Whether you’re looking for ways to stretch your household budget or simply tired of high cable prices, the idea of ditching traditional television service providers may have crossed your mind. With numerous streaming services available – some you probably already subscribe to – the way people consume television has changed, and, for many, basic cable is no longer necessary. But is it truly cheaper to cut the cord? To answer that, there are two things you need to think about.
What Hardware Do I Need?
Like cable, you’re going to need something to hook up to your TV. Many streaming services are already included in modern gaming consoles and Smart TVs, but if you don’t have either of those, you’ll need to purchase some hardware. The most common choices are an Amazon Fire TV stick ($39.99), Chromecast device ($35–69), or Roku device ($29.99–129.99). Not only will these devices give you access to streaming services, Chromecast also allows you to transfer your phone or laptop screen to your television. Unlike the services below, these are one-time costs.
What Services Offer The Television Shows/Channels I Want?
While there are many specialty streaming services that cater to individual genres, we’re going to focus on the ones with the widest range of options capable of replacing cable and how much each costs. There are two kinds of streaming services: one offers a selection of films as well as television shows after they’ve already aired; the other offers live streaming of network channels as they air. Each provides different services for different costs.
- Netflix: Perhaps the most well-known streaming service, it offers full seasons of current and old TV series, movies, and original programming. Unfortunately, it’s often a season behind currently airing shows, and new movies are not always streamable. Options range from streaming only to streaming plus mailed discs (the number of screens and HD capability increases with price).
- Streaming only: $7.99–11.99
- Streaming with DVD: $4.99–15.99
- Streaming with Blu-ray: $5.99–19.99
- One Month Free Trial
- Hulu: Similar to Netflix, Hulu offers current and old TV shows, movies, and original programming. It’s best known for having day-after rights to many current TV shows, meaning it has the newest episodes the day after or week after a show airs on the network. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always have complete seasons (especially of currently airing seasons), there aren’t as many older television options as Netflix, and commercials are included with most paid accounts.
- $5.99–7.99 with commercials
- $11.99 without commercials
- $8.99 additional fee for Showtime
- One Week Free Trial
- Amazon Prime TV: Amazon’s streaming service is newer but growing quickly. It offers current and old TV shows, movies, and original programming, as well as a limited selection of HBO shows/seasons within its base plan. Some shows can be seen for free shortly after airing while other current shows can be bought per episode or per season. Premium and specialty channels come at an additional cost. While Amazon Prime TV can be purchased alone, it’s included in an Amazon Prime subscription, which has other perks such as free two-day shipping, Prime Music, and Prime Reading. Amazon Prime also offers users the option of monthly installments instead of annual payments.
- Streaming only: $8.99
- Amazon Prime (monthly): $10.99
- Amazon Prime (annually): $99
- Starz and Showtime add-ons: $8.99 each
- 30 Day Free Trial
- Sling TV: Like a cable package, Sling TV offers a selection of networks you can watch On Demand or live stream to your TV, computer, or mobile device. It’s available through Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Android TV, and Xbox One. Unfortunately, not all channels are available in all locations. Local channels aren’t included in all packages, and there’s a limit to the number of devices you can stream simultaneously. Premium channels and channels not listed in the main packages can be added for an additional fee.
- $20 for 30 channels
- $25 for 45 channels
- $40 for 49 channels including ESPN, ESPN2, & ESPN 3
- Add-ons: HBO $15, Cinemax $10, Starz $9
- 7 Day Free Trial
- PS Vue: PS Vue is the newest option to live-channel streaming. Like Sling TV, it offers packages of networks you can stream to your Playstation or mobile device. It also works with Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and Roku devices. There is no limit to the number of devices you can stream at a time, and it has DVR and On Demand capabilities; however, you must be within your own home network to use any PS Vue services. Not all channels are available on a mobile device outside of your home.
- $49.99 for 60 channels
- $54.99 for 73 channels
- $64.99 for 111 channels
- $74.99 for 113 channels including HBO and Showtime
- 7 Day Free Trial
These subscriptions add up quickly if you want the additional features and premiums, but many basic plans are affordable and provide a cost-effective alternative to a traditional cable provider. Best of all, each service has a free trial period, so you can try each for a week or a month and see if it has what you need to cut the cable cord.