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You can stop paying for cable TV now

It's gotten so easy to find TV shows and sports on streaming video services that you likely don't need a cable or satellite subscription to watch your favorite programs.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 7, 2014 1:11PM

This post comes from Dan Schointuch at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News on MSN MoneyA few years ago I moved into a new apartment and did something revolutionary: I didn't set up cable or satellite TV. I was frustrated by the lack of choice (only one cable provider), lengthy contracts and inexplicably high prices.


As someone who watches a lot of television, this seemed like a truly difficult problem, but I resolved to find a way to see my favorite shows without paying a cable or satellite bill. Fortunately, it was much easier than I thought.


Here's how to cut the cable, step by step.


You can watch HDTV with an antenna

The picture from on-air TV stations is perfectly clear, thanks to the switch to digital TV completed in 2009. You'll either see a crisp, beautiful image or no image at all (static is a thing of the past). And the best part? All your favorite programming will still be in HD.


HDTV is more expensive for local stations to produce, so it's common to see a station broadcast in regular standard definition during the day, but switch their signal to high definition for prime time. So while the local news may not be in HD, shows like "Big Brother," "America's Got Talent" and "The Big Bang Theory" will be.


Of course, you will need an antenna to make this work, and your HDTV will also have to have an HDTV tuner built in. This is sometimes referred to as "integrated HDTV." If it doesn't, you’ll need to buy a separate HDTV tuner that connects your existing HDTV to an antenna. To check, consult your HDTV's manual, do a search online, or contact the manufacturer.


AntennaWeb, a site provided by the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Association of Broadcasters, will show you exactly where to point your antenna for the best reception at your address. It will also let you see which stations are broadcasting over the air in your area. There may be more than you think.


What about shows that aren't on broadcast channels?

Two of my favorite shows, "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report," air on Comedy Central, which isn't a channel you can receive with an antenna. Fortunately, Internet to the rescue! If you have a computer and Internet access -- there's no way I'd be able to live without paying for Internet -- both shows can be watched in their entirety on their respective websites for free.


Like most online shows, you'll have to sit through a few commercials, but less than you would see watching the same show on television and without having to pay for the privilege.


Popular website Hulu has a huge variety of TV shows available to watch online, though you have to pay for Hulu Plus at $8 a month for access to the full catalog. Amazon Instant Video is another option for TV shows, with many of its programs, including original programming, available without additional charge if you're an Amazon Prime member. Memberships costs $99 a year.


Netflix is a great way to watch past seasons of favorite shows, which can be streamed instantly to many devices, such as your computer, iPhone, Android, Xbox, PlayStation and Wii. You can watch as much as you want for $8 a month (a dollar more for new members). Compared with the cost of a cable or satellite subscription with premium movie channels, that's a pittance.


Plus, Netflix has a good selection of movies. Its original programming only sweetens the deal, with award winners like "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black" available only through its service.


Where do you watch live sports online?

If you're getting your Internet from one of these providers, you already have free access to ESPN3, a "broadband network for live sports programming." Not every game on paid TV is available online, but you can watch thousands of games and events live with chat, stats, scoreboards and picture-in-picture.


MLB.tv has an $80-a-year membership that will let you stream many regular-season baseball games right to your computer/Xbox/PS4/etc., live or on demand, and in HD when available. Paired with an antenna to watch local broadcasts, you might be able to watch every game you're interested in for a little more than $6 a month.


NBA League Pass lets basketball fans stream regular-season, out-of-market games, similar to MLB.tv. Unlike regular cable, a membership lets you watch up to three games simultaneously in HD with live stats and "replays of select games." Last year, the price was about $200, and there are limitations to the service. But die-hard fans may find it a necessary part of their cable-cutting adventure.


If you're willing to wait until just after a game has aired to watch it, football fans can get "full replays of every regular-season NFL game on demand, online and in high definition" with NFL Game Rewind. A regular season of viewing costs only $40, but for $70 it will include the playoffs and the Super Bowl. A $30 option exists for those who care only about their favorite team's regular-season games.


Videos are streamed without commercials or halftime shows, saving valuable hours of your life and dramatically improving the experience, in my opinion.


Hockey fans should check out NHL Gamecenter Live for streaming video of their favorite out-of-market games (price varies depending on where you live), soccer fans can get a season subscription to MLS Live for $65 a year, and NASCAR fans have RaceView Premium and RaceBuddy as options. Even fans of bowling can watch live events through the USBC's Bowl TV.


You might be surprised at just how easy it's gotten to watch your favorite sports over the Internet. For everything else, there are free local broadcasts or your neighborhood sports bar.


But what about "premium" shows, like the ones on HBO, Cinemax and Starz?

Some shows can be purchased individually from sites like Amazon or Apple's iTunes Store a day or two after they air. If you do the math, you'll find that purchasing your favorite show is likely to be cheaper than paying for the channel it airs on month after month.


For everything else, you'll have to be a little patient and wait for the inevitable DVD release of last season. The typical DVD set for one season of a television series costs between $25 and $35, so you could buy several sets each month and still save over the cost of cable or satellite.


Or you can probably rent the DVDs from Netflix, for a separate $8-a-month subscription.


Meanwhile, HBO has a deal with Amazon to stream past seasons of most HBO shows on Amazon Prime. You'll also find past seasons of some of your favorite shows from Showtime and other premium channels via the streaming services.


How does all this Internet video get on my TV?

While streaming video to your computer sounds great, most people want to watch television on their television. Fortunately, there are tons of options to get your favorite shows on your big screen.


First, check your computer for an output designed to work with either an external monitor or TV. If you have one, you may be able to buy a cable and adapter that will plug your computer directly into your television.


Doing so is a bit like putting together a puzzle; you want to find pieces that connect to each other. This can be a little tricky, especially with all the different possible connections on the market. So if you're not tech-savvy, you may want to get a little help from someone who is or check out this video from Howcast called "How to connect your laptop to your television."


You might also want to look at media-streaming boxes. Like the cable box you'll be ditching, these connect to your TV and allow you to watch programming you wouldn't otherwise be able to see. The big difference? You can watch free and paid Internet content.


Couple on sofa watching television together © Blend Images, Hill Street Studios, the Agency Collection, Getty ImagesDepending on the box, you’ll be able to stream video from Netflix, Amazon, MLB.tv, Hulu and YouTube, audio from Internet radio stations, Pandora, and Last.fm, and watch movies or look at photos that have been stored on your home PC. Think of media streaming boxes as mini-computers for your TV.


You can buy a Roku streaming media player for as little as $40 on Amazon. It'll stream hundreds of "channels" from the Web right to your TV for less than the price of one month of cable or satellite. Plus, it's an open platform so developers are adding new channels all the time.


A Google Chromecast is only $35 brand-new on Amazon and offers up video and music from almost every streaming service around, but to use it effectively you'll need to own a smartphone or tablet (either Android or iOS) to act as a remote control. Otherwise, you'll have to use your PC to control it, and that can be cumbersome unless you're the kind of person who always has a laptop nearby.


Apple TV is like an iPod for your TV. It'll let you stream videos and audio from your iTunes collection, but only if they're in the right format. There are also apps to stream video from Hulu and Netflix among others, but no option for Amazon Instant Video. Of course, anything you purchase from iTunes will play perfectly, so this may be a great option for some. At $99, it's a slightly more expensive option for streaming, but if you're already committed to the Apple ecosystem and own several of its devices, it's something you'll want to consider.


Amazon Fire TV is the newest streaming box to hit the market and is priced identically to Apple TV at $99. But it has a slightly larger selection of streaming video services (since it includes Amazon Instant Video), and features some nifty technology, like voice control to simply tell it what you want to watch and pre-buffering so videos start instantly.


But what really sets the Fire TV apart is its graphics performance and, if you're willing to drop an additional $40 on a gaming controller, it can double as a budget alternative to a system like the Xbox One or PlayStation 4.


How much does all of this cost?

While the average cable bill is $90 a month or $1,080 a year, I was paying closer to $150 a month or $1,800 a year to see everything I wanted. Now I pay less than $10 a month for my Netflix subscription and watch everything else for free online or over-the-air broadcast. I don't need a TiVo (since you can just hit pause on a website), and I use a Roku as my media center. My $1,800-a-year expense is now about $100, and I can watch just about everything I want, whenever I want.


If I wanted to pay for a streaming sports package, that would increase my costs, but I'd still be paying far less than the total cost of the same broadcasts with traditional cable.


More from Money Talks News

187Comments
Jul 7, 2014 5:23PM
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As soon as everyone jumps ship on cable and satellite, they will raise internet data costs through the roof. The monopolies need to be checked, NOW!
Jul 7, 2014 4:39PM
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I've never had cable growing up Mom sent us outside to play and when it was dark we took showers and went to bed the good old days. Rainy days we watched some regular t.v. or a trip to the library and then there was the on going game of Monopoly lasted for a week or two. Once I moved out on my own I didn't have the extra money for cable and now that I do I go on line for shows and movies. There's always books. Cable is a extra bill that you don't really need.
Jul 7, 2014 4:29PM
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I would love a reasonable rate for cable services but like everyone else they want to rob you......
Jul 7, 2014 5:33PM
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We haven't had cable since 1994 and can't say as I miss it.  Digital antenna works well for us - mounted in the attic with an amplifier.  Spent about $150 or so on it when the digital switch occurred.  Prior to that is was just rabbit ears.  Funded my wife's IRA with what we saved since she only worked outside the home part time, if at all while the kids were home.  I never heard a parent say "I wished my kids watched more TV", so we cut the cable when we started having kids.  We survived off the antenna and a VCR, which has been replaced by a digital antenna, a Blue Ray Player, a wireles router and netflix.  Last child is in college but we still don't have cable or dish and I guess we never will.  We extended that philosphy to electronic gaming systems, since I never heard a parent say they wished their kids played more video games either.  We got a PC, put a few games on it and set it up in clear view of our kitchen.  Most likely saved a bunch of money on the various gaming systems over the years and never had to argue with the children over spending too much time glued to the TV or computer games.  It might not be the choice for your household, but I'm happy with the way it turned out in ours.   
Jul 7, 2014 6:20PM
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I work for the cable company... and let me tell you this.. every time someone thinks theyre going to save money by "cutting cable" the managment here laughs because they just raise the price of your internet sky high... for a new customer to sign up for service they can get internet and tv for 59.99 cost of internet by itself 54.99!!! you will never trick a fourtune 500 company out of making money, they just find some other way to rip you off!
Jul 7, 2014 4:49PM
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the cable companies will soon be hanging by a thread.
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You don't really need many things. The key is only wanting what you can afford, instead of what you can finance.
Jul 7, 2014 3:54PM
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I purchased an RCA converter box at Walmart for about 50 bucks and a 14 buck inside antenna, hooked it up and get all of the free channels and shows I want to view!
Only thing I miss is some of the College Football Games, but then again, there is the nearest bar, lol!

Jul 7, 2014 2:44PM
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You'll either see a crisp, beautiful image or no image at all?  Yeah, this guy obviously doesn't have a clue!  How about pixelation and chopped up audio anyone?  I've seen it happen often at a friends house where they only get weak reception.
Jul 7, 2014 2:42PM
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I cut the cable but then they added data caps to the internet. So Now I still can't watch everything I want without going over.
Jul 8, 2014 11:02AM
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The irony is TV's are better than ever, but the programming is trash. How many 'reality' shows rife with goobers, canned laughter sitcoms, everybody thinks they have talent, and cop shows are we supposed to stomach?
Jul 8, 2014 12:49AM
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I finally reached my tolerance limit.  Between broadband internet and standard cable, I was up to $123.99 from just $59.89 since 2009 for no change in service.  If anything, I lost a couple channels along the way.  That's over a 100% increase in just five years.  You know, those years where we've only had 2% (cough) inflation!  Almost 30% of the increase occurred in just the last two years!  I'm in the process of dropping the service.  The first attempt didn't go to well.  I visited the customer service center and requested the change but was ignored since the subsequent bill continued to charge for TV service and I'm still getting the service.  They also called me and told me I need to arrange a meeting between the cable company and the neighbour down the street who's yard contains the cable distribution pedestal before they can disconnect me.  Get that?  It's my responsibility they are telling me.  They had no trouble hooking me up.  Now they telling me they can't just disconnect me?  This is America!  Just bend over!  It's only Business.  Nothing personal.
Jul 7, 2014 11:16PM
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I don't have cable and haven't had it for over 30 years, but I am loving my 30 foot sailing boat.  Anyone up for a trip to Aruba this Fall?
Jul 7, 2014 5:10PM
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Dumped Directv. Save $1,500 per year. Bought a digital tv antenna. Get 70 channels in Dallas of which i use about 20. Have Cable internet wifi, no data limit for less than $50 per month.  Have a second laptop that is ethernet cabled to my router and a HDMI connection to the tv to stream sports.
Jul 7, 2014 3:04PM
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You pay ATT and so do the advertisers.  Sweet deal, eh?
Jul 7, 2014 2:59PM
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You forgot to mention that most cable companies do charge you more for only internet access, only if you bundle with cable TV you'll get a cheaper price. So you don't safe that much. 
Jul 8, 2014 9:41AM
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Here are the OUTRAGEOUS extra costs added to my monthly "BASIC" (BARE MINIMUM)  cable/internet bill:


State Gross Receipts Tax - $1.55

State Local Communications Tax - $3.54

State Communications Tax - $4.44

State Sales Tax - $0.42

----- PLUS-----

High Speed Internet Equipment Fee - $7.00

Receiver Fee - $8.00

Broadcast TV Surcharge - $2.99

Regulatory Video Cost Recovery Charge - $0.24



Jul 7, 2014 7:00PM
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never mentioned the cost of internet and the fact they he is still tethered to the cable company who can just raise his internet fee to make up the difference.
Jul 7, 2014 4:08PM
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I would love to get rid of Cox in Henderson, NV...It's costing me $150 a month and every year it goes up $10.00.... $1,800 a year, anyone in my area got any real solution.
Jul 7, 2014 3:38PM
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previous poster axis is right about "digital broadcast" = constant pixellation, cutouts, everytime wind blows...but if you have internet you can get it all without the 11 minute commercial breaks
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