Cord Cutting – a getting started guide
You hear about thousands of people ditching cable. Well, here’s a tip. It’s a little different when you decide to try it yourself. With new equipment to buy and many people’s interests to satisfy, it can be a lot tougher than it looks. More important — savings might NOT be as big as you think. This guide will help you ask the questions you should be asking yourself BEFORE you make a move. Whether you’re shaving one step at a time, or ripping the whole thing out at once, it’s an exciting journey. Without further ado, let’s get started!
Step 1: assess your current viewing needs.
There are tons of people fleeing cable. But there’s also a lot of people coming back. Just because you want to get rid of it, doesn’t mean you’ll be happy after its gone. Better to understand what you’re getting into first. By answering some of the following items, we’ll help you figure out what cable alternatives you can and should explore.
- Come up with a list of your favorite networks and/or shows. Where you’re consuming your shows from will dictate what your alternatives might look like. For example, some content could be captured for free from Hulu, while a Netflix subscription might be needed for others.
- How much real-time programming do you watch? Some premium cable shows are available for streaming/rental, but you might not get to see them for a month or two. How about the news? Sports? Are these important to you? For us, sports was really the only “live” show we really wanted to keep. I know, I know – that’s a tough one.
- How do you want to watch content? Do you only watch shows on TV or do you stream content on other devices (e.g. laptops, tablets, phone)? If you’re not really excited about having to hook up your laptop to the TV every time you want to watch something, you might need to make some investments in new hardware.
- Is everyone on board in your house? If you have other family members, roommates, save yourself from having some unpleasant conversations later. This is an important discussion to have ahead of time. You might be thrilled about streaming the latest movies from Netflix. Your spouse might think this just sounds stupid. Take my advice, make sure you set expectations ahead of time.
- How many TVs do you have to address? You can certainly move streaming devices around, but do you really want to? Are you ready to rely on a single Google Chromecast or are you prepared to invest in more equipment? Do you already have equipment that you can leverage?
- How fast is your internet? This might not be an obvious question but it’s important especially if you haven’t streamed content at home before. A slow connection can turn streaming into a nightmare very quickly. Head on over to testmyspeed.com and see what kind of results you get. Lot of factors come into play but anything lower than 2Mbs is probably going to cause pixelated, chuggy video to come through.
- What’s your budget? Clearly, if you’re getting rid of cable, lowering expenses is also probably a big driver for you. That being said, be aware that you might have to spend a little to save a little. Plus, many of the streaming services aren’t free — that means monthly costs aren’t going to simply disappear entirely. Take a look at your budget and think about what is a cost you’re comfortable having go towards monthly fees and for purchasing equipment.
The point of this exercise isn’t to make you do a ton of work, but hopefully it’s gotten you to think about your own strategy a little bit. At the end of the day, everyone’s needs will probably be a little different. You can stroll over to our About page to learn more about our own cable project, but I’ll give you some highlights when we went through this exercise…we realized that we simply didn’t watch much TV. The TV’s on many times, but it was almost more like background noise as there really weren’t current shows we watched. Other points:
- Our main attraction was mostly movies on channels like AMC, TNT, TBS or Encore. Sports – definitely. Kid shows – DisneyJr, PBS. The only time we watch local stations is for sports (NFL, MLB mostly) and reruns of the Simpsons or Seinfeld (though we have most of those series on DVD).
- Everyone in our house was on board in the sense that we need a solution that’s not technically challenging but still gets the majority of our programming.
- TVs — we have three: one in the basement, one on the main floor and one in our bedroom.
- Budget — limited. For the budget reasons, we’re looking to save on the month-to-month costs, so we’re not ready to start shelling out oodles of cash to buy new equipment.
Step 2. Cord cutting or cord shaving – decide on a path.
Ok. By now you have an idea of what your needs are. You might also be pretty pumped to give it a try…or you might be entirely freaked out. Hope it’s not the latter. 🙂 Either way, decide if you should shave or cut the cord. Shaving cable is a newer term but simply means dialing back your current cable package to a lower cost plan. Cord cutting, means getting rid of it entirely. You can read more about our “shaving” article, but probably a good idea to at least try shaving if you’re hesitant at all. In our case, we can use the savings we’re realizing now, to invest in some equipment and continue to find ways to cut back. While it’s probably just a longer, drawn out way of getting rid of cable, it still can be productive and maybe a little less daunting.
Step 3. Explore your antenna options.
Free is good and most of the major networks’ broadcast digital signals are just sitting there, ready and waiting for you to pick them up. While there can be some issues in actually making this work, it’s definitely worth a try. This is also where keeping a part of your cable package can be necessary. Let’s say you try to pick up reception with an HD antenna, but it’s just not working. A barebones cable subscription could allow you to keep access to your local channels. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to find an antenna, we’ve written up a quick overview of basics for selecting the right antenna for you.
Step 4. Explore streaming hardware/software options.
This is where that list of shows/networks you routinely watch is going to come in handy. The more well-known streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and HuluPlus offer a pretty broad selection for not too much cost. Important to see if your favorites are included to determine which services are most relevant to you. One nifty site is canistream.it which allows you to search for movies, shows that you’d like to watch and see what streaming services have it available. The site cuts out a LOT of guess work and best of all, it’s free to use! For sports, try exploring things like MLB.tv or NBA Pass. NFL still not an option with Sunday Ticket restricted to DirecTV, but hopefully the day of a separate package is approaching. Finally, for certain networks like ComedyCentral, MSNBC, etc., always check to see what is streamed on their website. Sometimes content is available for free!
Once you find services that will help you stream your favorites, hardware also comes into play (even if you already have a “smart” tv). A lot of options on this front as well. If you’re starting out more cautiously or with smaller investments up front (like we have), there are still some affordable options that you can check out like a Roku or Chromecast. Plus, some other devices are now wifi enabled (like the Sony BluRay player). Bottom line – a lot to cover here in a getting started guide, but if you’re willing to give it a try would recommend a Roku Streaming Stick or the Sony player.
Step 5. Start testing!
Those are the major pieces that will at least get you started. While there’s still much to delve into, for ~$100 you can purchase a basic indoor antenna, a streaming device and a few months of Netflix and HuluPlus to see if this sort of setup is right for you and your family.