The Neowin guide to cord-cutting part one: Services

Once upon a time, all television content was delivered by over-the-air signals, and viewers needed an antenna to watch their favorite shows. With a lack of recording equipment, the only way to watch those shows was to tune in at the time that the network told you to.

Of course, times have changed a bit since then. The introduction of the VCR made it possible to record content for later viewing, and cable meant a new way of delivering content. Then came the digital age, where the internet made things like DVR, on-demand, and streaming possible.

At this point, we must wonder why we subscribe to such an antiquated model at all. Surely, tuning in at the time that we're told to was the only way to do it in the 1950s, but there's a better way today. More and more people are choosing to ditch their cable companies, due to expensive pricing for channels that they don't want, or other reasons.

But many people are still scared to switch away from a medium that has worked for them for their entire lives.

I haven't subscribed to a traditional television service for two and a half years, and not only do I pay less for the content that I watch, but I also enjoy it more. Have you ever watched a movie on TV, with commercials, that you actually owned on DVD, simply because "it was on"? Ever been browsing the channels and watched some game show with little real entertainment value simply because "it was on"?

This is the kind of behavior that I avoid today, and I watch the shows and movies that I want to watch, when I want to watch them. There's greater entertainment value there.

But if you don't know how to get started, Neowin is here for you. There are two sides to cutting the cord: services and devices. With this first part, we're going to focus on various services.

Netflix

Netflix is a staple for any cord-cutter, and even many cable subscribers. It includes a huge backlog of old and new TV shows and movies, although seasons of shows won't show up until at least after it's done on live TV, at least in the U.S. Netflix gets exclusive deals in other regions, since some services, like CBS All Access, are U.S.-only.

You can use Netflix to catch up on Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, the entire catalog of Star Trek, Dexter, The Flash, Arrow, Supernatural, and much more. There are also Netflix original shows, which are usually pretty great. These include House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, The Crown, and more. The cool thing about Netflix originals is that the entire season is released at once, so you can binge it all weekend.

The service is always adding and removing content from its service, so it's always fresh and easy to find something new to watch. The best part about it though is that considering what you get, it's insanely cheap.

The Basic plan is $7.99 per month, allowing you to watch on one screen. Standard is $10.99 for two screens, and Premium is $13.99, but that allows for four screens and 4K UHD streaming.

Hulu

Hulu is the other cord-cutter staple, and just like Netflix, it's available for every device imaginable, including Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox, iOS, Android, Windows 10, and more.

While Netflix will allow you to watch shows and movies long after they first aired, Hulu gets them the next day. Of course, you don't get everything, but you'll be able to catch a fair amount of the shows you love, such as Designated Survivor, The Orville, Modern Family, The Good Place, and more.

Hulu also has its own original content, such as The Handmaid's Tale, 11.22.63, The Mindy Project, Marvel's Runaways, and more. The service starts at $7.99 per month with limited commercials, although there's an ad-free tier for $4 more. Hulu also offers a live TV service for $39.99 per month, but we'll come back to that.

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime is one of the best deals around. For $99/year, you get free two-day shipping on orders from Amazon, Prime Music, unlimited cloud photo backup, and of course, Prime Video. Generally, this is similar to Netflix in that it has a backlog of movies and TV shows, and Amazon has its own original content like The Man in the High Castle, Bosch and The Grand Tour.

But while it's similar in function to Netflix, it doesn't contain all of the same content. For example, Prime Video is the only place where you'll be able to watch Doctor Who without paying for it per episode.

Another thing that I really like about Amazon Video is that you can also buy content that's not part of the subscription. For example, for anything that's not covered by Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, I'll usually just spend $2.99 for the episode on Amazon, and it becomes part of my library and I don't require a separate app.

CW

If you watch any shows on the CW network, just get the app. As long as you don't mind commercials, you can watch all of your favorite CW shows - like The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, and DC's Legends of Tomorrow - completely free. You don't even have to create an account. Just download the app, open it, and start watching.

It's worth noting that many networks have their own app, but many of them will ask you to sign in via your cable provider, which you don't have anymore. CW does not do that.

Interlude: The art of canceling services

All of the above services are things that I'd never be without, but if you get everything that you want, cutting the cord can be just as expensive as cable, if not more so. At this point, you'll want to consider what I call the art of canceling services.

Remember, all of these services come over your internet connection, so signing up for and canceling a service is as easy as a few clicks. There's no home installation or anything, like you would get from signing up with a new cable provider.

There are many services that you might want to sign up for just to watch a season of a show. For example, I signed up for HBO for two months just to watch the latest season of Game of Thrones, and I signed up for CBS: All Access for a couple months just for Star Trek: Discovery.

The point is that once you're not using it anymore, just cancel it, because if you sign up for everything that you want, it will really add up.

HBO

There are a ton of ways to sign up for HBO, and they all cost $14.99 per month. If you ask me, this is way too expensive, which is why I only pay for it when there's something that I really want to watch. If I had to speculate, the price is there because HBO doesn't want to undercut its pricing with cable companies. After all, if it cost less to stream HBO than to add it to your cable package, no one would buy it from their cable company.

The standalone service is called HBO Now, and that's its own app. This isn't to be confused with HBO Go, which is pretty much the same thing but requires a cable subscription. You can also get HBO as an add-on to services like Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. To me, the latter options are more convenient, as it's always easier to have things consolidated.

HBO's streaming service is pretty great though. New content shows up just as it airs on live TV, so if you're trying to catch the new episode of Game of Thrones, it's there at 9pm on Sunday night.

As I mentioned earlier, I'll only subscribe to HBO for a couple of months at a time, and that's a great time to catch up on other shows that I enjoy but don't need right away, like Ballers and Silicon Valley.

CBS All Access

CBS All Access gives you access to everything from, you guessed it, CBS. It's also the only way to watch Star Trek: Discovery, as that's not on live TV.

The service does offer quite a bit though, with older CBS shows like Star Trek, I Love Lucy, and MacGyver. But you also get plenty of new shows, like The Big Bang Theory, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and plenty more. It also comes with a live stream of CBS, which is unfortunately blacked out for sporting events.

Again, this is a service that I don't keep around regularly, but it only costs $5.99 per month, and there's an ad-free tier for $9.99 per month.

MLB, WWE, and other sports

There are a ton of streaming services for sports. MLB.TV gives you all of your baseball needs, NHL.TV is great for hockey, and NFL Sunday Ticket works for football. I subscribe to none of these things, but if you're into sports and you want to cut the cord, they're good to be aware of.

There's also the WWE Network if you're into professional wrestling, which costs $9.99 per month. You'll get all of the live pay-per-view events, as well as the entire back catalog. It also contains a lot of original content, such as Monday Night Wars, which chronicles the "Attitude Era". Unfortunately, it's missing the regular shows that are broadcasted during the week, but those can be found on Hulu.

Pay-per-episode TV, and movie rentals and purchases

I mentioned earlier that whenever there's a TV episode that's not covered by one of the streaming services, I'll purchase it on Amazon. Usually, I only have to do this for one or two shows per year, but it's important to remember that Amazon isn't the only option.

Microsoft Movies & TV

Microsoft's solution is great if you've got an Xbox One in every room where there's a TV, and it's not so great otherwise. Anything you purchase from the company can only be played on Xbox and Windows 10, which is a real pain if you don't want to be locked into one ecosystem.

Microsoft does offer 4K movie purchases and rentals though, something that Amazon hasn't caught up to yet.

iTunes

Read what I just said about Microsoft Movies & TV, and then apply it to iTunes. You'll only be able to play this content back on anything with iTunes, which means iOS, macOS, Apple TV, and Windows. And if you want to play a 4K movie, you'll need the new Apple TV 4K.

Google Play Movies & TV

Google Play is one of the more cross-platform options that are available. You can purchase all of the shows that you can elsewhere, and movies are offered in 4K. It's not available for Xbox One, Apple TV, or Fire TV, but again, if you're looking for a cross-platform option for 4K UHD movies, Google is your best bet.

You'll find it on Chromecast, Roku, and some other platforms. While it's not available on a huge variety of devices, it's still more widely available than Microsoft Movies & TV and iTunes.

Amazon Video

Amazon is the most cross-platform option, but it's not available everywhere. It just arrived for Apple TV, but it still doesn't support Chromecast. Also, there are no 4K UHD movies, which might be a dealbreaker. Another thing to be aware of is that on many platforms, you can't actually make purchases from within the app, and you'll need to go to Amazon.com from a browser to get it.

Ultimately, if you're more of the movie rental type, it doesn't matter if the service is cross-platform. Renting it means that you're only going to watch it once, so it only has to work on the device that you're currently using. For example, if you've got an Xbox One X in the living room and that's where you're renting the movie, there are no issues with renting it from Microsoft.

Live TV

Finally, there are a number of services that offer live television. I saved this section for last because I despise live TV, as you might have noticed from the introductory section. I think that it's an antiquated model, and serves no purpose in modern society.

Still, you might want it, so here are some options.

Sling TV

As much as I hate live TV, I actually signed up for Sling a week ago. There are a few things going on this month that I don't want to wait until the next day for - Psych: The Movie and the Doctor Who Christmas special - so I figured I'd give it a shot.

But regardless of how I feel about the product, it performs its job, if you're into that sort of thing. Sling has two packages: Orange and Blue, which cost $19.99 and $24.99 per month, respectively. I chose Blue, since it contains BBC America, USA, and AMC, along with others. There are also add-on packages with other channels, and for $5 per month, you get 50 hours of DVR.

This falls into the category of something that I'll cancel when I'm done with it. I signed up for three months, because there's an offer to sign up for that amount of time and get a Roku Ultra for $50. There are other offers as well, and if you scroll down to the bottom of their homepage, you can sign up via the "Get Deals" section.

Hulu TV

As mentioned earlier, Hulu does have a live TV offering, which costs $39.99 per month. Hulu also offers add-ons like HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime, as well as Enhanced Cloud DVR. You can find the full list of channels here.

YouTube TV

Google's YouTube TV solution will run you $35 per month, and that comes with six accounts, each with its own personal DVR. This service won't work on Amazon Fire TV, or anything else that doesn't have an official YouTube app. You can check out the list of channels here.

Conclusion

Ultimately, choosing your streaming services depends on what's best for you. As I mentioned, I use Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon mainly, purchasing additional episodes of shows as needed. But you might really love your live TV, or sports, or something else, and you can have that too.

You're going to want to make sure that everything you want is available for the device you're using, whether it's a smart TV, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox One, Fire TV, or something else. Personally, I use all of them, but we'll dive deeper into that in the next chapter, which will focus on devices.

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