Wake-up call

A Guide to Cutting Cable in the New Year

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With the new year rolling around, change is something that becomes less of a background echo and more of a loud bellow. New year’s isn’t just some anticipation for a new number on the end of a calendar, but a tabula rasa to anyone looking for a fresh start from the past. It’s a time to reflect upon our lives, and most importantly, realize how we can we improve our day to day lives in the coming months. Cutting cable won’t drastically improve your life, but it will give you a better perspective on how to save money and start the new year off right.

With so many streaming services coming out of the woodworks this year, and the steadily increasing demand for fiber-optic internet, there has never been a better time to unsubscribe from those pesky cable companies and to solely rely on streaming as a main source of how you view your content. I realize this process of transitioning to an internet based setup for watching TV can become complicated very quickly, so I’m going to explain things as simply as possible to get you setup in no time.

The first thing you’ll need before doing anything else is a steady internet connection. When looking for a provider in both the Florence and Muscle Shoals area, I’m going to recommend the only big two companies that are available right now around us; Comcast or AT&T. AT&T’s Fiber is now better than ever, they’ve just removed their internet monitoring preferences from their policy that included paying a $30 monthly privacy fee to opt-out of targeted advertising. (Yes, they actually tried to do this) And the speeds? Unbelievable. I rarely see the the loading bar for Netflix at all anymore. For $70 a month, you get 100 Mb/s to use at your digression for up to 1 TB of data. Downloading music takes literally seconds. Fiber-optic internet is really for those that want the best there is to offer in America, in terms of internet speeds. Though to the average person, you won’t really need these speeds to enjoy your content. Choosing a lower package should still be more than enough. For streaming both 1080p content or 4K content, having an internet speed of at least 25 Mb/s is recommended, both for reliability and ease of frustration when trying to watch content on multiple devices. (Or sharing with a few roommates.)

81 percent of adults have a Netflix account.

The next thing to do is to look for is a good router that can support 5 GHz speeds. Although Comcast and AT&T give you a router from them to use, I recommend buying your own router to have more control over your network and devices. For those looking at purchasing gigabit internet, make sure you have a router that supports it. If you have a PlayStation or Xbox One, I recommend hooking up your console via ethernet cable. Hooking it up by an ethernet cable should allow a more consistent streaming experience, and less variation in the video quality of your content while watching. Certain devices, like the Apple TV, may actually lose bandwidth speed when connected by ethernet as opposed to Wi-Fi, so you may want to check the particular device before using ethernet with it.

Television sets today have improved vastly since the emergence of 4K and apps that support streaming in 4K like Netflix and Amazon Video. But what should you really look into when buying a new TV for the next five to 10 years? One thing to note is to not pay attention to the advertised features of a 4K TV. By that I mean you should pay attention to a TV that has good, deep black levels and a combination of both 4K and HDR (High Dynamic Range). While 4K has been all the hype in recent years, it just doesn’t offer that much of a difference between 1080p. By itself, 4K offers a subtle increase in video fidelity. With HDR and 4K, the difference to 1080p is night and day. Colors pop off the screen in an unimaginable way, everything is brighter but not overbearing. It’s important to note higher price does not mean a better viewing experience when watching content. In fact, some stores will mess up the picture settings on other TVs to make them look bad in comparison to other models. Just make sure to do the research beforehand and look at sites like CNET, The Verge, or Rtings for a more in-depth discussion of purchasing a 4K TV.

By 2017, one in eight U.S. homes will own a 4K TV.

Selecting what kind of device to watch your content on at home is also an option that can make or break your experience with cutting cable. For instance, if you know that you like to use Android or iOS, you should probably look at a streaming device that is more suited toward what you already use with your phone. For Android users that want on on-screen interface for their TV, I recommend the Roku Premiere. The $80 Roku Premiere outputs 4K video at 60 frames per second, and has its own store filled with thousands of notable apps. Those invested heavily in Apple should pick up the new fourth generation Apple TV. The new Apple TV supports Siri on-screen, has its own app store, and an interface very similar to iOS. The new Apple TV does not support 4K video and has two different models. One model offers 32GB of storage for $149 while another model has 64GB of storage for $199. They both have exactly the same features, just a difference in storage. If you’re frugal about certain things, and use either iOS or Android, the Chromecast is another excellent pick. Starting at $35 your phone, tablet, or computer becomes your new TV remote. You can instantly stream video, photos, music, even your phone’s screen to your TV instantly. The only issue with Chromecast is that there’s not an on-screen interface like with the Roku or Apple TV – everything is controlled by an app on your phone. There’s also the new $70 Chromecast Ultra being introduced this month that outputs video in 4K and HDR support. PC Gamers should look at the Nvidia Shield starting at $199 that allows you to stream PC games to your TV (little to virtually no lag) and supports 4K video. Console gamers should look at the new Xbox One S for $299 or the new PlayStation 4 Pro for $349 that releases this month, which both support 4K streaming video.

Once you have a reliable internet package and router, a modern TV and a trust-worthy device to view your content on, it’s time to look at exactly how to put everything together. Cutting the cord requires some replacement of a cable package. Now that you have everything setup, it’s time to look at your new choices for watching TV. Currently there are two internet-based TV services that are worth mentioning. Sling TV and PlayStation Vue. I have experience with trying both services and have come to realize that they both have their ups and downs. If I could recommend only one service to you I would urge you to go with PlayStation Vue simply because you get a more familiar experience to a normal cable package, for more than half the cost. PlayStation Vue starts out at $30 a month for 55 channels and jumps all the way up to $65 a month for 100 channels and includes HBO and showtime. PlayStation Vue offers more content THAN Sling TV and comes with a cloud-based DVR to record your shows from up to 28 days after the show airs.

Netflix and don’t touch me!

Netflix and don’t touch me!

Another big thing going for PlayStation Vue is the ability to log in to existing apps from other TV networks with your PlayStation Vue login information. Sling TV doesn’t offer nearly as much features as PlayStation Vue, but is more accessible on more devices, with some drawbacks to this that I’ll go into detail about. Sling TV starts out at $20 a month for 25 channels and goes all the way to $40 a month for 40 channels. Sling TV offers additional add on packages like that include channels like HBO and Showtime from $5 to $15. Some things to note about Sling TV is that it does matter which device you use for it. I found that the experience on an Apple TV, Chromecast, or Roku was flawless while using Sling TV on an Xbox One encountered some significant issues when trying to watch content or keeping a consistent video quality. The interface for PlayStation Vue is arguably better than Sling TV’s interface, so it’s easier to search for content and more welcoming to newcomers as opposed to Sling TV. Sling TV is currently working to improve their services to have a more unified interface across multiple devices, leaving things to only improve for the better.

In comparison to cable, Sling TV and PlayStation Vue have become viable alternatives this year to cable television. The national cable bill for 2016 averages at about $100 after promotional offers end, and sometimes higher. With just an internet package of 25 Mb/s you would currently be at only $30 to $40 a month, depending on the company. From here if you added a service like the base Sling TV or PlayStation Vue package for a fee of $20 to $30. With Netflix or Hulu added on top of it, that’s $8 to $10 added to your new bill. Your new bill still doesn’t come close to what I would be if you still had cable instead of streaming. Another bonus to streaming is that you can cancel a particular service at any time with no hidden fees, and there’s no extra charge for wanting to stream content in HD. (Like some cable companies do).

The magic of streaming TV as opposed to cable is that you can mix and match your bill based on your preferences of what and when you like to watch. That’s something cable companies simply aren’t willing to do. Services like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue may be in their infant stages, but with more networks continually to their lineups along with lower price points, cutting the cord is beginning to look like the most stress-free resolution anyone could make for the new year.