Sayonara, Cable or Satellite
A surfeit of free/cheap streaming options helps you stick it to the man
A true cheapskate realizes that in today’s age of low-cost broadband and high-quality video streams, paying $100-plus a month for cable isn’t the entertainment necessity it used to be. But before you cut the cord, you need to know where to go to find what you want to watch. Let us be your guide!
First, a word of warning: Some streaming websites walk a gray, unlicensed legal line, offering a ton of very current content, but constantly playing whack-a-mole with copyright enforcement agencies. Malware can be a concern, too. We’ll mention a few of the top options; if you choose to surf these gray areas, you do so at your own risk. The same goes for torrents.
Got it? Good! Let’s get streaming.
Cinema fans have the most options when it comes to cutting the cord, starting first and foremost with the 800-pound gorilla in the streaming video world: Netflix Watch Instantly. For just $7.99 a month—that’s around a quarter a day, if you’re counting—you can stream anything from the service’s library as often as you want. Finding newer releases is a bit hit-or-miss, but Netflix nevertheless has a tremendously deep movie catalog full of interesting titles, along with robust device support, 720p HD video, and 5.1 surround sound, to boot.
Crackle has also been rocking our socks in recent months. The Sony-owned venture is completely free and jam-packed with over 300 kick-ass movies, with a focus on sci-fi, action, comedy, and horror flicks. Plus, Crackle is available on a ton of devices, including iOS and Android, Sony electronics, Roku, and the Xbox 360. New titles are nonexistent, though, and the SD streams are a bummer during full-screen viewing.
Crackle’s catalog is packed with awesome action, comedy, and genre movies, and it’s free.
If you’re a fan of classic movies, Entertainment Magazine Online streams a cornucopia of films made prior to 1970.
CinemaNow, iTunes, and Amazon Instant Video are pricier à la carte options for movie rentals or digital purchases. Spending a fiver on a movie rental doesn’t seem too bad, but it can add up quickly over the course of a month. On the plus side, these services carry virtually every title you can think of, with most available in HD.
The services discussed in the movie section apply here, too. The à la carte options also sell TV episodes; Crackle is a good source for older sitcoms, original content, and anime; and Netflix Watch Instantly has a ton of television offerings, most notably its wide collection of children’s cartoons and documentaries.
Speaking of documentaries, check out DocumentaryStorm.com, a killer site that adds a new documentary every day. Many come embedded from high-quality sources like National Geographic, PBS, TED, and VICE.
Of course, there’s always Hulu. Hulu carries several recent television shows, with new episodes often appearing the day after they air on cable. The coverage has gaps, however, and ABC, NBC, Fox, and Comedy Central supply a lot of the content. Numerous older shows are also available. The base version is free, but it forces you to watch shows only on your PC and only in standard definition. Upping to Hulu Plus for $7.99 a month unlocks device support and HD streams. Every flavor contains ads.
TV‑Links.eu is one of those questionable “gray area” websites, but it’s been around forever and streams a huge selection of shows. We prefer its legal counterpart: Installing an HD TV tuner in your HDTV or HTPC. Add Windows Media Center (or an equivalent) and you’ve got a free, full-blown DVR solution for your local TV stations.
Hulu has a lot of free TV shows, but the SD video quality and numerous ads suck.
Wannabe cord cutters often cite the lack of sports options as part of their reluctance to commit to a cable-free lifestyle. That’s not quite true these days: TNT live‑streamed more than 40 NBA playoff games last season, while the NFL streams both its Sunday Night Football games and its playoff games.
The big games may be covered, but everyday game coverage is severely lacking, making it difficult for cheapskates to root, root, root for the home team unless you purchase a streaming subscription from your league of choice—and those aren’t cheap. Season-long passes for streaming the NBA, MLB, and NHL fall in the $100 to $200 price range depending on the sport and the particular package. The NFL’s Game Rewind only costs $40 for the season, but it doesn’t stream live games, only full replays that go live the day after the real action takes place.
Once again, an HD TV tuner slapped in an HTPC can nab any signals your local stations broadcast; that’s probably the best bet for cord-cutting sports fanatics.
In the ever-present gray area, FirstRow Sports live‑streams ESPN and pretty much every live sporting event from around the world. It’s also proven remarkably resilient to takedown efforts. In a pinch, you can head to Justin.TV, where people often put up low-quality live streams of their TVs whenever a large sporting event takes place. Just don’t act surprised when the MPAA sends you a nasty letter.