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Cutting the Cord: Considerations

My wife and I have been discussing cutting the cord for years and after another maddening interaction with our satellite television provider and increasing monthly costs – we may be letting them loose next Monday.

Read the ‘Cutting the Cord’ Series:

We have been formulating our plan by watching as streaming technology and services have matured rapidly over the past 3-4 years and I’ll explain what choices we made, why and where you can go to do the same if you so choose.

Cutting the cord can save you serious cash each month with little upfront cost and you may actually gain services – we will.

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There are three main considerations when deciding to cut off the behemoth cable or satellite provider that’s been raiding your bank account for years: channel/content selection, internet service quality/availability, and streaming device.

Why We Switched from DirecTV to streaming services

Our family switched from Time Warner to DirecTV years ago and it saved us a bit of money, but lately the equipment rental fees, wire fees, connectivity taxes and a slew of other crap costs as much as the plan we’re on.

Our kids don’t watch television … at all. I watch sports, news, and movies .. that’s it. My wife watches movies and reality TV.

Between the increasing fees and taxes and the fact that we don’t watch 95% of the channels we’re paying for, we decided to make the switch.

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Our Current Setup

We have Directv for television, DVRs, and the rare video-on-demand movie at a cost of over $150/month.

For movies and youtube music night, we use Amazon PrimeNetflix and the Youtube app on Sony Playstation 3 & 4 systems.

Amazon Prime ($99/yr) we would pay for just for the free shipping – the free movies, movies, books and more of a bonus. We are part of the increasing number of American families that don’t want to spend our free time at the store when what we need can be shipped to us for free. It gives us more time to spend doing fun things together and getting things done around the house and right now Amazon is offering a 30-Day Free Trial.

We turned on Netflix ($10.74/mo) years ago to enhance the craptastic movie choices available on our regular subscription. Even with so-called premium movie channels, it was rare to find anything to watch on family movie night. Netflix also has a 30-day free trial at this time.

We have spectrum internet with a leased modem ($10/mo) and 100 Mb/s download speed ($69.99/mo.)

Before cutting the cord, we are spending about $250 for internet + television + movies – ouch!

Analyzing which costs can be cut

To cut the cord, we had to be honest with ourselves about which things we could cut and which things we wanted to keep.

Internet service had to stay and, in our area, there’s only one choice with 100 Mb/s service so that $69 is baked in unless we call every 3 months to get the new promotional rate (which we do.) However, the modem lease fee of $10/month is not a foregone conclusion. We just ordered a high-quality cable modem for $105 and in 11 months will have recouped the costs. Our current cable modem is 2 years old so we’ve paid $240 for this one and don’t get to keep it. The modem we had before this one was in the house for 7 years .. the math on that is humiliating.

We require 100Mb/s service because my job is 100% internet related and our family members are all heavy users of streaming content for education and entertainment. The streaming service we are expecting to use for television only requires 10 Mb/s + 5Mbb/s for each additional stream going concurrently. So you might be able to save more with a smaller bandwidth plan. Our streaming entertainment use will only consume about 10-20 Mb/s of our available 100 Mb/s service so that leaves plenty of headroom for work downloads, video publication, kids gaming/youtube/downloads and typical internet web viewing.

Amazon Prime is staying. We get our $99 back on Christmas and Birthday gifts alone. Having gifts shipped to the recipient for free simply cannot be beaten.

Netflix is also staying. The amazing original movies and series make the service a keeper. Our family finds more movie night winners on Netflix than anywhere else.

So $19/month in streaming (Amazon + Netflix) and $70 for the internet means we have $89 in costs that will continue no matter how we deal with Directv.

Choosing a Streaming Service

My wife and I poured through the content offered by PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, HULU, and Directv Now.

Hulu’s big downer for us was no live TV (although they are planning to launch this feature sometime this year.) We already have Netflix and Amazon for video on demand so without news, sports and live TV events like award shows, it had little to offer us.

Sling TV is the least expensive service we reviewed. Sling works on a variety of streaming devices including Android, iOS, PC’s, Amazon Fire, Roku and more, but its channel selection is slim at best. $20/month gets you 20 channels that are missing many news networks and sports outlets. The full $40/month plan gives you 40 channels but many won’t necessarily work in your market. The deal killer for us is no DVR and it doesn’t run on PlayStation which would force us to buy new devices for every non-smart TV in the house (which is all of them.)

Directv Now offers 60+ channels for $35/mo + taxes and fees. It has Bravo, Hallmark, ESPN and the cable news networks, but no HBO even if you upgrade to the $70/mo package so we would have to add HBO Go at $14/mo for that – Game of Thrones? Hello?!?  Our minimum outlay would be $50/month with DTV Now and HBO Go to get what we want. DTV Now does not work on the Playstation 3/4 and is missing a DVR feature to record live TV. We’re a busy family and won’t just rush home for whatever show. Limited Channel selection and no DVR = deal-killers.

Playstation Vue is the most mature of the live streaming services with plans starting at $30/month which includes 45+ channels of live TV viewing and ESPN/ESPN 2 for sports but lacks the many of the sports channels I like and can’t get elsewhere. For $35/month, ESPNU, ESPNNews, MLBTV and NFLTV are all included which meets my sports-watching requirements. For $45/month you get all 90 live TV channels and at $65/month you get the 90+ live TV channels plus HBO and Showtime.  The only channel my wife wanted that wasn’t in the lineup was the Hallmark channel, but she was ok with that as all her romantic comedies and holiday movies are on Netflix/Amazon/other Vue channels anyway. Vue does offer a cloud DVR for free and the ability to watch 3 channels at once on a single television through the Playstation 4 and as many as your computer can handle on PC!

There are no contracts or equipment leases so this is an easy-in/easy-out arrangement.

Playstation VUE made the best sense to us so picked the $65 package.

Running Total = $89 (streaming & internet) + $65 (PS Vue) = $154 per month – a savings of  almost a hundred bucks a month!

Streaming Devices

Unless you have a smart TV or gaming console with built-in streaming support for whichever service you select, you’re going to need a streaming device to view your content. We already have Playstation 3’s in two room and a PS4 in the home theater so we’re set, but there is the guest bedroom which currently has a satellite receiver in it that we’ll have to do something about before the mother-in-law’s next visit.

Roku and Amazon own the add-on streaming device market. Amazon’s Fire TV and Roku offer very similar functionality at similar price points for each of the different product levels. In general, you can expect to spend between $35 and $100 on an add-on streaming device.

The trial weekend

This weekend I’m disconnecting the satellite connection and we’re going to entertain ourselves using only streaming internet services. Part II will be a post mortem of our trial experience relating to you what we decide to do.

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About Duncan Idaho

Duncan is a science and technology reporter for CDN and serves as the lead geek correspondent. Follow him if you like rockets, mobile tech, video games or ... just about anything nerdy.
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