Lately, there’s been a lot of chatter about cost-conscious consumers “cutting the cord,” or dropping their subscription television service like cable or satellite. Certainly prices for these things have been on the rise, despite bloated price-lowering overtures by state legislators designed to dismantle franchising laws.
As budgets tighten, pay TV have become a luxury many have come to do without. With more and more homes getting good quality broadband Internet connections, and the rapid advent of streaming video services, cutting the cord has never been easier. But the streaming choices are many and growing every day, which may be confusing and overwhelming to consumers. Luckily, hardware solutions are also rapidly changing and dropping in price. These solutions make it easier to replicate the “lean-back” TV watching experience without tethering a computer to your living room television.
Here are a few ways we use online streaming to fill the void of “cutting the cord”:
- Netflix. The granddaddy of major online streaming is still the best — and pretty much the most universally-accessible — programming option out there. It’s also extremely affordable at $8 a month, though more if you opt to take DVDs by mail as well. The programming slate is ever-growing, and extremely robust. There are now a lot of TV series streaming on Netflix that aren’t even available on DVD. There’s a slew of programming available from major cable channels like Nickelodeon, History Channel, TLC, Disney Channel, FX, and others. Some broadcast channels are also offering shows on Netflix too.Netflix streaming has become available on every video game console, which is by far the most popular option. (Note: Though now freely available on Sony’s Playstation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii, Microsoft still unfortunately opts to restrict Netflix streaming to Xbox 360 users who subscribe to Xbox Live service.) A growing number of Blu-ray disc players also offer Netflix, and some can be had for less than $99. A number of specialty devices and even network-enabled HDTVs are now also offering Netflix.
- Roku. These are tiny little boxes that have really come into their own lately with the rise of streaming providers. Roku currently offers three models ranging from $59 to $99, which make it easy to bridge Internet content to your TV. Besides Netflix, other major content providers like Amazon Video On Demand are available. What’s more, many smaller or less popular providers make “apps” for the Roku box, including many sports organizations! You can subscribe to MLB.TV and watch streamed Major League Baseball games on your TV, which makes a Roku box a great no-cable alternative to the MLB pay-per-view package.
- Hulu. What started as a great service championed by co-owners NBC, FOX and ABC/Disney has stumbled into the off-PC streaming arena with “Hulu Plus.” They’ve also been sporadic with programming deals with other content providers, and only a “select” crop of shows are available on Hulu Plus. (Oh yeah, and you still have to endure commercial breaks in addition to the monthly fee!) But there are a number of key shows and networks utilizing Hulu, and hopefully more come in future. It is currently available on a fraction of the hardware that now streams Netflix, but more are on the horizon.
- TiVo. The forerunner of the modern DVR craze is still the “household name” for hard-drive based standalone recorders, but the sheen has worn off a bit in past. However, those who opt to rock the antenna instead of the cable box could still take advantage of this magical little box. Some TiVo models work with an antenna, and gives you the time-shifting and recording features for broadcast TV that you got with your cable or satellite DVR. There are still, unfortunately, monthly fees, contracts and on-screen advertisements to contend with.
- Windows Media Center. If you have the means to go Windows Media Center, it’s slick and every bit as useful as a TiVo. If you have a PC in the house with Windows Vista or Windows 7, and don’t mind it running all the time, you could turn it into a DVR without monthly fees. You can easily add TV tuner cards and make it a time-shifting, TV recording dynamo! Vista allows up to 2 antenna tuners, and Windows 7 allows up to 4. Here in Northeast Wisconsin, we have over a dozen digital channels accessible by antenna, so there’s more than enough programming to enjoy!Don’t want to put a PC in your living room? You don’t have to. Xbox 360 consoles can connect to your Windows Media Center PC, giving you full access and control in your living room without all the unsightly computer hardware. Media Center is also quite extensible by plugins, giving you a wealth of options like adding Netflix streaming, copying programs to your iPod, and much more!(TIP: If you do opt to have a TV connected to a PC, Hulu gets even better! Hulu offers a “Hulu Desktop” program for Windows, Mac and Linux that gives you polished DVR-like access to its entire library of programs without paying monthly fees for Hulu Plus! If you are using Windows Media Center and have an optional remote for it, you can even browse Hulu Desktop with a remote from your couch — no keyboard required!)
This is only the tip of the cord-cutting iceberg! Other providers like Redbox and Amazon have also been rumored to be working on services to compete with Netflix and Hulu. The options are growing, and the programming is getting more attractive by the day. Sure you may miss select shows that are not yet available via streaming, but if you’re looking to save a buck, there’s plenty out there to watch!