If you have a TV in your house -- that is, a screen that incorporates a tuner -- you're part-way to cutting the cord already. An affordable indoor antenna hooked up to your TV will let you watch free TV over-the-air from any channel you receive in your local broadcast area. Antennas cost as little as $10; see our comparison of indoor antennas here.
The first thing you may want to consider is an HD antenna. This doesn't provide a way to watch streaming videos, but if you want to watch live TV, it's the cheapest and simplest solution. You may remember having rabbit ears on your hand-me-down TV as a kid — an HD antenna is basically the modern-day version of that. You hook the device into your TV, put it somewhere near a window and watch as the free channels roll in.
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.
Sling is the company that kickstarted the TV streaming category and still has the cheapest offering of the Big 5 (although sports-free options from Philo and AT&T Watch TV are cheaper at $16 and $15 monthly; see below). The main reason Sling can offer such low prices is it carries very few local stations (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC), so many subscribers supplement the service with an antenna. Sling's interface isn't much to look at, but it offers all of the options you need without cluttering the screen. The only real letdown is its arcane live pause and DVR exceptions (you can't record Disney-owned channels like ABC, for example). Its options are myriad, including two base channel lineups (Orange and Blue) and numerous add-ons, so check out Sling TV: Everything you need to know for all the details.
Editor’s note: Each service has the conditional inclusion of the major networks it carries. Some markets have access to live network channels, including local programming, while others will be on-demand only. In some select locations, one or more of the networks — or even an entire service — may not be available. Check each service’s website for availability in your area.
1. Buy an HDTV antenna. Since 2007, local TV stations have been broadcasting digital signals so crisp that the reception is better than that of cable TV. Plus, despite all the hype about shows on niche networks, 19 of the top 20 TV shows in 2016 aired on over-the-air broadcast networks. That’s why Step 1 is to buy an antenna. These are not your father’s antennas. No rabbit ears necessary. A modern digital TV antenna can be so sleek it will match your decor or so skinny you can mount it out of sight. When Consumer Reports tested antennas ranging in price from $8 to $80, it found the cheapest often performed just as well as the priciest. So try an inexpensive one first and upgrade only if necessary.
The antenna seems well-made and it works. I tried it initially indoors on the first floor. I wasn't expecting too much, as the TV stations are around 50 miles away. I only got a few stations set up this way. It makes a difference where in the room the antenna is located. Sitting in a window that faces the direction of the TV stations is the place to start. Or maybe in an attic. This antenna is also designed for outdoor use. I mounted it outside on an eave-mounted TV mast. If you have a mounting mast, it is VERY easy to install.
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!
Warning: This article may give you a headache — and if reading an article about the best way to cut the cable cord causes pain, imagine researching and writing it. The post-cable options are overwhelming, and no one solution does it all, although watching live sports without cable is no longer a problem. There are crazy contradictions to consider, such as how sometimes “triple-play” bundles (TV, Internet and phone) are actually cheaper than “double-play” options (Internet and phone) because of specials. But in all the confusion, one thing is clear: Cable TV is expensive. Americans spent an average of $103 a month — $1,236 a year — on cable television in 2016, according to Leichtman Research Group. So that’s the number to beat.
Sling is a good deal for serious TV fans, but if you’re not going to watch at least eight different shows on those channels per year, it’s cheapest to just get your Mad Men/Walking Dead fix by buying individual seasons on iTunes or Amazon Instant Video. That strategy, ironically, is pretty much what Dish Network’s chairman recommended back in 2012—before his company owned its own streaming business.
CBS/CBS All Access: The main CBS app includes the latest episodes of the broadcaster's major news programs, including CBS Evening News, 60 Minutes, and Face the Nation. Those programs can be accessed for free on mobile devices and televisions via Chromecast, though other TV devices require a $6-per-month CBS All Access subscription. Available on: Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV, Chromecast, Xbox, and PlayStation 4
That’s right, Amazon—it’s not just for shopping. It’s a major contender in the online streaming market. A membership to Amazon Prime Video gives you access to a wide selection of popular movies and TV series, plus a bunch of Amazon original series. And if Prime Video doesn’t include the show or movie you want as part of your package, you can usually pay per season or episode, or just rent it.
Apple’s most recent version of its streaming box, the Apple TV 4K, added the long-awaited support for 4K UHD resolution and 4K content. The Apple TV 4K uses an intuitive touchpad remote, which is designed to operate more like an iPhone, and it can even be used as a gaming remote. The system is also faster than previous models, and the inclusion of 4K makes it a viable alternative to the other options on this list for Apple users.
As we said in our introduction, cord cutting is the easiest thing in the world: just cancel cable! It's replacing the content that gets tricky. And part of what makes it tricky is that pesky truth that a lot of our peers in the cord cutting media would prefer to ignore. We'll say it again: if you want every channel that cable offers in exactly the way that they offer it, you should not cut the cord. When we explain how to watch TV without cable, we explain how to watch certain channels for free, and others for less, and some shows and movies on demand. What we're not saying is that you can watch every cable channel you used to get for less without cable. We're simply giving you to tools to replace a whole bunch of stuff, plus gain some new content and perks. It's up to you to decide what to do with that!
In the face of rising prices, poor customer service and ever more frequent blackouts over fee disputes, many consumers yearn for a way out of the grip of their cable TV subscription. Though companies such as Google, Intel, Sony and Apple are all working on Internet-delivery TV platforms, none have yet secured the content deals needed to launch a credible service. And while industry analysts point out that the number of cord cutters has yet to reach the critical mass needed to force changes to the cable TV business model, the fact is that today there are viable TV options to the triple digit cable bill.