Cutting the cable: Breaking up is easy to doBy now, you have no doubt realized that there is an increasing number of alternatives to cable and satellite TV provisioning. Your personal preferences and availability of time more or less contour your TV usage. Nevertheless, monthly charges for cable or satellite service are based on the cost of providing you a plethora of channel choices, each of which represents a portion of your total bill. Once I woke up to the fact that I was being charged up to $200 per month for 500 channels when I actually only watched perhaps ten of them, I knew it was time to listen to my tech friends who were encouraging me to cut the cable and try free streaming TV downloaded from the internet. I already had high-speed broadband Internet connectivity for which I paid $50 per month. That would cover my television viewing usage. Comparing $50 versus $200, the choice to cut the cable seemed like a no-brainer.

The truth is that it wasn’t quite as simple as that. At the time, if I didn’t want to connect my computer to my TV, I had but one option: the newly introduced Apple TV. That was seven years ago. I installed the device but continued to use DirecTV since the first generation Apple TV was quite basic. I felt that I would miss news, sports, and HBO channels. In its first generation, Apple TV was a fledgling “hobby” project for Apple; there was no assurance that it had any future. Resolution was 640×480 (DVD quality). The one thing it did offer was the ability to show, on demand, any video programming I rented or purchased from Apple. There was an increasing amount of programming added daily. The local box used a small internal hard drive to queue (buffer) video for replay, since broadband speeds were slow, slow, really slow. That was not the day and age of on-demand streaming. Let’s fast-forward seven years to when it’s much more realistic (and simple) to cut the cable.

Currently, all of the streaming options discussed in this article require a righteous broadband connection of at least 6 MB per second download speed to allow real-time 1080p streaming without interruption or glitches. The next generation of 4K-enabled devices will require download speeds of at least 25 MB per second. Your broadband provider charges about $50 per month for these speeds. But then, you are already paying the for Internet service, right?

Cut the cable Apple TV
Apple TV circa 2010 (Image: Jon Lee Clark)

The Apple TV went through a few iterations to arrive at its third generation, becoming a well-equipped little box with full 1080p HDTV. It is now tightly integrated into the “Apple Infrastructure,” meaning that it behaves well with Macs, iTunes, iPads, and iPhones. For an Applista, the $99 price tag was quite appealing. Your music and video libraries are accessible: you can connect to podcasts, YouTube , Hulu, and Netflix. There are several other channels for special interests. Recently, HBO Now allows you to purchase HBO a la carte for $15 per month, on demand but not yet live streaming. Some channels, like ESPN GO, are offered, but you must first subscribe to a provisioning cable or satellite service to be granted access … so much for being able to cut the cable there.

Recently, the Apple TV price tag has been reduced to $69. The rationale behind this discounted pricing is the pending release of the fourth generation Apple TV in the fall with (most likely) game apps, more network real-time streaming channels, 4K resolution, and an improved user interface. There is supposedly going to be a touch-screen Wi-Fi remote, possibly with voice command. You can wait for the v4 or get the slick little v3 box now for $69 while supplies last.

How to cut the cable even if you don’t like Apple

Not an Apple fan? Don’t feel left out. There are far more of you than declared Applistas. A multitude of competing streaming boxes are available with similar if not richer features. Let’s explore this:

Cut the cable Roku 2
Image: Intel Free Press

-Smart TVs are now marketed that have access to streaming channels built in. There is no need to purchase a streaming box. This may or may not offer all the channels you want and the likelihood of added channels being introduced over time is uncertain. Nevertheless, this solution is straightforward and commonplace.

-Game consoles are now offered with streaming capability. This feature also appears on Blu-ray players.

-I already talked about Apple TV; however, similar and equally popular products available are Roku (stick or box), Google Chromecast (stick or box), and the Amazon Fire TV (currently stick only, the box has been discontinued). All of these products offer more available channels than Apple TV. Right now, these products have price ranges between $39 and $99. Besides price, the difference is in features and capabilities. Amazon requires you to subscribe to Amazon Prime for an annual fee of $99 to get full features. (Amazon Prime includes many other benefits as well.)

Cut the cable choices

The streaming landscape is changing rapidly. Traditional cable channel stations are re-engineering and changing their business models to be part of the internet-based streaming technology. Traditional cable and satellite delivery services are in a quandary as to which way to turn in order to continue to deliver televised content in the face of more people choosing to cut the cable. Time will tell what their inventive minds come up with. Certainly, the FCC will play a role as things sort out. Why? Streaming video now accounts for 75 percent of Internet traffic. That is hardly going to go unregulated for long. The recent scuffle over net neutrality is just the start. The lobbyists are pulling out the stops to make streaming internet bandwidth a profit center. In a way, it has a note of fair play to it. The Internet “backbone” is a very real cost that should be apportioned according to usage. To my mind, you get what you pay for.

Here’s the bottom line: do your homework, and you will arrive at a solution that meets your needs. You will likely end up saving about $1,000 per year if you choose to cut the cable. That is certainly worth paying attention to!

I’ll be back in a few weeks to cover the new streaming boxes being introduced for the holiday season. This is a deep topic of discussion in the tech and regulatory world right now. Keep you ears open; things can only work to your advantage. Paying $200 cable bills? I don’t think so!

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