Cutting the Cord
Reduce costs by dumping the expensive cable TV package for streaming services.
Did they sell you the phone service too? Read to the end to set up free phone service.
TLDR: YouTube TV on Google TV Chromecast to replace cable box, Google Voice on OBI200 to replace home phone.
My cable bill was up to nearly $275 per month when streaming became a thing in 2016. I tried out this service called PlayStation VUE. This was one of the first streaming services that included all the local networks like NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox along with many of the other networks I was getting in my cable package. I could pause live TV and DVR shows to the cloud to watch any time and fast forward through the commercials. It even offered on-demand programming. PlayStation VUE never really caught on. The name implied that it required a PlayStation game console to get it. In fact, the service could be watched on most streaming devices: iPhone, Android, PC, Mac, many smart TVs and, Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, and yes, on a PlayStation too. Why Sony stuck with that name is beyond me, but it eventually sunk the service.
There have been many streaming services featuring live TV since PSVUE. The big players in live TV streaming services are YouTube TV, Sling TV, Hulu, Philo, Apple TV+, and AT&T TV. Each of these offer some form of live TV, cloud DVR and on-demand programming. Now, I am sure your familiar with the other services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, HBO Max and VUDU. They have their place in your entertainment library and I will cover those at the end of this article, but they do not have live TV. Here, I will cover those services that can replace that big, clunky cable box and the service behind it.
The last time I compared all these live TV services was when I switched from PSVUE to YouTube TV. The mix of cost and features paired with the fact that it had all the local, live networks made it the right choice for me. Each one offers a free trial. Take advantage of those and see for yourself which one is right for you.
How do you start?
First, bluff. Call your cable company and tell them you would like to cancel your account just to see what they will do for you. You will likely be transferred to Customer Retention where they might offer to discount your services with them by up to 50% for a year. Just be careful not to actually cancel your service before you port your phone number. If you are satisfied with their offer, take it and stop here. But if you are curious like me, keep reading.
Do you have telephone service with the cable company? Or with Verizon who still charges for long distance (can you believe it?). Here is how you get around that. Google Voice is a free telephone service that comes as part of your free Google account. You can select a phone number they give you, or you can port (move) your existing number over to them. You can use this number to make and receive calls from your computer, iPad, laptop, Android phone, whatever. Next, for about $50 on Amazon, you can get an OBI200. This is a little box that you connect to your router and house phone so you can use Google Voice with your home phone. This does take a little configuration to get started, but once it’s set up, you never have to mess with it again.
It’s important to note here that when you port your phone number, you should NOT cancel your existing phone service first. If you do, your phone provider will take your number back and give it to someone else. Let Google initiate the port. Once the port is complete (after about 24 hours), your phone service at your old provider will cancel automatically.
You will need to keep internet, but you have options. The cable company probably has the best speeds, but the local telephone company might have run fiber optic service to your neighborhood that will provide service fast enough for streaming TV and all your other devices. Check this site to see what’s available in your area.
When you call to cancel your TV service, they'll probably offer to increase your internet speed for more money. 200Mb service should be plenty for a couple TV's, a couple laptops, cell phones and a game console. If you're working from home these days and use VPN to connect to the office, you might want to go to 400Mb service so your Zoom calls don't get choppy.
First, if you’re not familiar with streaming, you need to get used to not using channel numbers anymore. Be it over the air or over coax cable, channels only exist in the radio frequency realm. Streaming is internet based and all the “channels” are referred to as “networks”. So, you don’t turn to channel 4 to watch the Today Show, channel 2 for NCIS, or 45 for Housewives. You select NBC, CBS, or Bravo from a menu instead.
Next, you will need a device to watch with. This can be a laptop or phone, but if you want to watch on your TV, you will need something extra. About half the TV’s you can purchase today are “smart”, meaning that they can connect to the internet, install an app, and stream content (live TV, movies, etc.). Whether you have a smart TV or not, I still recommend going with a dongle. The “smart” built into the TV will be outdated in a year and it is not upgradeable. But a dongle can be switched out and upgraded as often as you like.
What the #^*% is a dongle? It is like a cable box in a way, but much smaller and can usually hang off the HDMI port on the back of your TV and out of sight. This is a very small computer with only one purpose: streaming. The size can vary from a pack of gum to a medium-sized book (think paperback, not chemistry textbook). As an Amazon Prime member, I started with the $20 Amazon Fire TV sticks on all the TV’s in the house. Then I upgraded the one on the main TV to a Fire TV (not stick) with a little more power to speed up the menus and support 4K. Recently, I have switched it to the next generation of Google Chromecast called a Google TV. It can control the TV power and volume with that single remote – a feature the Fire TV remotes lacked. The new Fire TV remotes have buttons for power and volume now, but I have not tried it yet.
There are lots of other devices that can do the job. Just as with PlayStation VUE, this service works on all the devices. So take your pick. FYI, Roku and Xbox One both work with these services and include a headphone jack in the remote. Pretty cool for late night watching when you don’t want to disturb your partner with the explosions in John Wick or sleeping kids with Deadpool’s potty mouth.
I mentioned the live TV services above and recommend YouTube TV for live, local TV and most of the other networks you were getting from cable. But if you only watch a couple of networks, you could go a-la-carte. The networks have gotten smart during this streaming revolution. Each of the parent companies has built their own streaming services to provide their content directly to you for a monthly subscription fee; typically around $5-10/month. CBS has CBS All Access, NBC has Peacock, ABC has ABC Live Stream, FOX has… well… FOX. Then you have the others like HBO MAX, Hulu, Disney Plus, Paramount, Hulu, and, of course, Netflix. Sometimes I think I’d like just one service to provide all my favorite content in a single package with one monthly bill (wait, what? noooooooo). If you still have a library card, you can register to watch free movies on Kanopy. These are mostly classics, documentaries, indie and foreign films. If that's your thing, it's worth having installed.
The last one I want to mention is Movies Anywhere. This service will sync all your purchased content (movies and TV shows) from Apple TV, VUDU, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play/YouTube, Microsoft Movies, Xfinity, FandangoNow, Verizon and DirecTV. Additionally, you can use the MoviesAnywhere app to watch any of this content. It won’t do live TV (yet), but it’s a fantastic way to add that one movie you purchased on Google Play to your Apple or Amazon account without buying it again.
Good luck. Some of this will be overwhelming. But who doesn't like saving $100 per month?
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