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Video streaming options for cutting the cable cord

Video streaming options for cu...
Various streaming video options mean it is now viable to cut the cable TV cord (Photo: Shutterstock)
Various streaming video options mean it is now viable to cut the cable TV cord (Photo: Shutterstock)
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Voice search on the Fire TV
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Voice search on the Fire TV
Roku 3 set-top box
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Roku 3 set-top box
Apple TV
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Apple TV
Stream video from a mobile device to Chromecast
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Stream video from a mobile device to Chromecast
Google Nexus Player
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Google Nexus Player
AVANTEK indoor ultra-thin amplified indoor antenna
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AVANTEK indoor ultra-thin amplified indoor antenna
Amazon Fire TV
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Amazon Fire TV
SlingTV provides live cable channels
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SlingTV provides live cable channels
Can I stream.it is a streaming content search engine
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Can I stream.it is a streaming content search engine
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What streaming services are available on different devices
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What streaming services are available on different devices
What streaming services are available on different devices
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What streaming services are available on different devices
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Various streaming video options mean it is now viable to cut the cable TV cord (Photo: Shutterstock)
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Various streaming video options mean it is now viable to cut the cable TV cord (Photo: Shutterstock)
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Which streaming services are available on different devices
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Which streaming services are available on different devices
View gallery - 17 images

Have you wanted to get rid of your cable or satellite company and cut the cord for good, but aren't sure where to begin? Here's a look at some of the devices and streaming services that let you watch your favorite movies and programs when you want, and where you want.

There are several reason why you'd want to get rid of your cable or satellite subscription. The amount of money it costs, the annoying commercials, or paying for a bunch of channels you never watch. And with streaming services you're able watch your favorite shows on your own schedule, without even having to worry about setting your DVR.

Before getting into the streaming services and set-top box options, one of the first things you should get is a digital antenna so you can pick up your free over-the-air local channels in HD. If you live in an urban area, you can get by with an amplified indoor antenna. These aren't like the old school rabbit ears, today you can pick up modern looking antennas like the one shown below. If you live in a rural area and are just shy of the TV tower signals, you'll need to look into something you can mount on your rooftop.

AVANTEK indoor ultra-thin amplified indoor antenna
AVANTEK indoor ultra-thin amplified indoor antenna

Streaming entertainment to the big screen

Even if you have a Smart TV, typically using its streaming apps isn't the most intuitive or responsive experience, and your TV may not get the particular streaming services you want. So if your serious about cutting the cord, then a more specialized device with a bit more grunt should be your first step. There isn't one device that will suit everybodyl, but it's a crowded market, so you should find at least one to fit your needs. Most of these boxes and streaming sticks also have a proprietary video store that allows you to rent or purchase movies and TV shows. They also include the major streaming services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and others where you pay a monthly fee for all you can watch.

The unit with among the best choice of streaming services is the Roku, with models starting at only US$49, or $99 for the Roku 3 shown below. In addition to its dedicated boxes, Roku also offers a Streaming Stick, and its own line of Smart TVs. Roku is largely platform agnostic, so it includes Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies & TV, and thousands of other channels. In fact, if you're just starting out with streaming video, the Roku is one of the best devices to get you going.

Roku 3 set-top box
Roku 3 set-top box

Another player that is coming on strong in this market is Amazon. It offers the Fire TV set-top box for $99 and the Fire TV Stick for $39, and both of these devices regularly go on sale. Either is a good choice if you're already an Amazon Prime subscriber, which will give you access to Amazon's large library of movies, TV shows, and Prime music service. You can also play video games from the Amazon App Store with the optional game controller.

Amazon Fire TV
Amazon Fire TV

If you already have a Mac or iOS device, you might want to consider staying in the Apple ecosystem and going with an Apple TV, which has just been reduced to $69. With the price drop of the Apple TV, it was also announced that the standalone HBO Now (currently US only) streaming service that will kick off in April for $15/month, will premiere on Apple devices. The exclusive deal will last three months, after which it's likely to crop up on other devices.

But be warned, Apple's digital content is in a walled garden, and you can't access any shows or movies you rent on Apple TV on other devices (and iTunes for Windows is the only licensed way to watch purchased content on non-Apple devices). Apple TV does have apps for some popular streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus, and allows you to stream video from your Mac, iPhone, or iPad directly to the TV via Apple's AirPlay technology.

Apple TV
Apple TV

However, it's worth noting that the Apple TV hasn't had a full version update since 2012 (it had a minor revision in 2013), and newer boxes like the Roku 3 and Amazon's Fire TV are much more responsive and navigating their interfaces is a faster experience. Plus, with an Amazon Prime subscription, the Fire TV includes a free back catalog of HBO shows like The Wire, Deadwood, The Sopranos and others, possibly offsetting the current lack of HBO Now for some users.

A Google Chromecast is another device worth considering, but not necessarily for the beginner. It's not a dedicated box like an Apple TV or Roku, meaning, you don't just turn it on, connect it to the internet and start watching content using a remote. For the Chromecast you need a separate device to stream content to it. An Android phone or tablet would be the best option, but content can also be streamed from a Mac or PC with the Chrome browser, and even an iPhone or iPad with the Chromecast app. While it's not as straightforward to use as a set-top box, there are some interesting tricks it can do, and at $35 you really can't go wrong.

Stream video from a mobile device to Chromecast
Stream video from a mobile device to Chromecast

If you like the idea of a traditional set-top box and the features of Chromecast, then check out the Nexus Player. It hasn't picked up much steam since it was introduced last year, but it does allow you to subscribe to several streaming services and you'll have access to your Google Play music, videos, and other apps, including mobile games with its own optional controller. Like the Fire TV, it also provides voice search from the remote. It runs Android Lollipop 5.0, is Wi-Fi only, and costs $99.

Google Nexus Player
Google Nexus Player

If you find yourself missing that live cable TV feel, and being able to just channel surf, the recently launched Sling TV could be what you're looking for. The service from Dish Network is currently US only, and will cost you $20 per month for the basic package, which includes live cable channels like ESPN, TNT, TBS, CNN, the Food Network, AMC and others. If you want more, there are other channel "packages" like Sports or Kids Extra, that you can order for an extra $5 each. The Sling TV app works across multiple platforms, including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Fire TV and Fire TV Stick and Roku. Soon it will also be available for Xbox and Nexus Player.

SlingTV provides live cable channels
SlingTV provides live cable channels

Finding your favorite programs, movies, and sports

With all of the streaming services available out there, it can be difficult finding something specific. Thankfully, most of the streaming devices have a built-in search feature that will search across all services for what you're looking for. One notable exception to this is the Apple TV, which only searches the iTunes Store. Devices like Fire TV and Google's Nexus Player make it even easier by providing voice search through the remote.

Voice search on the Fire TV
Voice search on the Fire TV

Another service that comes in handy is Can I Stream.it. Just type in the movie or TV show you're looking for and it will bring up results showing whether it's free or not, and which service offers it – i.e, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, etc. It also offers free apps for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone, which lets you find what you need, and set up reminder notifications.

Can I stream.it is a streaming content search engine
Can I stream.it is a streaming content search engine

When it comes to sports, there is a wide variety of networks and apps available on most streaming devices. These include Major League Baseball, NBA, Major League Soccer, UFC, WWE, a variety of ESPN apps, and DishWorld Sports, which features soccer, cricket, sailing, cycling, and more. You can't watch live NFL games on demand quite yet, but there are services like NFL Game Access and NFL Now that provide some pre-season games, game replays, and in-depth statistics. Also, NBC Sports airs the Sunday night games live on its site, and last year's Super Bowl was aired live on several platforms. Getting live sports can be kind of tricky, even with the amount of services available, and that's why it's handy having your digital antenna to watch your local team in HD for free.

Data, data, data

There is one other important factor to consider when doing your own cost-benefit analysis – data download costs. Streaming video can chew through the gigabytes pretty quickly and see you hit your monthly download quota well before the end of the month. Netflix, which allows users to change the video quality of its streams, estimates 0.3 GB per hour for low quality, 0.7 GB per hour for standard definition, up to 3 GB per hour for HD, and a whopping 7 GB per hour for Ultra HD. So if you're currently on a plan with a low download limit, you'll need to take the cost of upgrading your plan into account when considering jumping in the video stream.

Summing up

It should be noted that not all of the popular streaming services listed here are available outside the US. But given the border-smashing nature of the internet, it's not surprising to see some of the big US names branching out into new territories. For instance, Netflix is already available in over 40 countries, including large parts of Europe and South America, and is set to launch in Australia and New Zealand in the coming weeks, where it will take on already established competitors like pay TV operator Foxtel and local streaming services like Quickflix in a battle for viewers.

However, you couldn't really say Netflix is a newcomer, as a large number of Australians already access US and UK versions of Netflix and other streaming services via a VPN workaround to avoid geo-blocking. Netflix even explains how to use a VPN service on its home page. If your area is blocked from a video site, make sure to read our article on how to bypass country restrictions on video sites.

But for those in the US looking to cut the cord, there are a plethora of options available without having to mess around with a VPN, and the market keeps growing. If you're not sure which living room device to start out with, I would recommend heading to the websites of the various streaming services and seeing whose list of content appeals to you most and then check out which device supports your preferred streaming service. Here's a quick look at which of the main streaming services are available on the devices we've mentioned in this story.

Which streaming services are available on different devices
Which streaming services are available on different devices

If you don't want to spend money on some new hardware, there's a good chance you already have a "smart" device that's capable of viewing streaming video, like your TV or a new Blu-ray player. If you're a gamer, your Xbox or PlayStation already has the ability to stream content from a number of providers, and streaming services also offer apps that you can download and watch content on mobile devices, not to mention your computer. The options are indeed plentiful, as are the viewing options they provide. Never before have viewers had so much content at their fingertips. So why not take advantage of it?

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11 comments
Stephen N Russell
How can one then watch classic TV how which service does this? IE Gilligans Island, Peter Gunn, The Avengers, Knight Rider etc since 50s aside classic movies 60s era Hercules movies Ive seen None.
JIMV
I have an issue. My WIFI router is located on the second floor about 30 feet from the TV/entertainment apps on my first floor. The high end (and expensive) Linksys router seems to send a reliable signal all of maybe 25 feet and then it is spotty. I have three separate devices on the first floor connected to the TV via 3 HDMI slots, The Apps in the Direct TV DVR, an Amazon Fire Stick and the Apps in my Oppo B103. I can watch Netflix from all three devices BUT, more often than not only through the Oppo device. The Firestick is especially problematic, refusing to connect to the internet more often than not. In these reviews I always read about the wonderful apps available but nary a word about the quality of the devices ability to actually see and connect to WIFI. I for one would buy the device that had the best WIFI receiver, not the most apps I cannot connect to.
Thomas Jaszewski
I'd love to cut the cable cord, but they are also my streaming connection. Pushing my Mbps up raises my cable bill to where the costs are a wash. I still pay the cable company the same amount of money. This doesn't wash in my market. Actually HBO service is less through the cable provider. Grrrrr.
Nerdstalker
Kodi is free and runs on almost everything, search it.
Daishi
@JIMV I would take a look at some homeplug devices that use your electrical wiring to establish an ethernet link from one place to the next in your house. Once they are linked you can just plug in a second WiFi router downstairs and give it a separate SSID.
There are a handful of other solutions to mesh wireless nodes and use the same SSID etc. but if you can get a couple homeplug adapters to link up over your wiring I would recommend that route instead.
Jay Finke
RK3188 Dual WIFI Antenna Quad Core CPU Android , tethered to your cell phone with unlimited data plan, you will need a andoid unlocked phone, performance varies on time of day but runs netflix well. and surfing is blazing fast on 3g I have used 145 g in one month via tethering. i have 4 tv's fitted with this or similar dongles. Phone used is a Doogee DG310 5'' about 80 bucks 5$ for gorilla glass like screen protector, to protect my expensive investment. enjoy
JIMV
I don't understand how that improves my wifi signal or the quality of the receivers in my devices????
Tried the power line 'solution' but could not get the linksys router to see it even in the same room and even with the Linksys tech support fellow on the phone...Let's be honest, the router is the biggest scam in streaming only next to the 'up to' X-mpbs of input one gets from ones internet provider....In my experience, the router works 100% to perhaps 20 feet with the signal dropping to about zip at 30 feet. It is a 'big room' solution, not a whole home solution. Why reviewers never comment on a devices ability to see this marginal signal is confusing. My Amazon fire stick and Chromecaster device only work half the time and then in buffering spurts while the Oppo blue ray player's apps on the same TV 6 inches from the other two devices works 80% of the time. I can only conclude that Oppo puts a decent WiFi receiver in its devices and the other solutions I have do not.
pcH
Dishworld movie rental has no parental control, you can not block younger children from renting R rate movie with your credit card already on file as prepaid feature.
kman
JIMV: Your best and most reliable option is to hire someone to run a hard line between the two points, and not rely on WiFi at all. A hard wire is ALWAYS superior to wireless.
Second best option is to buy a better router. The range increase going from a "high end" LinkSys router to an Apple Airport Extreme is jaw-dropping. The price should be similar, especially if you look at refurbished routers from Apple (full warranty, big discount).
V.b. Routray
Of course you would cut the cord today, considering how all broadcaster are going over the top with live streaming and VOD services. It's just matter of time before cables is rendered completely obsolete. With somebody like Muvi Studio, you get the right advice on setting up your own cord cutter service. For FREE. In hours.