Cable TV Alternatives
Cable television is a solid service, for the most part. You get hundreds of channels at a fairly reasonable price, most cable companies offer built-in DVR, and often, you get free access to premium movie channels a couple of times a year. But, with the way the internet and television are rapidly evolving, more and more folks are cutting their cable as they downsize non-essential services (and programming). Plus, consider this: the average monthly cable TV bill in 2011 was just under $80. Today, it's eclipsed the $100 mark in most states. That's over $1,200 a year - and if you factor in how few channels people actually watch, it's a big waste of money. Just think if you put that money toward a vacation... the places you could go!
So what are the alternatives to cable TV? We have a few options for you. Companies are catching on to just how tech-savvy consumers are these days as well as the huge opportunity high-speed internet (and streaming) offers. Besides bundling your cable with your internet, here are a few higher-tech alternatives to cable television. Remember one thing though, everything depends on your situation and what you watch. Consider the shows you enjoy, how often you watch them and, most importantly, if they'll be available on your new plan or service...
The larger of the two satellite providers, DIRECTV gives you a variety of attractive options to choose from. Their packages go for $19.99 to 89.99 per month (during the promo period). If you don't watch a lot of TV, I'd suggest the basic 145-channel SELECT plan at $19.99/month. For a lot of folks, that's plenty, but keep in mind SELECT doesn't include ESPN and a few other popular channels. The convenient part is you can upgrade or downgrade at any time without those dreaded service fees.
DIRECTV is the leader in sports. They perfected the premier sports plan model, such as NFL Sunday Ticket (not available anywhere else) and were the first to offer NBA packages, too. And like any good provider, you can always upgrade to get premium movie channels like HBO, Cinemax, SHOWTIME and STARZ (usually free for the first 3 months).
2. DISH Network
A few years back, DISH lost some steam and market share in the satellite industry. Customer service played a big part but they quickly corrected course and are back to being a powerhouse. More recently, DISH came out with their Hopper whole-home DVR. It lets you record up to 8 shows at once and save up to 2,000 hours of programming (2x more than DIRECTV's Genie). There is some tinkering that likely needs to happen, though, as by default the AutoHop feature automatically records primetime shows for you (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox). If you're like me, you rarely watch 'em and they'll just take up valuable hard drive space (and 1 tuner); just jump into the settings panel and turn off "PrimeTime Anytime".
DISH also has a $19.99/month plan (1-year introductory price) - with the Smart Pack, you get over 55 channels and free movies for 3 months. If you spend a bit more ($29.99/mo), America's Top 120 lets you upgrade to the Hopper for free and enable Bluetooth integration (compare the dish packages).
DISH doesn't have the NFL Sunday Ticket, but it does offer all the other sports plans: MLB, NBA, NHL, etc. Another cool feature is the Sling Adapter (built into the Hopper) - it lets you watch live and recorded TV anywhere on almost any mobile device, PC, or Mac. I find myself using it at least a few times a week.
For a more in-depth look at both providers, check out our DISH and DIRECTV review. We stack up their pricing, channel packs, customer service, sign-up bonuses and more.
3. Go old school
Forgot about using those bulky, heavy antennas on your roof just to capture free over-the-air programming. While they're still around, companies are now producing small, HD-capable indoor versions which are decades more advanced. If all you really watch are local sports and news - sprinkled with the occasional primetime TV show - this is probably the best bet for you. With an HD antenna, you get free access to most of your local channels (Fox, ABC, NBC and CBS) as well as anything else being broadcast via a tower (local cable shows, shopping networks, etc). Price-wise, they go for $40 on the lower-end; the larger the antenna, the better the picture quality and the more likely you'll be able to resolve all the channels in your area.
Since most HDTVs already have built-in tuners, you don't have to buy any extra equipment. If you want to record while using your antenna, you can usually get a separate DVR tuner for under $100.
4. Cast away, my friend
Chromecast is amazing. It's a tiny little device you plug into the HDMI slot on your television. Download the Chromecast app on your mobile device or computer, run a quick internet setup, and you're good to go (your device functions as the remote). Most apps and services are updating their service to allow them to run on Chromecast. Originally it was just Netflix, Hulu, and a handful of other no-name apps. Now, you can watch HBO GO, Pandora, WatchESPN, Watch ABC, Twitch.tv and a ton more. The chromecast stick goes for just $30 and that's ALL you'll need. You can literally take it anywhere you want and as long as you have internet, you can cast away.
5. Internet TV applications
If you absolutely hate traditional TV in almost every form, then you'd probably benefit from just sticking to shows on the internet. Hulu and Netflix are obviously the most popular services here and trends don't show anyone else stepping on their toes, anytime soon. But companies have seen the need (and customer demand) to convert, such as HBO, where you can now subscribe to their monthly service and watch specialty shows, whenever and however you like.
If you're someone who needs the latest tech and records most of your shows, your best bet is satellite TV. If you love sports but don't want to upgrade to a $50+ plan, a simple HD antenna and the WatchESPN app can be your best friends. The possibilities are almost endless. With all the advances surrounding internet speed/reliability and companies hopping on board, you can literally now watch TV on your terms; it all just depends on your programming needs and budget. Enjoy!