Cutting The Cord to Cable TV: How I Got More For Less

by Chris Eberle
Cable cord with red cancel icon over it

utting the cord, AKA ditching cable TV, is nothing new. Millions of consumers have been doing this for some years now and thousands more are making the switch every day, mostly in an effort to save money. But there are other benefits to streaming your entertainment.

I consider myself a latecomer to the streaming party having made the all-in conversion in early 2021. A few different factors went into my decision and I’d like to share what I’ve learned, why I did it, and what I’ve gained.

What I Had Before

Spectrum logo
When I moved to Florida in 2013, I signed up for a cable and Internet package from Spectrum, Time Warner back then. It was similar to what I had in New York but cost less which made me happy. For about $120 a month, I got all the cable channels I wanted (no premium services like HBO) and internet that ran at about 50mbps. The internet speed was a definite upgrade. I had an Apple TV to stream Netflix and iTunes content but most of what I watched came from cable, the major networks plus Food, HGTV, Discovery, History, and the like.

As time went on, Spectrum raised my rates, bit by bit. By 2019, I was paying over $180 a month with internet speeds of around 100 Mbps. I also noticed a drop in video quality from most channels with softness, macro-blocking, and dropouts. And that DVR! Who doesn’t hate their DVR? The interface is poor, it takes 10 minutes to reboot, and it doesn’t always record when asked. I’m glad I leased it for $10 a month instead of buying it.

What I Considered

Discovery plus logo
I considered dropping cable for about two years, but one thing always stopped me, no Discovery content. Discovery encompasses HGTV, Food Network, and about a dozen other channels that I wasn’t ready to give up. Apple TV had finally added Amazon to its app library, and I bought one of the new 4K models. But I still couldn’t stream Discovery content…

…until Discovery+ was announced. In January of 2021, the new service launched, and I had my reason. Cable was out, streaming was in. In addition to Discovery+, I added AMC+, for The Walking Dead shows; Disney+, for Star Wars and Marvel content; and Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) for Star Trek and my wife’s addiction to The Young and the Restless.

What I Found

Once I had signed up for my chosen services and installed the apps, I discovered quite a few benefits. First and foremost, video and audio quality were better. How can this be? Chalk it up to compression. Cable content comes from satellites that feed into those large dishes you see behind your local cable provider’s office. Then it’s sent over copper to your home. Putting satellites into orbit is expensive. And once they’re up there, they can’t be upgraded for greater bandwidth. But Spectrum keeps adding channels. Something has to give to fit it all in, so the feeds are compressed, then compressed some more. Soon, we won’t be able to tell if we’re looking at Julia Roberts or Sean Bean. And while audio is often encoded as Dolby Digital, it’s compressed too.

The Internet, on the other hand, is always expanding its bandwidth and capacity. Need more? Just install new switches and routers. With our insatiable need for data, the internet is always growing in both size and speed. Speaking of which, dropping my cable service automatically upped my Internet speed to 200 Mbps, nice! That’s more than enough to support Ultra HD resolution with Dolby Vision or HDR10, and Dolby Atmos audio.

Going back to my favorite Food Network shows, even the old seasons of Iron Chef, they look amazing. There is no macro-blocking. There are no dropouts. The picture is always sharp, and the sound is always clean. I had cut the cord to save money and add convenience. I never thought I would get a bump in quality. Now, that new LG OLED TV I bought in the fall of 2020 looks even more amazing.

Hardware Decisions

Apple TV over head view
I attribute some of this to the Apple TV. As a video source component, it is very capable. Most users these days are using the software built into their TV to stream their favorite channels. If you have one of the major brands like LG, Samsung, or Vizio; this will give you similar quality to an Apple TV. Having reviewed TVs from these manufacturers, I can back this statement with my observations.
Android TV screenshot
Other displays based on Android TV have been hit or miss for me. One of the big issues is its weak support for Netflix. Even if the app is included, it doesn’t always deliver Ultra HD or HDR. If you go with another brand of streaming box like Roku (awful in my experience) or Nvidia Shield (great for gaming but somewhat limited for TV binging); your mileage will vary. For me, Apple TV offers the best and easiest solution for around $200.
Apple TV plus screenshot
One place where there is room for improvement across the board is platform integration. Solutions like Apple TV, LG WebOS, and VIZIO Smartcast let you search multiple services for content. Apple TV will take the further step of telling you which apps have a particular show or movie. But none of these are perfect. Apple makes you think a selection is available with the services you already have until you press play, and a virtual hand pops out demanding some form of payment, usually by subscription. I’ve found it’s easiest to keep track of where desired content lives and access it through individual apps. If a show is on Paramount+, I use their app to watch it and track my progress through the episodes.

Uncovering Hidden Gems

Paramount plus logo
With all these shiny new apps winking at me from the Apple TV home screen, I spent days exploring each one and found a lot of unexpected things. Discovery+ is a huge service with over 50,000 shows and features available. You could spend most of your entertainment time watching this service alone and not scratch the surface of its offerings.

I also found bonuses on Paramount+ and Disney+. If you’re looking for vintage TV, Paramount+ has lots of that. Mission Impossible, the one from the Sixties, is there in HD, complete. It looks and sounds amazing. Now, I don’t have to spend $80 and another precious bit of shelf space to buy the Blu-rays. You can also watch every season of Ink Master or Survivor or The Amazing Race. The archival aspect of streaming services is something cable cannot duplicate.

Disney plus logo
Disney+ also has added bonuses. My favorite perk is National Geographic. There are lots of beautifully shot documentaries on many subjects. I also found imported car shows I had never even heard of. Looking for The Grand Tour? OK, that one is on Amazon Prime. But check out Supercar MegaBuild on Disney+, major fun!

I could wax on all day about the sheer volume of content available from just a few services. If you already have the ones I’ve mentioned, spend some time exploring. You’ll find more shows than you have time for.

Can you give up local sports?

This is a big one. Most of the people I’ve talked to that are still hanging onto cable service are doing so for access to local sports. While things are getting better in this regard, it’s still tough to follow your favorite sports teams through streaming services. You can usually get the big games in a live feed but that means you’ll be watching commercials, and no, you can’t fast forward through them. I watched the Super Bowl, which was OK, but I found the video quality a bit lacking. It looked like a cadence issue because movement stuttered a bit, I suspect due to compression. You’ll have to carefully assess your sports needs before giving up local channels.

Make A Plan

If you’re considering making the move to streaming and cutting the cord to your cable service, it’s important to have a plan. Consider all the shows you currently watch. If you don’t already know where to stream them, a website like Justwatch is a great resource. Its database will tell you every place a show or movie can be found whether streamed, rented, or purchased, SD or HD, and how much it might cost. You can also browse most of the major carriers’ libraries without signing up.
Just Watch logo
I recommend Netflix and Amazon as a minimum. While Amazon might be something of a newcomer to the game, an Amazon Prime account is $119 a year and you get free shipping on most items along with. If you’re into science, Discovery+ delivers tons of educational content from all their affiliate networks. And you get Food and HGTV too. For everything Star Wars and Marvel, Disney+ is a good deal, especially for original shows like The Mandalorian. The quality is superb, and they have a lot of great National Geographic content too. Star Trek? Look no further than Paramount+. And of course, there’s Hulu and Peacock which offer a lot of original content and some neat imports like Peacock’s Escape to the Chateau.

Whatever your entertainment needs, it’s likely you will find everything you want through streaming channels at considerable cost savings from cable. My monthly cost went from over $180 a month to around $140. And that includes the shipping benefit from Amazon Prime. The video and audio quality will almost assuredly be better, and you won’t have to deal with the DVR. Having tons of content truly on-demand with no commercials has been the dream of TV watchers for decades. With today’s streaming options, that dream has become reality. Happy Watching!