* It is possible to build an antenna for less than $20 that can receive stations from over 50 miles away. Google for “M4 DB4 antenna DIY” for plans and instructions. A home-built antenna can be specificly tuned to the RF channels in your area. My area still has 5 very important stations in the Hi-VHF range – I suspect most metro areas are in a similar situation, though many stations are broadcasting on UHF now.
The only choice out of the top three that plays commercials, Hulu is best loved for its selection of current seasons of popular TV shows, most of which show up on the site soon after their original air date. For those who want to have their cake and eat it, Hulu also offers a luxurious, commercial-free way to stream its growing catalog of original shows, network content. It will cost you $6 more a month, but we think it’s well worth it if you’re leaving behind the bonds (and ads) of cable.
In my case having cable TV is the bargain over high speed internet. I called and asked for what they call “limited service” cable — it gives me the major networks, with QVC, FAM, all the spanish channels and two public broadcasting stations thrown in, for $17.00 a month. The high speed internet was costing me $52 a month, so I reluctantly let it go. Watching TV online is no bargain at all for me.
Chromecast, the wildly popular streaming dongle, doesn’t have a remote or on-screen menu, instead using your smartphone or tablet to “cast” content at your TV. The latest version, the Chromecast Ultra, takes everything handy about earlier models but adds 4K resolution as well as HDR, with both Dolby Vision and HDR10 supported. If that’s too rich for your blood, the HD Chromecast is about half the price and offers virtually all the same functionality, save 4K and HDR. While the Chromecast is one of our favorite ways for quick and dirty streaming, search is still relatively limited via the Google Home app, and those who want to be able to exchange their phone or tablet for a more prominent interface on the big screen will want to go with one of the more traditional streaming boxes on our list. That said, much like the Fire TV’s relationship with Alexa, the Chromecast is probably going to be the ideal choice for Android users or those deeply ingrained into the Google ecosystem — especially Google Home.
Since current seasons of CBS aren’t available on Hulu, CBS All Access is one option to get CBS Shows the day after the initial broadcast as CBS isn’t a part of Hulu. The basic service costs $5.99 per month and does air commercials. However, they offer a commercial-free plan for $9.99 per month. The service also offers live local CBS in over 150 markets. For more details, check out my review of CBS All Access.
In the sports arena, you can use fuboTV to watch NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NCAA basketball, NCAA football, soccer, racing, and more on channels including FOX, NBC Sports, NBA TV, NFL Network, and many others. One of the biggest draws of fuboTV is that you get tons of regional sports channels. That means you can watch your home team games without cable on fuboTV — something the other streaming services don’t provide without the workaround described below.
Someone mentioned using a splitter with the high speed internet service to get free cable tv. That can’t work. I already had such a splitter (and still do) when I had cable tv, and the cable line went into a cable box. I had to return the box when I cancelled service. Our cable company is switching everyone including the basic cable tv customers to digital which means that everyone must have a cable box in order to get cable tv.
So – with OTA antenna, major networks and sports on those networks are handled. We are missing “other content” that can usually be found through 1 of the 3 most popular paid services. Each of these services run about $90/yr … that was less than 3 months of CATV costs here, so we are still much, much, much less. Plus, with these paid services, there aren’t any commercials, so an hour show is about 40 minutes, saving time.
A lot of people pay a lot of money in order to be able to watch the TV shows that they want, when they want. In the process they end up spending upwards of $500-1000 a year, mostly for programming that they don't watch. If they would just look a little deeper they might find that there are a lot of free or low cost options out there, and they can get a lot of the same TV shows, movies and other video content for free.
One approach is to use one of the cord-cutting “calculators” at sites like The Verge and Slate, which allow users to pick out which services they’re interested in and then tally up your savings relative to cable. These are useful, but they generally don’t take into account a key cord cutting enabler: the ability to purchase shows a la carte through iTunes and Amazon, usually within a day of their original airing. This isn’t new technology—iTunes has been selling television downloads since 2005—but it changes the streaming calculus because it means you can easily and cheaply plug any gaps in whatever bundle of streaming options you choose.
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.