We know that many of our visitors are looking for an all-in-one guide to cord cutting with an as-simple-as-possible explanation of how to watch TV without cable. So that's what we're setting out to do here. In this guide, we'll explain the importance of learning how to watch TV without cable after – or, preferably, even before – you cut the cord. We'll cover the main ways to replace live TV and on-demand content, the best devices to use to stream that content, and the pros and cons of each type of service and device. We'll wrap things up with a summary, plus a reminder of why we run this site and where you might want to go next. So read on: this is how to watch TV without cable.
You can watch most of your favorite network shows by simply streaming them directly from the networks' web sites. They're often available a few hours after they air, and regularly have additional goodies like behind-the-scenes footage or teasers for upcoming episodes. In addition to official network sites, more and more useful tools are popping up every day to help you get your TV fix online.
Before you’ve canceled your cable or satellite subscription, you’ll investigate what’s available to you via an HD antenna. For people in urban areas, a good HD antenna likely offers all four major networks (FOX, ABC, NBC, and CBS), along with as many as 10-15 other selections (PBS, CW, etc.) in HD resolution, all for free. To make sure you’ll get decent reception, you can simply buy one and try it out, ask around the neighborhood, or try this antenna analysis tool which will tell you which channels you can expect to receive in your area.
As we mentioned above, just because you're getting a new TV doesn't necessarily mean you need new HDMI cables, even if you're upgrading to something with 4K and HDR. Over short distances, say under 6 feet (2m), just about any recent "High Speed" HDMI cable should work fine. "High Speed" is the rating used by HDMI companies to indicate cables that have the bandwidth to handle 1080p and greater resolutions.
Another approach to cord cutting is an online streaming package similar to traditional cable or satellite TV plans. Several companies now offer variations of this idea: PlayStation Vue from Sony (which works without a PlayStation console, despite the name), Sling TV from Dish Network, DirecTV NOW, Hulu Live TV, YouTube TV (not to be confused with YouTube Red), Philo, and Fubo.tv. Their services cost $16 to $40 per month, for their most basic plans, and they offer largely the same variety of channels as cable but give you a different experience than cable or satellite—one with both benefits and disadvantages.
Netflix – Netflix has loads of content at a low price. Most TV shows wind up on streaming after a season airs. There are also movies and a whole host of children’s programming available. The pricing is reasonable at $8.99 a month for unlimited HD streaming to two TVs simultaneously. If you are comfortable waiting a few months for a TV series, Netflix may be all you need.
You will instantly get over 100 channels, and there are tons more that you can add along the way. PlayLater is software for your computer or mobile device that records streaming media, saving it to your device for future viewing. If you already have a streaming device or gaming console, you've already got most of the features offered by this software, but for $39.99 for lifetime access, you won't waste a lot of money trying it out.
A couple years ago, some services decided it wasn't enough to just provide some a la carte streaming of shows. They wanted to provide what is pretty much a full cable-television subscription experience over the internet. These are those services. They won't necessarily give you super-granular control over content like you'd have with a regular streaming service, or even moreso with a DVR recording stuff off the air, but they give you access to a lot of content you might not otherwise get without a cable subscription—especially news and sports.
If you're one of the 10 people who still have a regular TV, you'll need to buy a digital converter box to watch TV in conjunction with your antenna, and once you get one, you will then get tons of crystal clear TV stations for free! When we switched to watching Digital TV years back we instantly gained about 5-10 TV stations because some channels have the main channel, and then sub channels as well.
I put a couple of units to the test and found that the new breed of antennas really work as advertised. In an environment like New York City with numerous obstacles to transmission towers, a major selling point of cable TV in the analog era was that it was the only reliable way to get a clear signal from the free network channels. But today, on a lower floor of my Brooklyn brownstone, I can get 60 OTA channels with a small tabletop antenna like the $50 Mohu Curve, which has a 30-mile antenna range. It did take a bit of trial and error to find the spot in the room with the strongest signal for most stations, but I got the best results by placing it near a window.
Chromecast – Chromecast devices work a little differently than their competition. The idea with Chromecast is that you choose what to watch on some other device, then sling the screen on up to your TV. So with the itty-bitty Chromecast dongle plugged into your TV, you'd then turn to your laptop, smartphone, tablet, or other device and fire up Netflix or whatever else you want to watch. Then, with the touch of a button, you could put the stream up onto the TV. It's affordable and simple, but the drawback is that it's a bit harder to collaborate with others when choosing what to watch.
5. See if you have a smart TV. If you bought your television after 2009, there’s a good chance it can already stream television shows via the Internet. Many modern televisions are “Internet-ready” with apps such as Hulu and Netflix embedded in them. With all the buzz about streaming “boxes” and “sticks,” it’s easy to overlook the technology you already have.
Amazon Fire ($39.99 - $74.99): Amazon’s set-top box and its cheaper stick have the advantage of syncing well with any other Amazon devices you may have. You can ask your Alexa to find a show for you, and after you start watching it, you can pause it on your TV and pick it up later on your Fire tablet. As with the Roku, the Amazon Fire’s features have also been integrated into a smart TV. The most expensive version of the box adds an HD antenna for picking up free over-the-air local broadcast signals. One common complaint about Fire devices is that they push Amazon Prime Video content over that of other streaming video companies, but that’s a bit of a nitpick. Netflix and Hulu shows are still easy to access with this interface.
Of course, there’s never a bad time to reexamine your cable package and determine if you still need the one you’re on. Perhaps when you signed up, your provider gave you a premium package at a low rate, but that rate has expired and you’re now paying the regular price—do you really need those premium channels? Similarly, as nice as having 200-plus channels at your fingertips can be, many people spend the majority of their TV time watching just a few select stations. See if your provider offers a less expensive package that has the stations you want.
It’s too bad I live in Boon F—– Missouri, the speed I get here gives me yesterdays programs when it works,(seriously) I have what is called Century Tell (extended service) That of course mean’s I’m one step ahead of Fred Flintstone in the tech-world. It sucks to live just 13 miles out in the rural area and have to suck hind tit with no advantages! Our netflix speed is too slow to even stream any shows! I guess we’ll have to sell to the Clampits and move to a modern part of the world, think I’ll tear down the outhouse tomorrow and start building that inside bathroom everybody talks about! (just jokin) Any solutions for me???
3/22/16 UPDATE: It's been one month, and I'm still discovering little things. Quite by accident, while viewing a live channel, I pressed the pause button, which froze the picture. On hitting play, the show started from the very beginning, and I noticed "Time Shifting" appear on the screen. I haven't duplicated this, but I believe this is how you may start a live show from the beginning, should you tune in a bit late.
The $99 Apple TV is a tiny little device that fits anywhere in your living room. The remote is very basic, but extremely easy to use—something a lot of living room remotes lack these days. It feels very solid, and the buttons respond nicely, making the whole product pleasant to use. Setup is a snap: just plug it in, link it up with your iTunes library and Apple ID, and you're ready to go. Typing in your credentials is kind of annoying due to the lack of keyboard. I wish I could set up things like Netflix and Hulu in iTunes from my computer, but for now you'll have to trudge through the remote-driven setup.
A reader of the blog informed me that WOW! now offers Internet access in Knoxville Tennessee. They offer speeds of 30 Mbps for just $25 and 60 Mbps for just $40 a Mbps. If anyone has any experience with their Internet-only service them please post in the comments. They appear to offer service in parts of South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Kansas, Michigan, Indiana, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio.