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Cable stinks, but it didn't always stink, and its channel bundles include some great stuff. That inspired the companies behind the major live TV streaming services to set out to beat cable at its own game. They began to offer pay TV “multichannel” services – industry lingo for cable- and satellite-type pay TV bundles – only they slashed the size and the price of cable's bulky bundles and offered folks a key selection of channels for less. And since these services stream online, you can watch them anywhere and on almost any device.
We've covered the major techniques and services that you can use to watch TV without cable. But what about watching TV without cable on, you know, your actual TV? You already know that OTA antennas plug straight into your TV, but loading up on streaming services doesn't help much unless you have a way to watch those on your TV, too. Fortunately, there's an entire industry built around solving this dilemma. Let's talk streaming hardware!
Direct TV Now is a streaming service from AT&T that offers live TV programming over the Internet. It gives you access to over 60 live channels for $35 per month. This includes popular stations, such as CNN, the Hallmark Channel, ESPN, the Disney Channel, HGTV, TBS, Discovery, Bravo, Animal Planet and Bloomberg, among many others. But you can also choose to add HBO, Starz or Showtime for an extra $5 to $8 per month.
Prime Video is a nice hybrid of an all-you-can-eat streaming service like Netflix, plus a video-on-demand store, with plenty of original content to go with it. It's "free" to anyone with a Prime account, which is best known for giving customers free two-day shipping—but you can also get Prime Video for $8.99 a month as a standalone service, with none of the other Amazon extras.
Our top pick for the best overall premium streaming service is PlayStation Vue: If you've got a few extra bucks to blow on TV, Sony's streaming service is worth it. Their base package goes for $35/month and offers nearly 50 live channels, which is a crazy good number for being the low-tier plan. With four package options all together, the top-tier package goes for $75/month and offers over 90 live channels and includes exclusive channels like HBO and Showtime with no add-on price. DirecTV NOW offers more channels in each tier, but their app isn't nearly as user-friendly as Vue's, and Vue is the only service we've seen that allows five streams at once (instead of the regular two).
For those looking for "cable lite" in the form of small packaged cable subscriptions from services like Sling TV and DirectTV Now, we've got a list of the best streaming live TV services. Keep in mind, though, that most of these services don't offer unlimited access to broadcast channels like NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox. What I'm referring to is the ability to watch any broadcast channel available in your area.
Amazon’s library of top-notch original TV series is fairly thin (although it does have the award-winning “Transparent,” and the excellent police procedural “Bosch”), and it includes a paltry catalog of older shows. (It does offer some older HBO series like “Boardwalk Empire” and “Eastbound & Down” at no extra charge; recent seasons of your favorite shows are often available, but cost extra.) On the flipside, Amazon business has been very active lately in producing, buying and distributing top-shelf movies — including the Oscar-winning “Manchester by the Sea.” Also, Prime makes it very easy to expand your options by adding subscriptions to premium cable channels like HBO, Showtime and Starz as part of its Amazon Channels service. The service is aiming to be a one-stop shop for cord-cutters, offering a basic service with a variety of customized channels, some of which (like Acorn TV, Brown Sugar and Shudder) aren’t available to cable subscribers.
Even if you can’t easily cut the cord, you might be able to reduce your cable costs. For example, renting a cable box for your TV often costs at least $10 to $15 per month—for each TV—to get HDTV and DVR capabilities, so a simple $35 cable plan can end up costing two to three times as much once you add hardware fees. Instead, many cable channels have streaming apps that let you watch programming on a Roku or Apple TV box as long as you’re paying for that channel through your cable subscription. In other words, you can pay for a single cable box in the living room while streaming episodes of The Americans or Mr. Robot to your streaming box, smartphone, or tablet for free. Reducing the number of cable boxes, while still being able to watch most programming, could save you a decent amount every month.
What you get: With recently updated pricing, Sling’s Orange package is now $25 and includes about 30 cable channels but no broadcast TV. It supports one user at a time. Sling Blue, also $25 per month, supports three users and a different mix of about 40 channels, including local broadcasts and regional sports. (Among other differences, Sling Orange includes ESPN.) A combined plan costs $40. Themed add-on packs cost $5 per month, and you can add HBO, $15; Showtime, $10; and Starz, $9.
In the past decade, the Federal Communications Commission and Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona attempted to force media companies to offer their channels individually. Neither effort went very far. The cable industry argued prices would rise if consumers could choose only certain channels, and channels aimed at minority groups, for instance, wouldn’t survive without every subscriber paying for them—regardless of whether they watched.
First, the best TV moved from networks to cable. Now a similar transition is moving top talent from cable to the streaming world. Netflix ($8.99 per month for HD streaming) has House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt—all of which have received almost universal acclaim—and Amazon ($99 per year for video and a variety of other services) isn’t too far behind with comedy Alpha House, crime drama Bosch, and the Golden Globe-winning Transparent.
Sony's cable-replacement service began life as a PlayStation exclusive, but now you can find PlayStation Vue just about anywhere. Viewers can choose from among four packages, ranging in price from $45 per month to $80 per month (although these prices can vary by location). Each plan will land you staples such as Cartoon Network, CNN, Discovery, Disney Channel, FX, Syfy, TBS and a variety of broadcast networks, depending on where you live. You can also record hundreds of programs and hang onto them for 28 days at a time. What really puts PS Vue at the top of the list is the service's interface, which is sleek, fast and instantly comprehensible. The service's DVR feature is also simple and robust.
Hey Vince – I’ve been meaning to add Playstation Vue to this list! They are good. They have a higher minimum price point, but you do get a lot of value for it. But I will disagree about Sling – on my Android, my wife’s iphone, and our Roku 3, SlingTV’s app has been great on all platforms. About a year ago when they were first starting out, buffering was horrible sometimes. But they’ve cleaned it up, increased their bandwidth and I have had no issues at all in the past 9 months.
I use a combo of Roku, a Mohu Leaf antenna (excellent picture quality) to get OTA signals and a Tivo Premiere box as I wanted the option of recording the OTA signals and the convenience of watching them when I wanted to. The Tivo service is $20 a month, but has lots of great features (season pass, Tivo Desktop, online programing to name a few) and is LESS than 1/3 the price of my FORMER dish bill :)
That six-or-nine bucks a month gets you access to some of the most popular shows on TV the day after airing, including The Big Bang Theory, Mom, Elementary, Survivor, Amazing Race, even daytime shows. There are also a few thousand old TV shows streaming here, such as Cheers, all the versions of Star Trek (the rights are owned by the CBS Corporation), Brady Bunch, The Twilight Zone, and Hawaii Five-0. You can insert your own joke here about how the Tiffany Network is for your grandparents, because I already made mine above.
This year alone, some 6 million people are expected to ditch satellite and cable, causing a major pain point for the providers of digital entertainment. Welcome many of the same companies (DirecTV and Dish Network), along with YouTube, Hulu and Sony, in a different sort of offer. A smaller collection of channels, along with broadcast TV locals, no equipment required, and an average price of around $40 monthly. (Along with your internet subscription.)
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