Cable-replacement streaming services work exactly the same as having cable — live channels presented in real time — except they come streaming over the Internet rather than via an analog wire. The upside is that you don't have to give up the channels that you love. Sling TV carries multiple ESPN stations, plus Cartoon Network, TBS, Bloomberg, CNN, History and dozens of others. PlayStation Vue offers SyFy, Spike, USA, VH1, Fox News, Nickelodeon and more. You can also record programs to watch later on PS Vue, just like you would with a cable DVR box.
The downside is that on-demand access is limited, and the various packages can get confusing (particularly on Sling TV). Other limitations, such as the number of different devices a household can use simultaneously, are also frustrating and hard to understand. And you will need a good high-speed internet connection to stream TV with either option, so factor that into your budget.
Our site publishes a ton of articles, though, so writing just one page on the same subject means we have an awful lot to cover. Thankfully, the best methods for watching TV without cable can be grouped together and simplified in pretty helpful ways. That's what we're going to do in the sections below – but, first, it's time for a brief moment of self-examination.
If you watch only a few favorite shows, it may be cheaper to purchase and download seasons of the shows you like from Amazon, Google, or iTunes. This strategy works especially well if you don’t need to watch particular shows immediately, if you prefer to binge-watch, or you buy, rent, or borrow the DVD or Blu-ray box set when available. For example, a full season of Game of Thrones at the Google Play store was $30 at the time we checked, while season two of Mr. Robot was only $20.
Finally, though you probably already know this, you can watch your home teams, local news, and, yes, even LOST without cable. In fact, these are the easiest types of shows to get because they're free and just require a TV antenna to capture. If you have an HD-ready TV, you can even pick up high-def channels. Not sure what kind of antenna gives you the most bang for your geographical buck? AntennaWeb will help you figure out which antenna works best for your house based on where you live, and even tell you which way to point it. But you're here to watch TV online, so let's get to it.
You might have a Blu-ray player or smart TV with streaming apps on board, but those offer a pretty dismal streaming experience. Newer TVs from Samsung and LG have pretty impressive smart interfaces, and Roku TVs like TCL’s 6-Series are fantastic for all-in-one streaming. Otherwise, if you’re going to transition to a full-time streaming entertainment plan you may want a separate device purpose-built for the job. Below is a small selection of some of our favorites. If you want more recommendations, we highly recommend sourcing our full list of the best streaming devices you can buy.
Once you have a TV that is “digital ready”, all you need to do is install a TV antenna. I installed the Mohu Sky 60 outdoor antenna on my roof and now I receive all the major local broadcast networks. Mohu also makes quality indoor antennas like The Mohu Curve and Mohu Leaf. If you are interested in purchasing a Mohu antenna, check my Mohu promo page for a big discount.
Grasshopper provides a business number for your cell phone that delivers the business phone functionality you need and more at an unbelievable price. Just mentioning the 2nd number for your cell phone doesn’t really explain what they do. Their service turns the personal phones of you and your employees into a full blow PBX. Read my review of their small business phone system for more information.
Whether you’re a good candidate for cutting the cord depends in large part on what and when you watch. Before considering cancelling your cable subscription, first spend some time evaluating your viewing habits. How often do you actually sit down and watch television? When you do, what are you actually watching? Live sports? Prime-time reality television? The Cooking Channel? Do you like being able to channel surf or do you usually only turn on your TV to watch Game of Thrones?
To get OTA TV channels directly onto the Xbox One you need a tuner that runs between the aerial and the console. They aren't expensive, but depending on where you live they will look a little different. In Europe, for example, there is an official Xbox-branded tuner that's still available, while in North America it's produced by Hauppauge. (That same version is also now available in Europe, too.)
If you don't feel like paying exorbitant cable or satellite fees, but still crave the sweet pablum of basic cable programming, you can always try a cable-replacement service. These online streaming subscriptions deliver live (and on-demand) channels over the internet, and while they're not cheap, they're not as hellaciously expensive as traditional cable or satellite fees. If streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Video aren't enough for you, read on to find out how you can reintroduce live TV into your home without signing your life away to an onerous cable contract.
The setup I talked about above is only one way to get free or low cost TV content. Another way we get free content at home is through the free over-the-air HDTV channels that are now available to everyone who has a HDTV tuner and an antenna. Did you know that 94 of the top 100 watched shows are shown on network television – that you can get over-the-air?
If you aren’t close enough to the TV towers to use an indoor antenna you may need an outdoor solution. Furthermore, today’s digital TV signals require a TV with a digital tuner. If your TV was made before 2007, it may not have one. For solutions to these issues, check out my post How To Get Local Channels Without Cable. I also expand on this a bit in the TV Antenna section later in this guide.
General idea: If award-winning originals like The Handmaid's Tale and all seasons of Rick and Morty don't already do it for you with Hulu, knowing that there's a super simple one-package live TV option with Hulu might do the trick. Plus, if you already have the non-live Hulu account, merging the two and not having to sign up elsewhere makes the process way less stressful. Hulu only has one on-demand package, which makes things simple if you didn't want to have to make a decision between packages. It'll give you over 40 channels including local broadcast channels, CNN, Disney, FX, Oxygen, ESPN, and more. One slight drawback is that Hulu does not do Viacom, meaning channels like Nickelodeon, Spike, Comedy Central, or MTV, are not available.
But cable providers didn't factor in that the internet they provide would become their worst enemy via access to streaming video. Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video are the most well-known names in what's become known as "cord cutting"—doing away with pay TV and using over-the-air (like the old days) or internet-based services to get all your "television" programming. That means no more paying a huge monthly fee for thousands of hours of TV you don't watch (in theory). Instead, you pay individual services for a la carte programming. It's a lot like paying for just what you watch. Almost.
Netflix ($7.99/mo., $10.99/mo., $13.99/mo.): What HBO has been to premium cable, Netflix has been to subscription streaming services, offering buzzed-about programming that anyone who wants to be “in the know” regarding contemporary television needs to see. It got a head-start on its competitors by producing must-see original content, and it continues to expand its library every month with new series and movies that generate a lot of buzz. (Think “Orange Is the New Black,” “Stranger Things,” “BoJack Horseman” or “Jessica Jones”) The service has been licensing fewer older TV shows and films in recent years, but it still offers a lot of high-quality product from those realms, including great British television, recent CW and Fox series and a surprisingly healthy amount of contemporary foreign cinema.
The good news is that cheap HDMI cables are perfectly fine for most TVs, including new ones with 4K resolution, high dynamic range (HDR) and Dolby Vision. Price has little to do with whether a cable will work with your new gear, and many inexpensive cables deliver the exact same audio/video quality as high-end ones. Your old cables might work too, but again, not all will.
If you don't already have one, you'll need an over-the-air HDTV antenna with a coax connector that is able to work as a receiver in your area. Depending on how far away you are from your local channel broadcast center, you might only need an indoor antenna, which you can get for about $15 - $30, or you might need an attic or outdoor mounted antenna, which could cost as much as $150. You can figure out which type of antenna you'll need by using TV Fool's signal locator.
It’s these little things, plus the channel offerings, that make PlayStation Vue feel more like a traditional TV service (even though it’s not). You also get free DVR service with PlayStation Vue and can store an unlimited number shows for up to a month before they get automatically deleted. We really like the recording features that PlayStation Vue offers, but the downside is that you can only record one show at a time.
To be honest, if you've got a decent laptop and a nice TV, with an HDMI cable between them you have all you need to be a cord cutter. Stream on your laptop and watch on the big screen. Or use your phone; the apps out there for casting or mirroring what you see on the phone to the TV are too numerous to mention. (Read How to Connect Your iPhone or iPad to Your TV for more.)
CBS News: Not to be confused with CBS's nightly and weekly broadcasts, this round-the-clock streaming service provides anchored news coverage throughout the day and live broadcasts of major events. In a sense, it's an antidote to cable news, with a heavy emphasis on reported stories instead of talking heads. For cord cutters, it's a must-see. Available on: Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV, and Xbox
We also recommend testing your internet speed at peak streaming hours (between 6 – 10 p.m. weekdays) to determine if your neighborhood struggles under the strain of heavy traffic. For instance, if you routinely get around 10Mbps downloads during the day, but that figure takes a dive to about 3Mbps around dinner time, you’ll want to call your internet provider to see if anything can be done. Fortunately, this is an increasingly rare problem outside of rural areas, but better to check ahead.