Now is the perfect time to look hard at your TV options.
With everyone spending more and more time at home this year, and having less opportunities for entertainment outside our homes, television & video entertainment has never been more important. But in the past 6 months, the frustrations, technical & service problems, dwindling program choices, and - last but not least - high costs, have never been more obvious.
You can change that now. If you have Cable TV, or even if you have Satellite, you likely have access to high speed internet. And if you have that (*and if your television was built in the last 10 to 15 years) you have way more choices than you might realize.
Let's start with what many people are resistant to hearing: Home entertainment - how we get it - is changing. Don't worry, it's still called TV. But TV can now be delivered to you through the internet, with options that allow you a lot more control over what you spend. Yes, it's through the same cable wire, but not via a "video" feed that delivers to a cable box tuner - that you're probably paying monthly rental fees for.
A new era of TV - with better, more affordable choices
If you don't know what these words are, I'm pretty sure you've heard them: ROKU, Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast.
We're going to replace terms Cable box and Tivo with one of those choices. You're going to be happier, it's going to be easier than you think, and you're going to save money. To make it even easier, we'll just focus on the two most popular and user-friendly: Roku and Amazon Fire TV.
Think of them as small, affordable cable boxes. You purchase, not rent them, and they come with really simple, easy-to-use remotes. There are no number buttons on them, but don't panic: You are going to forget all about channel numbers! Trust me, that is GOOD.
These devices easily plug-in to your TV's HDMI port and connect to your home network wired or wirelessly, depending on the model you choose. The setup process from there is really simple. When you hit the power button to turn on the TV, instead of seeing a program right away, you find a home screen with apps & icons situated somewhat like your smartphone, tablet, or computer. Those apps - including streaming services like Netflix, Disney Plus, and Vudu movies (among many others, from free / ad-supported services to monthly-fee based) - ultimately deliver your TV experience, and you can have as many or as few apps as you like.
Roku is the most popular Streaming TV platform. It has the greatest variety of apps, with a huge catalog of free programming. Roku even aggregates the best of that library into one app, appropriately called The Roku Channel. It has a very user-friendly interface, and easy to use remote control options that vary depending on the device models you choose.
You can put a Roku, as you can with FireTV or any streaming device, on pretty much every TV in your home that was manufactured in the last 10 years - aka it has an HDMI port. It can be a "whole-house" service, and its only cost is the one time you pay for each device, not a monthly rental per TV as with Cable.
Roku's devices, compared to Fire TV, can be a little more expensive. I really do mean "a little more," since the differences aren't staggering. And while there is a greater variety of devices & features available with Roku, you have to make sure you're getting the features you want. Noteworthy: the lowest-end Roku's remote has no controls for TV volume & power, and Walmart & Best Buy offer exclusive models with different features. Conveniently, Roku also lists those offerings on their website.
Amazon Fire TV
Fire TV is a close second in popularity to Roku, with both of them quickly growing in users each year. If you've used Amazon Video as a service on your TV, whether it's through a cable provider or software that came pre-loaded on your flat-screen, then you already have a good idea of what the user experience will be like. The layout & navigation of the FireTV user-interface is very much like Amazon Video.
Fire TV's device offerings are more concise than Roku's, so while there's less variety, there's also less to figure out. They're also a little less expensive. But you have to love Amazon's user interface.
Amazon does offer an integrated TV-channel DVR experience called FireTV Recast. It requires that you purchase a Recast DVR box, but the one box can stream recorded programs to any set in your house that has a FireTV device. It's only for OTA - over the air broadcast channels, so it requires a coax cable connection to a good TV antenna - and it doesn't work for what we call cable channels. There's a similar service available for Roku, called TabloTV, as well as apps like SlingTV's AirTV that works on either platform.
I know, it's a lot of info to unpack. But stick with me, because once you settle on your choices, it's all much more clear! And you don't have to use a DVR device in order to get a DVR experience... because, wait for it... CLOUD DVR!
This brings us to the Streaming TV apps - aka your new cable TV services. All of them have some form of Cloud DVR, and different channel packages. To make it easy to understand, I'm going to give you the short list of apps we'll be looking at, and then I'll break them down one by one: FuboTV, Hulu TV, Sling TV, Philo, and YouTube TV.
Oh, and one more: Spectrum TV. "Wait, what?" That's because Spectrum does offer two streaming-only packages. They're just not big on advertising it because, well, they really appreciate those cable box rental fees you're paying.
Fubo is the most sports-driven streaming service. At $65 to $80 per month, it's also the most expensive. But for the price point, it offers a great selection of networks (including a handful of broadcast channels), and generous cloud DVR storage - arguably the 2nd best of the bunch. Three users per account can be watching at one time.
Pros: Up to 1000 hours of cloud DVR optional. If you love sports, you'll love Fubo.
Cons: On the high end of $, but no user profiles to create custom experiences. Fubo also recently removed a chunk of networks since they didn't reach a new usage agreement with them - that may not be a good sign for their future as a service provider.
Hulu + Live TV
Hulu - $55 to $78 per month - is extremely popular, because it's not only a cable-TV replacement, it's also a Netflix competitor backed by Disney. And it has most of the national broadcast TV networks available in its lineup, which many others don't.
Pros: Many channels, including locals & exclusive programming. Unlimited streams & removing commercials from on-demand shows, available at extra cost.
Cons: Also many popular networks missing. Structure of its packages and service add-ons are unnecessarily confusing. Adding DVR & unlimited stream options raise the price. But the amount of extra DVR space available is an underwhelming value.
At under $20/month, Philo is a value-priced service that has no local TV, but a big handful of networks you may really like. Many subscribers use it in addition to another service that doesn't carry some of their favorite channels.
Pros: Great user guide. Unlimited DVR space. User profiles each with their own custom guide, program list, and DVR storage. If you also subscribe to Hulu+Live TV or to YouTube TV, adding Philo fills out the networks you may be missing.
Cons: DVR programs disappear 30-days after most recent airing. No locals, and the smaller channel variety may appeal to a limited group of viewers - or work as a filler added to another service without these networks.
Sling is the most popular because it has the most package flexibility and offers so many of the channels viewers want, at a cheaper price than competitors - ranging from $30 to $90 per month. While it doesn't offer much in the way of broadcast networks, it offers an add-on device - similar to FireTV Recast - called AirTV, that integrates your local channels right into the Sling TV guide, with their own DVR stored on a local plug-in drive you supply. The cloud DVR service it offers for the rest of the programs is limited to 50 hours, so plan to watch quickly. And there are inconsistent limits on which networks can fast-forward, etc.
Pros: Most affordable for the channel variety. Most flexibility in packages, including choices on how many streams can be viewed at once. Local stations available through AirTV add-ons. Will please many, especially those who like DVR but aren't hung-up on it.
Cons: Wonky on-screen guide might remind you of navigating old-school cable TV. No customizable user profiles available. Confusing restrictions on fast-forwarding, etc. If you like lots of worry-free DVR space, you'll be bummed. If you order it with a wide array of networks, it can easily out-price all streaming competitors, and even step into Cable / Satellite cost territory.
Spectrum TV Choice
$34-$44 per month. If you're a current Spectrum user and want to keep your TV experience as familiar as possible - and if you can limit yourself to 10 favorite "non-premium" networks in addition to ALL of your local channels (plus any premium networks you wish to add for extra $ - you might have a winner here. Spectrum TV Choice is a good value, and its guide is similar to what is used on many of their home cable boxes. But its limitations feel deliberate - as if they don't want to make the experience good enough for too many people to turn in their cable boxes. That may leave you looking for something with more choices and a better user experience.
Pros: All of your local channels available, plus 10 "expanded basic" type networks of your choice. Available 50 or 100 hours cloud DVR
packages. Familiar user experience. Multiple streams can be viewed at once in the same home.
Cons: Not so user-friendly guide, unnecessarily cluttered with duplicate channels and forces multiple clicks for what should be one-click tasks. No user profiles available. Can't pause or rewind live TV at all. Price goes up after two years. If you don't have Spectrum as your broadband provider, you're out of luck.
At the high-end with $65 per month, YouTubeTV also offers the most. Though it doesn't offer every TV network, it has nearly all of the most popular channels, as well as all the major broadcast networks in most markets already built in (no antenna or DVR hardware required). You can pause and rewind live TV on any & all of its channels, and it has unlimited cloud DVR space - the only rule being that the program will expire 9 months after the last time it aired anywhere among YouTubeTV's channels - which in some cases may mean it will be available to you indefinitely.
Pros: You won't need to worry about locals or recording programs, unlimited cloud DVR plus on-demand library makes things worry-free. Slick on-screen guide, easy to navigate, and best in class pause / rewind / fast-forward controls. Widest array of popular networks, with all major broadcast networks included (including PBS). User profiles let each viewer have their own program library. Regular YouTube users will find the experience very familiar.
Cons: There are currently a few popular network families missing from the otherwise complete lineup - like A&E, Lifetime, and Hallmark (if you really need those, you can shell out an extra $20 for Philo). Accessing program descriptions is a tedious multi-click task. Not being able to delete individual episodes from DVR library - since space is unlimited - takes some getting used to!
Very important to this whole picture, no matter which options you choose, is the speed & stability of your home network. Personally, we have our own wireless router(s) combined with some wired LAN connections through our home. Most people opt for the router that comes with their broadband service package. If you do that, make sure you're getting the maximum for your dollar - that you have the most current equipment for your internet speed package, and that its wireless capabilities & placement of the router, support the speeds / needs you are paying for. You may have to advocate for yourself on that front!
So are you ready to take that leap, of turning in your cable boxes & saving those rental fees in favor of where ALL of TV is going anyway? If you are, please feel free to reach out to me, ask any questions. I've done almost all the homework already over the last couple of years, and I can at least promise that once you settle into those changes, you'll forget about the Cable TV experience - along with all the things you hated about it.