How to Cut the Cord and Cancel Cable

Yes, you can cancel cable television

What to Know

  • Internet speed should be a minimum of 10 megabits, but 20+ is recommended for multiple devices.
  • Required hardware: a dongle such as a Roku, Firestick, or Chromecast.
  • Alternative hardware: a TV with built-in dongles like Apple TV or other smart TVs.

This article explains how to cut the cord and get rid of cable TV. Additional information covers various streaming services available.

How Fast Should Your Internet Be to Cut the Cord?

Screenshot of
Ookla's is a great way to test your connection.

You typically describe internet speed in terms of megabits per second. It takes about 5 megabits to stream at HD quality, although realistically, you need about 8 megabits to do so smoothly. However, this leaves little room for doing much else on the internet.

You'll probably want at least 10 megabits if you're the only one using the internet connection and 20+ for a family to stream video to multiple devices.

It's common for many internet providers to offer plans with 25 megabits per second or faster, which is plenty to stream video to multiple devices in your household. However, some rural areas may not have access to these speeds. You can check your internet speed on different sites.

Dongles: The Equipment You Need to Cut the Cord

A variety of dongles
Left to right: Google, Roku, Amazon, Apple.

The main piece of equipment you need to turn off cable is a streaming device. Luckily, most of us already have one. Many of the TVs sold these days are smart TVs that support various streaming services. Modern Blu-ray players also tend to have smart features, and if you're a gamer, you can use your Xbox One or PlayStation 4 as a streaming device.

If you're serious about cutting the cord, you might want to invest in a less expensive solution called a dongle. Smart TVs are great, but technology updates so quickly that it doesn't take long before the "smart" functionality becomes antiquated, and you probably don't want to switch out your TV every few years. Dongles include:

  • Roku: While Apple and Amazon might be household names, Roku quietly delivers the best overall service for those who want to dump cable. Roku was one of the first to develop a box dedicated to streaming video, it supports a wide variety of streaming services, and best of all, it's a neutral manufacturer, so it works with almost any television or service. You can buy Roku as a stick, which is a small, key-like device that you stick into your TV's HDMI port, or a more powerful box. 
  • Apple TV: This could be considered the luxury car version of streaming devices except for a couple of snags. Apple went all-in with Apple TV when it placed some of its fastest processors in the unit and launched an App Store for Apple TV. Apple has done a good job of opening up the system and adding great features like the TV app, which compiles much of your streaming library together in one spot.
  • Amazon Fire TV: Similar to Roku, Amazon Fire TV comes in both box and stick formats and runs on the Amazon Fire OS. It has access to Amazon's app store, and while it doesn't have quite the ecosystem of Apple TV, you can use it to both play games, watch TV, and boot up other useful apps like Pandora Radio, Spotify, and TED.
  • Google Chromecast: The Chromecast device differs in that you plug the dongle into the HDMI port of your TV and "cast" the screen on your phone or tablet to your TV. Your phone acts as the remote for the Chromecast, which makes it a little more difficult to use than other dongles. Still, the overall idea of using internet television content and placing it on your television to watch on a large screen is at play.

Other Options Beyond a Dongle

You probably won't want to use your smartphone as a substitute for your TV, but tablets make a great all-in-one solution. You can also connect an iPad to your TV. You can do the same with your Android device.

You can use your game console, your tablet, and other devices as well.

Try Streaming a Stand-Alone Service

Entertainment apps on the Apple TV

You probably already know about Netflix and Hulu, which may be what gave you the idea of cutting the cord in the first place. Dozens of options are available now; some consolidate services and others stand alone. Here's a quick look at just a few of your stand-alone options:

  • Netflix: You don't get much in the way of current television, so you won't be watching the latest Bachelor episode on it. What you do get is full seasons of some of the most popular television about the time it is released on DVD. Netflix also has a wide variety of movies, of course, and it is now investing heavily in original content.
  • Hulu: Netflix may have the widest variety and biggest backlog, but it is Hulu that drives the cord-cutting train because of its focus on producing and streaming television content, including live television. Hulu doesn't cover everything, but it does cover the broadest number of options out there.
  • Amazon Prime Video: Amazon's streaming service is basically a movie twin of Netflix. It doesn't have quite the number of titles, but the addition of it along with Netflix grants a huge range of movies and TV for your streaming pleasure. Prime Video produces its own content, which is a big draw for many viewers.
  • Crackle: Crackle operates under an ad-supported model, which means it's free to download and watch. While its library isn't as healthy as the competition, it has enough that it is worth downloading and taking a look.
  • Vudu: Vudu is primarily for buying or renting titles, but it does have a growing list of ad-supported movies that you can stream for free. If you like Crackle, you should definitely check out Vudu as well.
  • HBO, Starz, Paramount, and others: The premium cable networks are all in the cordless world now. You can now get subscriptions for premium channels as either stand-alone products or as part of Amazon Prime's service.
  • iTunes Movies, Google Play, Redbox: It may be cheaper to drive to the closest Redbox, there is a whole host of options for those of us that want to rent or buy a movie but don't want to leave the couch.

Get Your Cable With Premium Services

PlayStation Vue Screen

Maybe having a streaming subscription that delivers all of the content over the internet is your cut-the-cord solution. There are definitely some advantages to going with one of these services over traditional cable beyond just taking the actual cable that runs into your house out of the equation. And chief among these advantages is the lack of a contract, so you can turn them on one month and off the next.

Another huge bonus is the lack of rental fees for equipment such as cable boxes and DVRs. It's easy to spend $30 to 50 a month in rental fees for traditional cable: Meanwhile, a Roku to stream one of these cable-over-internet solutions would cost you about the same as a single month of those traditional cable rental equipment fees.

These streaming alternatives offer local channels in many metropolitan areas and often include a Cloud DVR, so you can "tape" (save) shows for later viewing.

  • YouTube TV: YouTube's cable-over-internet service has a great interface for channel browsing and excellent video quality. It also ranks up there with DirecTV Now when it comes to local channel support. A bonus of YouTube TV is the ability to use it with up to five separate YouTube accounts within the same household, including roommates or family. It also offers free DVR with unlimited storage.
  • Sling TV: Sling TV features slim packages. Sometimes, they are too slim, so if you want the full deal with local channels and sports channels, you are going to end up paying as much as you would for another service. Sling TV still beats traditional cable, but it is best for those who are only interested in either their Orange or Blue bundles. If you want the whole package, you might be better off with a different provider.
  • Hulu with Live TV: You can now get Hulu with live television. This package contains local stations in many areas along with the usual content when it comes to entertainment, sports, and news. The channel selection doesn't quite reach what you can get on DirecTV Now, but because it basically comes with free Hulu, it can be slightly cheaper. Hulu with Live TV is great if you already subscribe to Hulu and want to save money, but extra fees such as buying more cloud DVR storage or expanding the number of screens you can watch the service on from the limitation of two for the standard service might eat up the initial savings.
  • DirecTV Stream: DirecTV Stream offers a package that delivers a cable-like experience without the actual cable. However, it does have one of the worst interfaces, especially on Apple TV. It also lacks the ability to pause live television. One bonus of DirecTV Stream is access to cheap subscriptions for premium channels like HBO and Starz. However, while most of these services make it easy to cancel, DirecTV Stream follows a traditional cable route of forcing you to talk to an agent, making it confusing to cancel.

The Digital Antenna and How to Record on It

Tablo box and software
Tablo lets you record live TV from a digital antenna and watch it on your TV, smartphone or tablet. Nuvyyo

It's still possible to pick up most major channels using a high-definition digital antenna. If the biggest thing holding you back from taking the leap is that you just can't wait an extra second to watch that television show, a good digital antenna will do the trick.

Digital antennae also offer good solutions for recording live television. The TiVo Edge includes the ability to record from an antenna, but you still need to pay TiVo's $15 a month subscription. Tablo offers a cheaper solution, but it is still $5 a month. Last, there is Channel Master, which doesn't have a monthly subscription.

Individual Channel Apps Are a Great Option

PBS Kids screen

Most channels have an app these days. Many, especially ones like USA and FX, require a subscription to get access to the good stuff, but some still offer a fair amount of content on-demand without the need for a subscription. Other networks, like HGTV, Smithsonian Channel, and History Channel also offer varying degrees of access to content through their apps.

PBS Kids is of special interest to parents. Cutting the cord doesn't have to mean cutting out cartoons. PBS Kids has free access to a ton of entertaining and educational cartoons.

The Quick and Easy Set-Up

Roku box and software on TV screen

Thanks to all these options, you'll have plenty to watch and a variety of ways to watch it. There's a good chance you won't miss having cable in your life. However, if you are confused after reading so many options, here's a solid setup for getting started:

First, Buy a Dongle or Antenna (or Both) and Connect to Your Television

Research and determine which device you want to use. Some people prefer to stick with a specific manufacturer because they have other products from the same place. For example, users of Amazon Alexa might prefer an Amazon Fire Stick, while Google Home owners might prefer a Chromecast. Your budget and preferences should drive this decision. 

Next, Sign up for a Service (or a Couple)

Hulu, for example, gives you access to a wide variety of current television, and with both Netflix and Amazon Prime, you have plenty of movies and television that have already hit DVD. These three subscriptions are slightly less than $30 a month. You might decide to go with a single television app like the Smithsonian channel and spend just $5/month. Maybe you want to try a premium service with one stand-alone app; whatever you want to do, go for it. You can sign up for these services once your dongle is installed. The screen walks you through the steps, but the process is similar to downloading an app on your phone and using it.

Finally, Just Relax and Watch

You can add or remove services as you wish, so start watching to decide which ones you like best. Our advice: Take advantage of all the free trials available to help you decide exactly how you want to build your television experience. 

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