The Beginner’s Guide to Cord Cutting 2021

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In This Guide

Establish Your Monthly Costs

When we survey Cord Cutters News readers about their reasons for cutting cable, saving money is consistently the top response. If you’re thinking about cutting the cord, start by looking at how much you’re currently paying for cable. Be sure to include taxes, extra fees, and equipment rental costs.

Many cord cutters use a combination of services to access the content they love, so if the overall cost is a concern, it makes sense to compare those total monthly costs to what you’re currently paying for cable or satellite. And once you have a rough idea of how much your current service costs each month, you can use that as a benchmark when comparing various cord-cutting options.

Related Reading: Study: Cord Cutters Pay Less than Half as Much as Traditional TV Subscribers

Cord cutting can often offer a more focused, customized viewing experience than the quantity-over-quality approach of most cable and satellite options, but getting the most bang for your buck means knowing what you want to watch.

Find the Content You Want

With a better idea of the content you love to watch, you can make more informed choices about which services to check out and which ones to ignore. You can start with a list of old and new faves you want to keep watching. If sports are a big concern, don’t forget to include leagues or specific teams you like to follow. 

Armed with your list of favorite content, it’s now time to survey the landscape and see what cord-cutting options make the most sense for your personal viewing tastes and preferences. They’re often available to watch in more places, too, with many services supporting a wide range of devices, so you can keep watching your shows on your phone or tablet around the house or on the go. While the world of cord cutting is constantly evolving, there are two key categories to consider: live TV and on-demand streaming.

“Cord cutting is not one-size-fits-all. Don’t rush. Take your time in discovering which apps will fit with your viewing habits. Don’t cut any of your current services until you’re comfortable with your new streaming setup.” -Rolanda S. from the Cord Cutting Tech Support Facebook group

What are Live TV Streaming Services?

Live TV services let you watch shows, sports, and other programs on your favorite channels in real-time. If you find yourself wanting to keep up with live TV, there are several options out there, many with different packages to help you better customize your options. Instead of tiers that just pile on hundreds of channels (and a heftier bill), many live TV streaming services offer plans that cater to certain tastes, like sports or music.

There are several options to choose from, but the good news is that many offer solid free trials and preview periods, so you can give them a test-drive to see which one best suits your needs. Worried you will miss your DVR? Don’t! All these services offer a built-in DVR option, so you will never miss your favorite show. And if you need more information, we’ve reviewed many of the most popular live TV services.

DirecTV Stream fuboTV Hulu with Live TV Philo Sling TV YouTube TV
Starts at $69.99/mo.* Starts at $64.99/mo.* Starts at $64.99/mo.* Starts at $25/mo.* Starts at $35/mo.* Starts at $64.99/mo.*
65+ channels 111+ channels 75+ channels 60 channels 32+ channels 85+ channels
20 hours of DVR storage 250 hours of DVR storage 50 hours of DVR storage Unlimited DVR storage for 30 days 50 hours of DVR storage Unlimited DVR storage
Good for sports fans looking for RSNs Good for national and international sports content Good for live TV, on-demand, originals, and more Good for entertainment on a budget Good for a la carte live TV Good for recording all your favorite shows

*Streaming prices and features are accurate as of October 2021.

What are On-Demand Streaming Services?

Don’t automatically assume you need to replace a giant cable package with a giant live TV streaming package. Many cord cutters find that they don’t need a live TV streaming service to watch their favorite content. We’ll cover watching live, local channels below and on-demand streaming services can offer the extras including older TV series, next-day streaming of current series, streaming originals, and more.

There’s no shortage of services to choose from, but it’s a good idea to start your cord cutting journey by taking a look at some of the bigger options out there. And like the live TV streaming services, many on this list include free trial periods.

Amazon Prime Video Apple TV+ Disney+ Hulu Netflix HBO Max
Starts at $8.99/mo.* Starts at $4.99/mo.* Starts at $7.99/mo.* Starts at $6.99/mo.* Starts at $8.99/mo.* Starts at $9.99/mo.
Enjoy shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Jack Ryan, and Bosch Enjoy shows like The Morning Show, Ted Lasso, and Foundation Enjoy shows like WandaVision, The Simpsons, and Phineas & Ferb Enjoy shows like Only Muders in the Building, Nine Perfect Strangers, and Grey’s Anatomy Enjoy shows like The Crown, You, and Squid Game Enjoy shows like Succession, White Lotus, and Mare of Easttown
Good for Prime members and those who frequently rent or buy titles Good for content with a star-studded cast Good for Disney, Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar fans Good for those who still want to follow current TV shows, but don’t necessarily need to watch them live as they air Good for a growing library of original titles that rivals major networks and movie studios Good for fans of classic HBO series and watching theatrical releases at home

*Streaming prices and features are accurate as of October 2021

Choose Your Streaming Equipment

Once you’ve figured out which service (or services) you’re interested in, a good next step is finding the streaming device that best matches your needs. If you have a smart TV, check to see if it supports the apps and services you’re interested in. And if it’s lacking support, there are plenty of capable add-on options to choose from.

What Streaming Device Makes the Most Sense?

When deciding what device makes the most sense for you, one of the biggest factors to consider when choosing a streaming device are app support and ease of use. After all, a well-equipped streaming device that’s a pain to actually use may not offer the most pleasant viewing experience.

One of the more popular options is Roku, which offers a variety of streaming devices at several price points. Some are more barebones, for perhaps a secondary TV in the home, while higher-end options are better suited for 4K, HDR-capable sets.

Related Video: Roku vs. Roku: 4 Streaming Devices Compared (Express, Premiere, Streaming Stick+, Ultra)

Meanwhile, Fire TV and Android TV are also popular and capable streaming platforms that support a wide range of apps and services. The Android TV-based Shield TV Pro from NVIDIA, for example, is a capable streaming device that boasts some impressive gaming credentials through its GeForce Now streaming support.

If you own a lot of Apple gear or have a sizable content library stored up through iTunes, an Apple TV might be a good fit. In addition to being a capable and approachable streaming device, Apple’s new Arcade service upgrades the Apple TV’s gaming capabilities considerably.

Can I Use an Antenna to Stream Local Channels?

An over-the-air (OTA) antenna is often a major part of the cord-cutting experience since it’s an affordable way to pick up local stations for free. To find out what’s available in your area, and what type of antenna you’ll need, you can enter your address at sites like Antenna Web. They’ll tell you what channels you should receive based on your location and should make it easier to know where to place your antenna.

Simple indoor antennas can be found for well under $50. Meanwhile, outdoor solutions are often more rugged and can receive signals from farther away, but tend to be a bit more expensive and have more involved installation procedures.

Check Your Internet Speed

If you’re planning on cutting the cord, and moving your TV viewing from cable or satellite to the internet, it’s worth making sure your current connection can handle the added traffic. Higher quality video, like 4K HDR, typically requires faster internet speeds, and if you have a whole household of potential streamers, you’ll need to keep that in mind as well. Various services have their own speed recommendations, but it basically boils down to this: The faster, the better. 

For example, Hulu says 16 Mbps should be enough for 4K content, while 1080p (HD) content needs around 6 Mbps. Netflix recommends 25 Mbps for its 4K streams and 5 Mbps for 1080p, but many streaming services offer quality settings that can be adjusted manually or automatically if you’re concerned about speed or hitting a monthly data cap.

Speaking of data caps, it’s worth checking with your internet provider to see if there’s a monthly usage limit for your current plan, since streaming does take up a significant amount of internet data, especially with multiple streams in the same home. Data caps vary by internet provider, and some don’t have caps at all, but a ceiling of around 1TB per month should give you enough room to start streaming comfortably.

Related Reading: How to Stay Under Your Data Cap When You Cut the Cord

Compare Costs to Your Cable Bill

Once you’ve picked your services, selected a streaming device, and perhaps an antenna or other hardware, it’s time to add up your costs and see how cord cutting costs compare to your current cable or satellite bill.

Again, when you’re adding costs up, don’t forget any equipment rental fees and other monthly charges tacked on to your current bill. If the streaming options are too costly, or you’re not satisfied with how much you’re saving, it might be worth re-evaluating which types of content you’re prioritizing and which services best provide them. For example, maybe a $5 add-on package to a live streaming service gets you most of the channels you’d want and makes more sense than adding a whole other streaming package to your arsenal.

“This will be a new experience and can seem intimidating. You don’t have to cut the cord on day one. Take your time and make an informed decision and get services that fit your wants. When you are all done and pull the trigger, figure out what you are going to do with all that cash you are going to save…every month!” -Greg D. in the Cord Cutting Tech Support Facebook Group

Our Top Tips and Advice

We’ve also compiled our favorite tips — along with advice from our Cord Cutting Tech Support Facebook Group — in a handy video you can check out below.

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