3 Steps To Cut the Cord and Cancel Cable TV

Yes, you can cancel cable television

Digital D-Day
There's never been a better time to cut the cord. MikeyLPT/E+/GettyImages

There has never been a better time to cut the cord. It's easy to cancel your cable subscription, continue to watch (almost) all of your favorite shows, and still save some money off your monthly bill.

In fact, with internet television offering the same features as traditional cable at cheaper monthly subscription, you can cut the physical cord and get away from two-year contracts with expensive equipment rental fees. You do need internet access, of course, to take advantage of a variety of streaming services. Some people choose to pay for that access while others prefer to take advantage of free internet

The basic steps for cutting the cable cord are: 

  1. Purchase and install a dongle or antenna. 
  2. Choose what you want to stream.
  3. Relax and watch.

Dongles: The Equipment You Will Need to Cut the Cord

a variety of dongles

 Google, Roku, Amazon, Apple

The main piece of equipment you will need to turn off cable is a streaming device. Luckily, most of us already have one. Many of the TVs sold these days are smart TVs that support various streaming services. Modern Blu-Ray players also tend to have smart features, and if you are a gamer, you can use your Xbox One or PlayStation 4 as a streaming device.

But if you are serious about cutting the cord, you might want to invest in less-expensive, dedicated solution called a dongle. Smart TVs are great, but technology updates so quickly that it doesn't take long before the "smart" functionality becomes a bit antiquated and you probably don't want to switch out your TV every few years.  Dongles include:

  • Roku. While Apple and Amazon might be household names, Roku quietly delivers the best overall service for those who want to dump cable. Roku was one of the first to develop a box dedicated to streaming video, it supports a wide variety of streaming services, and best of all, it is a neutral manufacturer so it works with almost any television or service. You can buy Roku as a stick, which is a small key-like device that your stick into your TV's HDMI port, or a more-powerful box. 
  • Apple TV. This could be considered the luxury car version of streaming devices except for a couple of snags. Apple went all in with Apple TV when it placed some of its fastest processors in the unit and opened up an App Store for Apple TV. Apple has done a good job of opening up the system and adding great features like the TV app, which compiles much of your streaming library together in one spot.
  • Amazon Fire TV. Similar to Roku, Amazon Fire TV comes in both box format and stick format and runs on the Amazon Fire OS that is built on top of Android. This gives it access to Amazon's app store, and while it doesn't have quite the ecosystem of Apple TV, you can use it to both play games, watch TV and boot up other useful apps like Pandora Radio, Spotify, TED, etc.
  • Google Chromecast. The Chromecast device differs in that you plug the dongle into the HDMI port of your TV and "cast" the screen on your phone or tablet to your TV. This means that your phone acts as the remote for the Chromecast, which makes it a little more difficult to use that other dongles. Still, the overall idea of using internet television content and placing it on your television to watch on a large screen is at play.

Other Options Beyond a Dongle

You probably won't want to use your smartphone as a substitute for your TV, but tablets make a great all-in-one solution. You can also connect an iPad to your TV with the Digital AV Adapter. Android Tablets come in so many different brands and each may have a different way of connecting to your TV, but most will work with the Chromecast.

You can use your game console, your tablet and other devices as well.

Try Streaming a Stand-alone Service

You probably already know about Netflix and Hulu, which may be what gave you the idea for cutting the cord in the first place. There are dozens of options available now; some consolidate services and others stand alone. Here's a quick look at just a few of your stand-alone options:

  • Netflix. You don't get much in the way of current television, so you won't be watching the latest Bachelor episode on it, but what you do get is full seasons of some of the most popular television about the time it is released on DVD. Netflix also has a wide variety of movies, of course, and it is now investing heavily into original content.
  • Hulu. Netflix may have the widest variety and biggest backlog, but it is Hulu that really drives the cord-cutting train because of it's focus on producing and streaming television content, including live television. Hulu doesn't cover everything but it does cover the broadest number of options out there.
  • Amazon Prime Video. This is basically a movie twin of Netflix. It doesn't have quite the number of titles, but the addition of it along with Netflix grants a huge range of movies and TV for your streaming pleasure. Prime Video does produce its own content, which is a big draw for many viewers.
  • Crackle. Free movies. Free television. Need I say more? Crackle operates under an ad-supported model, and while their library isn't as healthy as the competition, they do have enough that it is worth downloading their app and taking a look.
  • Vudu. While Vudu is primarily for buying or renting titles, it does have a growing list of ad-supported movies that you can stream for free. If you like Crackle, you should definitely check out Vudu as well.
  • HBO, Starz, Showtime and Cinemax. The premium cable networks are all in the cordless world now. HBO started the trend with the HBO Now, and you can now get subscriptions for the other premium channels as either stand-alone products or as part of Amazon Prime's service.
  • iTunes Movies, Google Play, Redbox. Let's not forget all of the options to rent Movies and TV shows. While it may be cheaper to drive to the closest Redbox, there is a whole host of options for those of us that want to rent or buy a movie but don't want to leave the couch.

Get Your Cable With Premium Services

Maybe having a streaming subscription that delivers all of the content over the internet is your "cut the cord" solution. There are definitely some advantages to going with one of these services over traditional cable beyond just taking the actual cable that runs into your house out of the equation. And chief among these advantages is the lack of a contract, so you can turn them on one month and turn them off the next.

Another huge bonus is the lack of rental fees for equipment such as Cable boxes and DVRs. It's easy to spend $30-50 a month in rental fees for traditional cable, meanwhile a Roku to stream one of these cable-over-internet solutions would cost you about the same as a single month of those traditional cable rental equipment fees.

These streaming alternatives offer local channels in many metropolitan areas and often include a Cloud DVR, so you can 'tape' (save) shows for later viewing.

  • PlayStation Vue. Why is PlayStation Vue not a household name? It's probably because Sony stuck the "PlayStation" label on it. Despite the name, you don't need a PlayStation 4 to watch it.  And when it comes to cable-over-internet, PlayStation Vue is clearly one of the best and most affordable solutions. Similar to any cable service, Vue has multiple plans. It also has one of the best Cloud DVRs that will automatically save all shows of a type, so you can record every football game or all showings of that TV series.
  • DirecTV Now. DirectTV Now offers a package that is very competitive with PlayStation Vue, and as you might expect, delivers a very cable-like experience without the actual cable. However, it does have one of the worst interfaces, especially on Apple TV, and lacks the ability to pause live television. One big bonus of DirecTV Now is access to very cheap subscriptions for premium channels like HBO and Starz, so if you load up on all of these, DirecTV Now might come out as the cheapest service. They also don't charge for their DVR service.
  • YouTube TV. YouTube's cable-over-internet service has a great interface for channel browsing and excellent video quality.  It also ranks up there with PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now when it comes to local channel support. A big bonus of YouTube TV is the ability to use it with up to five separate YouTube accounts within the same household. This includes roommates or family. It also offers free DVR with unlimited storage.
  • Sling TV. Cheaper than PlayStation Vue, Sling TV features slim packages. Sometimes, they are too slim, so if you want the full deal with local channels, sports channels, etc., you are going to end up paying as much as PlayStation Vue. They also charge for their Cloud DVR service, which adds on to the monthly fee. Sling TV sill beats traditional cable but it is really best for those who are only interested in either their Orange or Blue bundles. If you want the whole package, you might be better off with a different provider.
  • Hulu with Live TV. You can now get your Hulu with live television. This is a full package that contains local stations in many areas along with the usual suspects when it comes to entertainment, sports and news. The channel selection doesn't quite reach what you can get on PlayStation Vue or DirecTV Now, but because it basically comes with free Hulu, it can be slightly cheaper. Hulu with Live TV is great if you already subscribe to Hulu and want to save money, but that savings might get eaten up by extra fees such as buying more Cloud DVR storage or expanding the number of screens you can watch the service on from the limitation of 2 for the standard service.

The Digital Antenna and How to Record on It

Tablo lets you record live TV from a digital antenna and watch it on your TV, smartphone or tablet. Nuvyyo

Let's not forget that most of us have access to live television! I know it sounds arcane, but it is still possible to pick up most major channels using a high-definition digital antenna. If the biggest thing holding you back from taking the leap is that you just can't wait an extra second to watch that television show, a good digital antenna will do the trick.

Not sure what to get? Check out our list of the best antennas available to get an idea.

You also don't need to fill tied to a particular day and time. There's a couple of good solutions for recording live television.  The TiVo Bolt includes the ability to record live television from an antenna, but you will still need to pay TiVo's $15 a month subscription. Tablo offers a cheaper solution, but it is still $5 a month. Last, there is Channel Master, which doesn't have a monthly subscription.

Individual Channel Apps Are a Great Option

Most channels have an app these days. Many channels, especially "cable" channels like USA and FX, require a cable subscription to get access to the good stuff, but some still offer a fair amount of content on demand without the need for cable. This is especially true of the "broadcast" channels like NBC and ABC.

CBS All-Access is a good example of a single channel app that offers live television. However, CBS All Access doesn't contain CBS's complete library so don't go in expecting you'll be able to stream the entire Big Bang Theory series. Other networks, like HGTV, Smithsonian Channel, History Channel, etc. also offer varying degrees of access to content through their apps.

PBS Kids will be of special interest to parents. Cutting the cord doesn't have to mean cutting out cartoons. PBS Kids has free access to a ton of entertaining and educational cartoons.

How Fast Should Your Internet Be to Cut the Cord?

screenshot of speedtest.net
Ookla's speedtest.net is a great way to test your connection.

Internet speed is measured in terms of megabits per second.  It takes about 5 megabits to stream at HD quality, though realistically, you would need about 8 megabits to do so smoothly. But this leaves little room for doing much else on the Internet.

You'll probably want at least 10 megabits if you are the only one using the internet connection and 20+ for a family to stream video to multiple devices.

It is common for many internet providers to offer plans with 25 megabits per second or faster, which is plenty to stream video to multiple devices in your household. But some rural areas may not have access to these speeds. You can also check your Internet speed on different sites.

The Quick and Easy Set Up

Roku

Thanks to all these options, you'll have plenty to watch and a variety of ways to watch it. There's a really good chance you won't miss having cable in your life. But if you are a little confused after reading so many options, here's a solid setup for getting started:

First, buy a dongle or antenna (or both) and connect to your television. Research and determine which device you want to use. Some people prefer to stick with a specific manufacturer because they have other products from the same place (for example, users of Amazon Alexa might prefer an Amazon Fire Stick while Google Home owners might prefer a Chromecast). Your budget and personal preferences should drive this decision. 

Next, sign up for a service (or a couple). Hulu, for instance, will give you access to a wide variety of current television, and with both Netflix and Amazon Prime, you'll have plenty of movies and television that has already hit DVD. These three subscriptions will be slightly less than $30 a month. Or you might decide to go with a single television app (like CBS All-Access or the Smithsonian channel) and spend just $5/month. Maybe you want to try a premium service with one stand-alone app; whatever you want to do, go for it! You can sign up for these services once your dongle is installed; the screen will walk you through the steps but the process is pretty similar to downloading an app on your phone and using it.

Finally, just relax and watch. You can add or remove services as you wish, so start watching to decide which ones you like best. Our advice: Take advantage of all the free trials available to help you decide exactly how you want to build your television experience.