Cable or Streaming: What is Right for You?Cord cutting is becoming a more appealing option over a traditional TV subscription, but what do you need to start?

A person holds the remote control for their streaming box, looking at different streaming apps.

Cable vs Streaming TV: Cord Cutting Options

By 2019, Americans will collectively spend more time on the internet than watching traditional television. Streaming services have already transformed how television is created and consumed — think of Netflix seasons that are binged instead of watched week-by-week — but more and more consumers are choosing to switch entirely from TV and cable subscriptions to online streaming services. It's common enough that it has a name: “cord cutting.” Here's why it is happening, and how to tell if it's right for you.

What Is Streaming TV?

Instead of using traditional cable or satellite, streaming TV uses the internet to deliver shows to your screen. This can be your computer or a regular TV screen, often with the use of an app or external box. Smart TVs might have built-in apps to allow streaming directly. A smart TV will function best when connected to a higher-speed internet option in your home, such as cable internet. This provides a higher quality picture, including 1080p, or even 4K in some cases.

Cord Cutting Guide: How To Drop Cable and Start Streaming

Cord cutting does not entail physically cutting a cord, but cutting a cord metaphorically out of your life. You are freeing yourself from traditional TV providers, giving yourself the ability to stream TV over wireless internet.

The reason this is popular is that it gives the user more freedom than the old way of watching TV. You no longer need to pay a large fee for a thousand channels when you only watch 30. While a traditional cable subscription could be more than $100, streaming options generally start around $40, though one option is only $15 per month. There are also packages that let you add channels, allowing you to narrow down what you are paying for.

What You Need In Order to Stream TV Shows

Live Streaming

The “Big 5” apps for streaming live TV are: Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue, and DirecTV Now. While there are many more apps for watching syndicated or previously broadcast television shows, the Big 5 lead the industry in accessing the newest or live content. As such, these can be used to replace your traditional cable provider.

Each is slightly different, such as different DVR capabilities or providing live local channels. They are slowly gaining popularity, with 2.3 million customers on Sling and 1.8 million using DirecTV Now. AT&T also recently got into the business, with AT&T Watch, slimming down their offering by cutting out sports channels.

Alternatively, you can go with specific channels that offer their own services, such as CBS All Access or HBO Now. These offer only their specific channel's shows, but also have exclusive offerings, like Star Trek: Discovery and Game of Thrones, which can't be found on other streaming services without an additional subscription.

Syndicated Streaming

The juggernaut of Netflix also needs mentioning, along with a normal Hulu account that does not offer live channels, and Amazon Prime. Each offers movies and shows, as well as original content not found anywhere else. These subscription services don't offer channels, but just content.

You will also need a device to stream the app. If your TV is a smart TV, it may already have access to apps like Hulu and Sling. PlayStation Vue, as the name implies, can be used on a PlayStation video game console. Other devices that can connect to your TV include the Amazon Fire, Roku, Google Chromecast, or Apple TV. As mentioned, your PlayStation 4 or Xbox One will also work. These also include other apps, as well. If you want DVR functionality, you may need to buy an external device, such as the Amazon Recast or TiVo's offerings.

Finally, you will need live somewhere with access to a high-speed internet connection. The better your TV, the better the picture will need to be, and thus the better your connection will need to be. The absolute minimum is 4 Mb/s for streaming, but for 1080p, 4K, and 3D streaming, you will need at least triple that.

Is Cable Worth It in the Streaming Age?

For some, cutting the cord is worth it. For some 71 percent of TV viewers, it is not. If you want all that cable has to offer — movies, “prestige” shows from channels like HBO and Showtime, sports, local channels — it may not be worth it. If you are only interested in a few of those aspects — HBO, for example, only streams through its own services — then going piecemeal can work. Otherwise, it is prohibitively expensive.

Cable TV Providers and Internet Providers

Both TV providers and streaming providers require subscriptions. Packages may be different, as mentioned above, but it can be tricky discovering the right package for you. Here's a few examples:

YouTube TV

Does not include: A&E, Comedy Central, Discovery, the Food Network, HGTV, History, and Lifetime.

Hulu with Live TV

Does not include: AMC, BBC America, Comedy Central, Discovery, MTV, Nickelodeon, and major sports-specific channels.

Sling TV

Offers different packages, each with different channels missing. Sling Orange, for example, does not include Fox, FX, Bravo, and USA Network, while Blue is missing ABC, Disney, and ESPN.

Cable TV vs Streaming: Pros and Cons

If you are looking at slimming down what you are watching, and possibly saving money, streaming cable over the internet is a great option. You can pick and choose your service, getting sets of channels as you see fit.

You can also skip to certain channels' specific services, which are becoming more prevalent, such CBS All Access or HBO Now. Combine these with a default Hulu account, Netflix, or Amazon Prime, and you still have a wide selection of shows and movies to watch.

However, you must have a good internet connection to take full advantage of streaming services and become a cord cutter. You might find bundles a better option, such as offered with DirecTV with satellite and internet services, or Comcast Xfinity offering internet, and Comcast's cable TV. Windstream, Mediacom, and Suddenlink also offer bundles. If you want it all, these might be the better options.

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