Q: What are your suggestions for alternatives to cable and satellite television services? -- Peter
A: As more television content becomes available via the Internet, more households are looking to ‘cut to cord’ to save money.
The reality for most of us is that we pay for lots of channels that we never watch or care about but are forced to pay for by traditional content providers.
As good as all of the Internet-based alternatives have become, nothing will replicate the ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet of content that cable and satellite provides. Nor will it provide the same user experience. It can also get overwhelming for non-technical types, so make sure you and everyone in your house are up for the learning curve.
There is no “one size fits all” solution for converting, so there are two things you will need to research to determine your best options: content providers and hardware.
Since no one source can provide you with a viable replacement for everything that is distributed via cable/satellite providers, you will have to get used to using multiple sources to get what you want.
Your first step is to assess what you actually care about, so you can figure out which content resources you will need to access.
Local news and broadcast networks are freely available in most markets by setting up an HD antenna. To get an idea of what is available over-the-air in your area, use the ZIP code locator at http://www.antennaweb.org .
For streaming movies and TV shows that are not on the major broadcast networks, my favorite sources are Netflix ( http://netflix.com - $7.99/month), Hulu Plus ( http://hulu.com/plus $7.99/month) and Amazon Prime ( http://amazon.com/prime - $79 /year ).
These resources require that you have a decent Internet connection, so you won’t truly be cutting the cord from your Internet provider unless you only watch this content on cellular enabled devices.
What you want to be able to watch will determine which or how many of these services you will need.
Once you determine which content providers you will use, you need to figure out which hardware has support for those providers (the options are always listed on the providers website).
Before you buy any new hardware, make sure you don’t already have a streaming device in the house in the form of a gaming console (XboX, Playstation, Wii) or newer Blue ray DVD player.
If you need to get new hardware, make sure you understand what the limitations are before you buy.
For instance, Apple TV ( http://apple.com/appletv ) can access content from iTunes, YouTube and Netflix, but if you want to subscribe to Hulu Plus, you’re out of luck.
A Roku box ( http://roku.com ), can stream Netflix and Hulu Plus, but if you want to watch YouTube videos on your TV, you are out of luck.
If you are an ESPN junkie, you’re out of luck with both of those devices and should consider using an XboX 360 with a Live Gold account.
I haven’t even touched on the more complex approaches such as Boxee ( http://www.boxee.tv ), PlayOn ( http://www.playon.tv ) or the powerful HTPC (Home Theater PC) approach that I’d only recommend for hardcore techies.
One other major consideration for “cutting the cord” is whether the users in your household will be able to understand how to access the various content from the various sources and devices AND which remote to use for each.