Cutting the Cable Cord: An Introduction

In June 2014, I wrote a series about streaming media devices like the Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Google Chromecast. Since then, the most common question I receive from readers is whether you can use these devices to “cut the cable cord,” i.e. cancel your cable TV service.

I was replying to this question so often in the comments that I finally added it to the FAQ post about streaming media devices:

“If you cancel your cable or satellite service, you will lose some programming. For example, if you watch cable news shows like CNN or Fox News, you can get some segments through their channels on the Roku, but you won’t get everything they broadcast and most of it will not be live. Also, services like Netflix/Amazon/Hulu, etc. don’t necessarily offer every entertainment program you might want to watch. So it depends what you watch now and whether or not those programs are available through your player.

Also, if you live in an area where you can’t get high-bandwidth Internet service at a reasonable cost, you may found using Roku is more expensive than your cable service.”

While the first sentence about losing some programming is still true, I knew there were other ways to fill in some of these gaps; I just wasn’t sure exactly how they worked. So I’m going to unplug my cable connection to simulate cutting my own cord and then report back on whether or not these methods will be enough to make up for the lost service.

Note: Throughout this series, I’ll be using the term “cable” to refer to all types of TV technologies, including cable, satellite, fiber optic, and Internet Protocol (IP).

Before I get into the details, there are a LOT of caveats that I need to put out there. Please read these before moving on to any of the other pages.

  • Everything I’m going to write about is going to be based on my personal TV watching practices. Something that may work well for me may not work for you depending on what you like to watch and how.
  • Likewise, everything I’m going to write about is very U.S.-specific. I have absolutely no idea what will work in other countries (other than a little bit about streaming media players in Canada).
  • If you live far away from broadcast TV towers or don’t have access to high-speed Internet, your only option may be cable.
  • Shows that aren’t available over the air (via antenna) will only be available if the network provides a streaming version of it. And even if they do provide one, they may only allow you to view it for free if have a cable subscription from a participating subscriber or through a paid service (e.g. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu).
  • At the moment, HBO falls into the category above. However, in April 2015, they will be offering a standalone streaming service. Full details of how it will work and what it will cost have not yet been released but when they are, I’ll share it here.
  • The options I’ll be writing about won’t be the only ones available. For example, there are a lot of devices that you can stream content through including the Wii, Playstation, Xbox, and smart TVs.
  • I am not at all an expert in audio or video technologies. So while I’ll be explaining how to do certain things, I probably won’t be able to explain how it’s working behind the scenes.

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That’s it for now. Next post: Watching Live Broadcast TV with an Antenna

Elizabeth Kricfalusi

View Comments

  • Re: cutting the cable cord, I have a cable card option on my tv , if my cable co. Still supports the card, how could this help cutting the cord.

    • Hi Mark.

      I'm not sure what you're asking. If you cancel your cable subscription (i.e. cut the cord), then I assume your cable card will not continue to work anymore.

      - Elizabeth

  • What's the point of "cutting the cord" if my kids can't watch their shows on Disney or nick because "a cable or satellite subscription may be required"? Also, does that mean I would still have to have Directv or is it referring to a subscription directly with a Disney or Nick app-style provider?

    • Hi Scott.

      When you cancel your cable subscription, you may lose access to various networks and shows you want to watch. You need to check with each individual network (e.g. Disney, Nickelodeon) to see whether they provide standalone subscription options and, if not, see if their shows are available through third-party content providers like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, Google Play, etc.

      Some networks give you access to their on-demand apps if you have Internet service from one of their partner companies, even if you don't have cable service. Unfortunately, you'll still need to check with each individual network to see what they offer.

      - Elizabeth

  • I'm confused. Is this a one-time fee or will there be hidden fees later? Meaning: I buy Fire TV (or whatever it's called), cancel my cable (because I'm paying for something I don't watch), and begin "streaming" what I do want to watch. Will there be a bill that comes to me later? Do I have to set up a subscription?

  • If we ONLY watch Netflix, can we cancel our Comcast cable and keep the Internet? Maybe this is a dumb question but I'm not very tech savvy. Thanks!

    • Hi Melissa.

      You'll have to see what options Comcast has in your area, but usually they have an Internet-only option. However, it's often not that much cheaper than a basic cable package, especially for existing customers. They usually only give the good deals to non-customers (which is extremely annoying). You may be able to get a better deal if you call them and tell them you're thinking of switching to another provider.

      Then you'll need a streaming player to watch Netflix on your TV unless you have a smart TV that already supports Netflix.

      I hope that helps!

      - Elizabeth

    • Hi Sonny.

      You can get an HDMI switcher/spliter that you plug your devices into and then plug it into your TV. I don't have a specific model to recommend, but you can check out some of these at Amazon:

      http://amzn.to/1FUG576

      I hope that helps!

      - Elizabeth

  • This is all great information, thank you so much for writing all this. you have answered nearly all of my questions!
    One question that I havent seen addressed is that of DVR's. EVERYTHING I watch is pre-recorded. I realize Hulu and Vudu and Netflix will likely end a lot of that, but do you know if any of the streamers have the ability to record?

    • Hi Mike.

      I'm glad you've found the information helpful. I'm not sure exactly what you're looking for. In my final post in the Cutting the Cable Cord series, I do mention a DVR that I bought so that I can record shows from my antenna (requires a separate hard drive or USB flash drive to save the recordings). It's a very basic one -- nothing like the ones that come with a cable box -- but it does the basic job of recording.

      Cutting the Cable Cord: Putting It All Together

      But that has nothing to do with the streaming boxes. Almost all the content you would access through them is on-demand. They don't have recording abilities themselves.

      The other thing that can record streaming content is PlayLater software (bundled with PlayOn). I wrote about it here:

      I hope that helps!

      - Elizabeth

  • How do I get a price list of the pay channels? With all the info I have read it seems like a very large leap to cut cable without knowing more details.

    • Hi Tim.

      Unfortunately I'm not aware of any place where you can get a complete list of prices for the different channels, which definitely is one of the big challenges. You basically need to think about what you want to watch and then find out who offers them and find out what their fees are.

      - Elizabeth

  • I would really love to cut the cable so was contemplating the amazon fire tv box but it says you have to have hd tv...I have 4 tv's , none of which are HD. Will these boxes work on tv's that are not HD as long as there is an hdmi connection?

    I am not "tech savy" and am a single 66 year old woman who is trying very hard to learn to adapt to all the new technology, one little piece at a time.

    Thank you very much.

    • Hi Pam.

      Thanks for your question! If your TV has an HDMI connection, then it should be an HDTV. (I can't think of a situation where that wouldn't be the case.) And you could definitely use the Fire TV box with it.

      However, if your TVs don't have HDMI connections, you can either use the Fire TV with an HDMI to A/V adapter (the image would no longer be HD, even if the signal is) or you could get a Roku 1 or Roku 2 instead. They have A/V ports (yellow, red, white) as well as HDMI ones.

      Note that if you need the adapter, it has a mini-HDMI port so you would need a cable with a full-size HDMI plug on one end and a mini HDMI-plug on the other end. Plus you'd need a cable with A/V plugs on both ends to connect the adapter to your TV.

      I hope that helps!

      - Elizabeth

      • can i completely discontinue my brighthouse cable company and still have a amazon fire tv stick work or must i have to pay for a cable company

        • Hi Susan.

          I'm sorry, but there's no simple answer to your question. It all depends on what you want to watch. You should read all the posts in this series to figure out if you can discontinue your cable service. The last post has a good summary that you may want to look at before you read the other ones:

          Cutting the Cable Cord: Putting It All Together

          - Elizabeth

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