What's the Best Alternative to Cable TV?

There are many alternatives to cable TV, including local broadcast networks, streaming boxes and accessing streaming shows and services through the Internet or mobile data plans. In many cases, not all, households already have the equipment they need to use cable alternatives. Consumers should tread carefully, crunching numbers and choosing the right equipment before cutting the cord.

Not so long ago, most households relied on cable TV for reliable access to local, national and international programming, along with movies and special events. However, the cost of cable TV service has skyrocketed in recent years, causing many to question whether cable is actually worth the cost. Complicating matters is that is now possible to stream television programming through an Internet connection or mobile data plan.

If you are thinking about cutting the cord, or have just moved to a new area and aren't sure if you want to bother getting cable service, it's a good idea to become aware of the alternatives to cable television so that you can make the best decision for yourself, your family and your budget. Being aware of your viewing habits, as well as your budget, is essential to making the right choice.

First Things First: Check Your TV

Before deciding on an alternative to cable, you'll need to understand the features of your television set. If you have an older television, you may not have the ability to connect to an Internet streaming service or a mobile device, although you will be able to hook it up to a digital antenna or a DVD player.

Newer televisions are a different matter: So-called smart televisions, or smart TVs, are already preprogrammed to stream programming from a variety of applications and services and are the easiest to work with after cutting your cable. If you have a newer television, but one that is not a smart TV, you may still be able to hook your TV up to a streaming box such as Roku or Apple TV.

Local Broadcasting

Many people have had cable for so long that they've forgotten that their local stations are still broadcasting live TV. Depending on where you live, you may have a dozen or more VHF and UHF channels available to you at no cost beyond that of owning a digital antenna. In addition, many people feel that local shows, particularly news programming, are often simply more relevant to their day-to-day lives.

Digital antennas cost about $40 and are easily connected to all kinds of televisions, including smart TVs. After installation, you will be able to enjoy all the programming available in your area for free.

For many people, an antenna, plus a DVD or Blu-ray player, is enough for being able to enjoy a significant range of programming and entertainment. Keep in mind that public libraries often maintain collections of DVDs that you can enjoy for free, further reducing monthly expenses.

Tip: If you are still using a very old television to receive your cable signal, keep in mind that it may not be compatible with digital antennas, which became the standard in the 2000s. It may still be possible to find digital antenna adapters that will make it possible for you to use an antenna to pull in local broadcasting signals. if you are unable to connect your television to a digital antenna and are unwilling to purchase a brand-new TV, consider checking out your local Craigslist listings to find people who are willing to sell or give away their televisions. These televisions may be new enough that they can easily connect to a digital antenna.

Your Internet Connection or Data Plan

if you have an Internet connection at your home, or a data plan with your phone, you can stream a range of programming through paid services, such as Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. There are free options as well: YouTube's standard service includes a range of video entertainment, as well as free, streaming news feeds from a range of providers. Many people do not realize, for example, that some countries stream live, English language news reporting through YouTube at no additional charge. France 24 is one such network.

In addition, many major networks also stream shows for free via their websites. As long as you can access the website, you will be able to enjoy this programming. The only thing to keep in mind is that your mobile phone or Internet plan may have data caps, which could limit the amount of programming you and your family can access each month. However, if you are an infrequent TV watcher or streamer, relying entirely on your Internet connection or a mobile data plan may be a cost-effective option.

Tip: Some Internet and mobile phone companies don't count streaming from preferred providers against your monthly data allotment. Contact your company and ask if they have any of these preferred relationships so that you can more accurately decide whether cutting cable in favor of streaming will actually save you money.

Note about displays and smart TVs: if you decide to rely entirely on your Internet connection or data plan, you may want to use a larger monitor for screening programming to provide an experience that is closer to using a television set. If you have a smart TV, keep in mind that it may be possible for you to program it so that you can stream videos directly from smartphone apps on to your TV.

Streaming Boxes

For individuals and families who like to enjoy a wide variety of video entertainment, streaming boxes, such as those provided by TiVo, Apple TV or Roku have become very popular. These boxes make it easy to find and stream any channel or app that you like to use for accessing video content. In addition, many Internet service providers also have their own streaming boxes and plans for customers who prefer to not sign up for cable television.

Before getting a streaming box, however, you will want to do some research. You'll want to ensure that this box you choose will provide you with the types of programming that interest you. In addition, if you already have a smart TV, a streaming box may be redundant.

Tip: If you are not familiar with smart TVs or other types of consumer electronics, you may want to get in touch with a well-known electronics retailers such as Best Buy. Visit the store, or give them a call and ask for assistance in selecting a smart TV or streaming box. Be frank with the customer service representative or store associate and let them know that you want to cut your cable and that you want something that can be easily used in your home to access the stations and programs that you enjoy.

Doing this will help ensure that you do not experience disappointment with your streaming service and that you won't have to go through a lot of hassle each time you want to watch your television. Keep in mind that consumer electronics retailers want to keep your business, and their representatives and sales associates will likely bend over backwards to help you make sure that you are getting the exact device or television that meets your needs.

Things to Be Aware Of

There are several things that you should be aware of before making the decision to cut your cable service:

  • Many urban areas are home to multiple broadcast news stations,which ensures that you will be able to enjoy a variety of programming options. This is not always true in many rural areas or small towns. Before deciding to cut the cord and purchase a TV antenna, you'll need to check to see which stations are available in your area.
  • If you are a sports fan, keep in mind that the rights to broadcast games vary by location and service. If watching sports is important to you, you'll have to do some research into the accessibility of event broadcasts through local television and streaming services. In many cases, streaming services charge an additional premium for access to sports games. These costs may approach what you are already paying for cable TV.
  • Similarly, be aware of the cost of app-based streaming services. There are many such services out there, some of them specializing in niche programming or broadcasting exclusively in languages other than English. While these are fantastic options to have, the cost of paying monthly fees for multiple streaming apps can quickly add up.
  • After cutting the cord, you will be responsible for returning your cable box to your provider. Failure to do this can result in a large charge being added to your bill. Some cable providers will email you a mailing label that you can use to ship your equipment back. In other cases, you'll have to mail the box back at your own expense, bring it to a local office or pay a fee to have a technician come out to pick it up. If you do bring your cable box to a local office or ask to have a technician pick it up from you, make sure you get a receipt proving that you did indeed return the device.
  • It can be difficult to monitor the use of Internet data and this can result in nasty surprises, such as a large bill for excessive use or a slowed-down connection. If you are in a household full of streamers and gamers, cutting cable may not be the best option.
  • If you are moving to a new home that is part of a homeowner's association (HOA), a retirement community or a full-service apartment/condo building, check to see if WiFi is included in your association fees or whether you are entitled to a group discount through the property management company or HOA. Next, check to see if there are any data caps. This information will be helpful as you consider whether cable TV is worth it or whether you plan to use streaming services.

Many people are getting by just fine without cable TV. The key is understanding your options, your equipment and your budget. After doing some math and ensuring that you'll be able to connect with streaming services or broadcast television, you'll be able to save money while enjoying the shows you love.

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Updated 7 months ago
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