A Plethora of Options for Cable Cutters

April 2017

As of last September the average cable TV bill was $103 per month. No offense to the local cable TV companies, but I'm here to tell you that you have lower-cost options.

Sling TV — We've covered cable cutting before, most notably when the $20/month Sling TV launched with over 30 channels, including CNN, ESPN, TBS, Travel, History, TNT, Comedy Central, TBS, A&E, and BBC. You can stream the channels to a computer, smartphone, or tablet, or to your TV via a connected device, such as Roku, Chromecast, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV. A 7-day free trial is available.

Sling was the first to offer a bundle of TV channels without your needing to be a cable subscriber, but now there are three additional services you can choose from, all of them saving you a lot of money compared to a traditional cable package. Each has a somewhat different selection of channels, such that you can choose the bundle that best suits your taste.

Late last year, DirecTV Now and PlayStation Vue became available on a wide variety of devices, and in late February of this year YouTube announced YouTube TV.

PlayStation Vue — I didn't pay much attention to Sony's PlayStation View when it became available in 2015, because it was fairly expensive and because I assumed one needed a PlayStation gaming machine to use their TV service. That latter assumption was correct. But in 2016, Sony began offering a slimmed-down version of their bundle at a much more affordable price — plus, it became available on a wider variety of devices.

The PlayStation Vue Bundles start at $30/month for over 45 channels, including ESPN, CNN, AMC, TBS, CNBC, Disney, Comedy Central, and Fox News. ABC and NBC offer on-demand content. And those living in certain large cities can actually also watch live network TV, though that costs an additional $10/month. Addons available include Showtime for $11/month and HBO and Cinemax for $15/month. Like Sling, they offer a free 7-day trial. Supported devices include smartphones, tablets, computers, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Android TV.

The service has a cloud DVR feature that lets you record and save any show for up to 28 days in the cloud. In addition, you can stream up to five programs simultaneously (for example, if multiple family members want to use the service at the same time to watch different programs).

DirecTV Now — Last December AT&T launched DirecTV Now, with the price starting at $35 for about 60 channels. Other bundles include over 120 channels for $70/month. HBO and Cinemax are available as $5 addons with any of their bundles. Like the others, the service offers a 7-day free trial. It's compatible with a smartphone, tablet, and computer, and you can watch it on your TV via an Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, and more.

In some large cities, you can watch the major networks live. Otherwise, you'll be able to watch the programs the next day. Unlike the PlayStation view, there's no DVR option for recording live programming, though the company says they'll eventually be offering that. Like PlayStation Vue, you'll be able to stream programs simultaneously, but you'll be limited to two such streams.

Currently DirecTV Now is offering a free Apple TV device ($150 value) for streaming to your HDTV if you sign up and prepay for three months of service. (See directvnow.com/appletv.)

YouTube TV — As I write this, YouTube TV is only available in a few major markets. But the company says it will quickly expand to cover more cities across the country. The price is $35/month for 40 channels, including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN, FX, USA, Bravo, Disney, and SyFy.

The service will have some notable distinguishing features. Chief among them is the DVR capability, which will let you have unlimited storage in the cloud, and which will save shows for up to nine months. You'll be able to have up to six personalized accounts, each with its own DVR repository. The service offers up to three simultaneous streams.

YouTube TV works on smartphones, tablets, and computers, and you can stream it to your TV via Google's Chromecast devices. However, the biggest limitation of the service is that it's not available to be streamed to your TV via devices such as Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, or Android TV.

TV Antenna — Of course, the cheapest route is an antenna for receiving HD broadcasts "over the air." Indoor models with a range of 50–60 miles include the RCA 1750F ($79), RCA Ultra-Thin ($59), and Winegard FlatWave Amped ($49). A friend in Fairfield gets quite a few channels on his RCA 1750F, but depending on your surroundings, you might need a rooftop antenna.

© 2017 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen