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The Ultimate Guide To Cutting Cable In 2016 (Simple, Step-By-Step Help For Regular People!)

By Jonathan Sternberg / January 8, 2016 / Tags: ,

Cut the cable cord. Save money. Watch awesome TV. Live happily ever after.

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If you’re reading this, you’ve already made up your mind. You want to get rid of cable. You want to. But you’re not sure what sacrifices are involved or whether you’d actually save money. And you definitely don’t where to start sorting everything out.

Well, here is where. We’ve put together the complete guide to cutting the cable cord in 2016—laid out in simple, easy-to-follow steps that everyone can understand. No tech-speak present. No tech-savvy needed. This is for ordinary people, like you and me. You can do this! Here we go.

STEP ONE: Assess Your TV Needs

Not every channel is available outside cable/satellite TV. For the most part, it’s only live TV that’s still tied to the cable box. If you’re willing to wait until the next day to watch a show (preferable for many since you can cut the commercials!) then a streaming service will work for you (more on this in Step Five). But, if you can’t live without one of the cable-only channels, you’ll have to wait to cut the cord.

The list of channels restricted to cable changes regularly. So you’ll need to do a little research.

One way to see what you can get through alternate options is to use this tool from The Verge. They promise that they update it as things change, so it should be current. If it isn’t, harass them mercilessly.

Sling TV

A major cord-cutter victory: Fans can watch ESPN live without cable

If there’s a channel you know is non-negotiable, go to its website and look at the viewing options. If there’s a show you must have, go to JustWatch.com and make sure you can stream it from an alternate source.

Some popular live channels that are still only accessible through a cable/satellite provider: Fox News, NFL RedZone, and Tennis Channel.

Some popular channels you can watch live without cable (available with Sling TV, described in Step Five): ESPN, ESPN 2, AMC, TBS, TNT, CNN, Food, A&E, Cartoon Network, and more.

If you’re happy with the content available outside cable, proceed to Step Two.

STEP TWO: Check Your Internet Connection 

If you aren’t getting your TV through cables or a satellite dish, you’ll need a good internet connection in order to stream it.

Go here to test your internet speed: http://testmy.net.

You’ll want 10Mbps during the times you want to stream TV. Netflix says 5Mbps is the minimum, but you’ll almost certainly be bothered by delays and other quality issues.

If your connection isn’t good enough, call your provider and see what can be done. You’ll also want to make sure you’re not paying too much. If you’re spending $60/month or so on internet alone, then your final tally after cutting the cord could come close to what it was with a cable subscription.

When you’ve confirmed you have a workable connection, proceed to Step Three.

STEP THREE: Get An Antenna 

With an antenna, you can watch the major networks for free (which also means NFL Football!). Viewers in urban areas can get ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and a handful of others like PBS and the CW.

To see the channels you can expect to get where you live, use this tool from AntennaWeb.org. They will even recommend antenna types to give the best results in your area.

Shop around for a good antenna in your price range. The Winegard Flatware ($35) is very highly regarded. When you have the antenna situation sorted out, proceed to Step Four.

STEP FOUR: Get A Media Streaming Device

Amazon Fire TV

If you have a Smart TV with apps for Netflix, Hulu and etc. -- or if you don't mind watching TV on your mobile or computer -- then you might be able to get by without a separate streaming device. But your entertainment options open up a lot with one, and they’re not terribly expensive.

See our media streaming device reviews, and simple device comparison chart to pick the best one for you. Short version:

  > If you’re an “Amazon person”: Amazon Fire TV ($99)

  > If you’re an “Apple person”: Apple TV ($129/$149)

  > If you want the best value: Chromecastr ($35) (you’ll need a smartphone or tablet to use with it)

  > If you want the most content and the fan-favorite: Roku ($50-$99)

Our favorite, if you’re wondering, is the Roku 3, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the major contenders. Don’t overlook the streaming sticks (Roku or Fire TV). They're about half the price of the players, while offering most of the functionality.

When you’ve picked a device, or decided to stick with your Smart TV, proceed to Step Five.

STEP FIVE: Choose A Streaming Service

A streaming or Internet TV service replaces your cable package to give you access to a wealth of TV shows and movies.

The major options are:

  > Netflix (starting at $8/month; lots of original series, past seasons of popular TV shows, movies)

  > Hulu (starting at $8/month; streams current seasons of popular TV shows with the latest episodes appearing very soon after airing, plus lots of movies)

  > Amazon Video ($99/year, which is $8.25/month; includes free 2-day shipping on Amazon purchases and some other perks; original TV series, other hit shows and movies)

  > Sling TV (starting at $20/month for access to live TV (live sports!) on a growing list of popular cable channels—including ESPN. See Sling TV’s basic channels and add-on packages.)

  > Sony’s Playstation Vue (pricier, starting at $50/month, but offers a bigger selection of channels)

Deciding which one, or ones, to use may be a fluid process. With Netflix and Hulu, for example, subscriptions are by-the-month, so you can use one, binge-watch what you want, then switch to the other for a while.

Note for sports fans: Sling TV will be a must-have for you. This is how you can watch ESPN and its sister-channels, as well as access to the ESPN live streaming app.

When you have a plan for a streaming service, proceed to Step Six.

STEP SIX: Fill In The Gaps (As Needed)  

Game of Thrones

Watch all of HBO with a standalone subscription

There are some other popular channels you can get a-la-carte. You pay a monthly subscription and get unlimited access, just like when you had the channel via cable. Here’s what’s available:

  > HBO ($15/month)

  > Showtime ($11/month; a couple dollars less when bundled through Hulu or Amazon Prime)

  > CBS All Access ($6/month)

Find Free TV Online: Don’t overlook the options to stream free TV online. You’re already in the best place to see what’s available. Browse our Editor's Picks of what's on now, or use the search box to explore channels around the world.

Some channels, like BBC and ITV, stream hours of great shows free online--but use geo-blockers, restricting access for viewers in other countries. See how to unblock geo-restricted websites if you want to watch these channels from here in the US.

EXTRA TIPS 

Buying shows and movies a-la-carte

There are several places where you can buy individual TV episodes and movies these days. Vudu, iTunes and Google Play are some major ones, but there are others.

It can be hard to see what show or episode is available where, and for how much. Use one of the sites set up to help with that. JustWatch.com and CanIStream.it are very well done. There are also several mobile apps available. Search your preferred app platform for keywords like “streaming TV” “streaming TV guide” and the like.

Some add-ons for Kodi, a media center platform, make it easy for users to watch pirated shows and movies.

Using illegal/sketchy streaming or download services

Plenty of people out there use file-sharing or torrent sites to watch TV illegally. For example, Kodi with certain (very popular) add-ons, Project Free TV, Popcorn Time (oops, that just got shut down) and similar sketchy-to-downright-against-the-law means.

Simply put, if you’re getting content you’re supposed to pay for without paying, then something illegal is going on. The feds have really been cracking down on this lately. We certainly recommend staying away from pirated content.

That said, if you’re going to engage in random streaming with multiple partners we can’t stop you. We can only caution you to USE PROTECTION. See how to stream safely, wherever you watch.

Get more help from the wTVPC Cord Cutters Club™:

> Compare Streaming Devices

> Read Reviews

> More Help & How-To For Beginners​ 

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