Are you tired of paying for cable and/or satellite? Have you been curious about the alternatives, but afraid to change? My family was spurred on by the economic pros and cons of having cable and satellite. We’ve had both cable and satellite – we liked parts of both, but frankly couldn’t justify spending around $100 a month for service that we didn’t really use, so we decided to research the alternatives.
In our case, we already owned a PS3 system and had an Amazon Prime membership already for the free shipping. We purchased a Roku box and were planning on getting our kids a Wii for our basement lounge area. So, the hardware is an upfront expense. Rokus start at $40 for a refurbished model and go up from there. PS3 systems start at $200 and a Wii, again, starts at around $200. Obviously whether you’d use the other features of these systems (in our case games and our PS3 has a blue ray player) comes into play when purchasing your systems.
You can also get services on hundreds of internet ready TV’s and there are quite a few other systems such as Xbox 360, Wii U, and Apple TV, set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, and the Web. Depending on the service, you can also get instant streaming on Kindle Fire HD, as well as iPads and smartphones.
There are some trade offs when you cut the cord. First, you need to be a person that likes to binge watch. I love to get into a series and watch them back to back not taking any breaks. Watching series as they are released can be a problem, depending on which service you pick (see below) and how soon you want to see them. Sports fans have the biggest “gotcha” in the watching wars, but we’ll get to that later.
So you need programs to watch. Here are my run downs on the largest of the available services.
A subscription to Amazon Prime at $79.99 per year is slightly cheaper than the $96 per year that’s spent on a Netflix or Hulu Plus subscription, however, it’s not a monthly subscription. You do have to pay it all up front. The benefits are great too (if you use the other services) – at approximately $6.67 per month, Amazon Prime subscribers get access to all the streaming titles on Amazon Instant Video in addition to free two-day shipping on all products sold by Amazon and one free book a month from the Amazon Lending Library to use on a Kindle device. Obviously useless if you don’t have a Kindle!
The biggest benefit to Amazon we have found is that you have access to almost everything. Most first run shows (not even available on Hulu) are available per episode or you can purchase the entire season. you’re more likely to find things on Amazon than anywhere else. Amazon is attempting to pick up television shows and movies that have expired on Netflix in addition to snagging exclusive access to popular shows like Downton Abbey, Justified and more.
The search engine is great and now shows come hooked to IMDB (Internet Movie Database) so if you watch a movie or TV show for an actor you like it will give you a short bio and other options to watch.
Probably the best value for your dollar, when you look at content alone, Netflix Instant offers the largest content library of the three services. It runs $7.99 a month (with options available if you want DVDs by mail).
Things do rotate off of Netflix, which can be irritating if you’re in the middle of binge watching a show. It doesn’t seem to happen as often, however, be forewarned that if you get attached to a show, it could go away. Analysts estimate that Netflix’s content library is roughly double to triple the size of Amazon’s library.
They’ve recently changed their interface to look more like Hulu (which can be good or bad depending on your opinion) and they have accounts you can set up for each family member. That way, they don’t give you suggestions based on what your toddler or pre-teen is watching. We love that!
Netflix has a pretty good search engine and instead of coming up empty when they don’t have a show or movie they will offer “movies like…” just in case that makes you happy. Oh and they have a mobile app where you can watch shows as well as add things to your list. Good for those waiting in the doctor’s office.
Hulu plus drives me crazy. Yes, we still have it because it does have current season shows, but at what price? It’s the only one of the three to make you watch commercials and to me it harkens back to the days of early cable where they had one advertiser. Not only do you have to watch commercials it’s the same ones over and over and over (well, you get it).
Hulu is king of the weekly network show – you can usually see it the day after the episode airs – depending on their agreement with the networks. Our kids like the commercials and they tend to watch more weekly shows than we do.
Over on Amazon, you can purchase the latest episodes for about $1.99 an episode, so if you watch tons of network programming, it’s smarter financially to go with the Hulu Plus subscription of $7.99 a month over paying $1.99 on Amazon ($2.99 for HD) for the latest episode of shows like ABC’s Once Upon a Time or NBC’s Law and Order: SVU. Keep in mind you also have to watch commercials even though you pay for it!
And for those of you used to a DVR, not only do you have commercials, but they drop episodes. Recently I was trying to catch up on Agents of SHIELD and they had available episodes 1,3, 5, 7, 11 and 12 so, in order to watch all the episodes I ended up going over and buying the missing ones on Amazon.
The search feature is bizarre. It not only offers TV series and movies based on your search, but also episodes from other shows. I’m not sure who uses this type of search, but I get the feeling I’m NOT Hulu’s target market!
Although this isn’t exactly a service, the Roku comes with channels that the other services don’t have. We were saved from having to pay for Downton Abbey or (gasp!)having to wait, by the Roku. You can “subscribe” for free to the PBS channel on the Roku and Downton Abbey and Sherlock are available the day after they air (I’m sure other shows are too – but these are our favorites).
They also have interesting channels with cat videos and alien abductions if you’re into that sort of thing.
But how do I get sports? This seems to be the HUGE stopping block for a lot of people wanting to cut the cord. So, what are your options? If you’re a HUGE sports fan, then this is probably a deal killer. There just aren’t many options to get sporting events when you cut the cord.
Free to Air – We purchased an Antennacraft® Amplified Omnidirectional HDTV Antenna for about $50 at Radio Shack. The same company also makes roof antennas and it might be worth the investment if you watch a lot of network TV and want the free to air options.
Frankly it’s an OK option. We have access to many free to air stations – including some local weather channels and other channels we didn’t know existed (especially handy if you speak Spanish). Since it’s gone digital and no one seems to use it anymore as it’s tricky to use. We live on the north side of Denver and have had a heck of a time getting Channel 9 and CBS and FOX seem to fade in and out. The channels are almost totally useless if the weather is really bad.
Roku – Roku has some sports stations for the enthusiast in non-traditional sports. No NFL or NBA here, but you can tune in to auto-racing and tennis.
Go to a sports bar – I will admit, this is the option we’ve been using when the games are on hard to get free to air stations. It feeds the local economy and we can easily pay with the money we’ve saved monthly.
How Much Have we Saved?
Total cash up front: $450 (that’s for set up on 3 TV’s – if you have less, you can make do with less!)
Monthly fees: (assuming we break out Amazon into a monthly fee) – $22.65 per month. That’s assuming you feel the need to have all 3 subscription services.