As expected, this holiday season is already awash with some great (and not so great) deals on televisions. While getting that 65” 4K TV is always tempting, there’s another potential gift to consider: cutting the proverbial cable or satellite cord could save you or someone else literally hundreds of dollars over the course of the year. What better way to ring in 2018?
Naturally, there are considerations and consequences to “cutting the cord,” but with the virtual explosion of streaming TV services (which now integrate live TV channels), there’s never been a better time to do it. After all, studies have repeatedly shown that despite the number of channels that are available to a cable or satellite subscriber, most consumers only watch 15 channels or less, 80% of the time.
What’s even more compelling is that many (if not most) free local TV channel content is available “over the air” (OTA) in HD format, for free–a fact that many consumers are not fully aware of, possibly due to poor communication by the government. The combination of free local TV channels and premium streaming content services go together like peanut butter and chocolate, and creates a powerful alternative to a conventional cable or satellite subscription (though there are limitations you need to be cognizant of).
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.