storage, and the ability to provide access to other TVs in your home on the same network, via TiVo’s compact Mini solutions.
In a future column, I will detail my thoughts on what I believe would be the perfect combination of hardware and services “cord cutter” solution (which sadly does not exist today)–stay tuned. With that in mind, this article is not intended to be a completely comprehensive guide to cutting the cord–it is just meant to encourage consumers to seriously consider their options. It is a great way to reduce monthly expenditures for television content. While the average consumer has more options than ever before to cut the cord, the one (critical) caveat is that you’ll need robust Internet access. This can potentially be an expensive problem, seeing as many of the leading cable companies’ Internet-only services are pricey when divested from TV packages. You’ll have to do the math yourself, but even with that in mind, it’s fairly easy to obtain a nearly comparable experience to cable/satellite subscriptions, while saving significant dollars in the process. With the average monthly basic cable bill in the United States shooting north of $100 (without premium channels), and with free OTA channel access becoming easier, it’s not surprising that thousands of consumers are cutting the cord at an accelerating rate (much to the chagrin of the major cable providers). You should do the same–with more and more services to choose from, there’s never been a better time.