Cut the cable: Use alternatives to watch TV

Michelle Basch,

WASHINGTON – Those tired of paying a big cable or satellite TV bill are starting to consider cutting the cord or ditching the dish for over-the-air and Internet TV instead.

“It is a great time to cut, and it’s a great time to see how it works for you. There’s no harm in experimenting, and you might be surprised how much you can see out there,” says CNET Senior Editor Scott Stein.

Stein says the first thing anyone should do is make sure he can still watch local channels. He recommends buying an antenna that will pick up over-the-air HD signals.

A problem some may run into is trying to record certain shows off those broadcasts.

“There are very few recorders out there that record over-the-air broadcasts. TiVo does make a model that can do it, but you do have to pay in to TiVo services in order to get their box.”

The next step is to check out streaming video services.

“The subscription-based ones, like Netflix and Hulu Plus, they run on a ton of devices from phones to tablets to game consoles and even little puck-like boxes, like the Apple TV and Roku boxes. You often find those services already on a lot of modern televisions or Blu-Ray players, so it’s really all over the place,” says Stein.

Both Hulu Plus and Netflix charge $8 a month for unlimited streaming.

“Amazon Prime has a pretty good instant streaming video collection that you get for free if you sign up for their yearly service, which nets out as a little less expensive than Netflix,” says Stein.

He calls the Roku LT, which costs about $50, “a really great value for what you get.”

Another way to get streaming video to on a TV is through a device some kids may already be using.

“Game consoles offer a great package right now. The Xbox 360 has a ton of streaming video services available for you to plug into on it. Even devices, like the Nintendo Wii U have YouTube, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon built into it. I think a lot of these consoles are getting smarter with that.”

In some cases those wanting to keep up with a current TV series will need to buy a season-long pass from places like iTunes or Amazon Instant Video.

“It may cost you about $20, but considering you’ll have access to those shows permanently and you’ll be able to watch along with the season, it’s not such a terrible deal if you really care about following a few shows and price it out like that,” says Stein.

He warns that some current shows simply can’t be found online.

“HBO, most notoriously, is impossible to get unless you’re actually subscribing to HBO. Current seasons of their shows are held back from any service, even iTunes, for purchase until later. So you can’t follow along as the season’s going on, even if you want to pay for it.”

There are several websites that help find the shows online, including, and The Xbox 360 also comes with a handy search feature.

“You can actually speak into it with a Kinect or enter a search word, and it’ll tell you where that show is, and how many different services provide it, whether you want to pay to rent it, or in some places it might be available free to stream,” says Stein.

“I did not have cable for years, and I admit I moved and got back on cable. But I did that because I wanted to see what I was missing, and the answer so far is not so much,” he adds.

Follow @MBaschWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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