If you’re thinking about getting rid of cable TV – often called “cutting the cord” – to save money and have more choices, and if you’re really confused by it all, you’re not alone. 

Viewers of all ages are wrestling with the same decision, and many are confused or maybe misinformed. We’ll try to help clear up any misconceptions you have about what’s involved and how you could benefit.

To be clear, finding your best way to watch shows, movies and events on TV is a moving target. Today’s realities can easily be different from tomorrow’s. With that caveat, you need to answer these questions:

  • What do you want to watch on TV?
  • Are you looking for more choices, or do you want to save money?
  • How comfortable are you with internet and Wi-Fi technology?

You’ll probably think of more questions as you go along, but these are the basic starting points.

Today’s seniors remember broadcast TV (without remote control) and the dawning of the cable age. Now you can now watch TV without having a TV (streaming or watching on a computer, phone or tablet). In case you’re not familiar with all of today’s available technology, “streaming” is the term used for watching TV content over the internet, and it covers all devices, including TV sets that are connected to the internet.

To best start the decision-making process, we recommend you create a chart. Start with a list along the left side of the shows and movies you want to watch. Include live news and sports on that list if you watch them. 

Use the other columns of your chart to show where you can find that content. If you find your choices show up in more than one place, that’s totally expected. Make sure you add them all because there’s a good chance you’ll need to pay something for everything you choose. The goal here is to see which service – cable, internet streaming, or broadcast – offers most of the programming you want to watch.

This exercise will lead you into the second point. Do you want to have more choices – or maybe it’s more options – than cable TV offers, or do you want to cut your TV-watching cost? 

In a perverse way, you can do both. If you live in area with good broadcast TV reception and subscribe to only free streaming services, you’ll only need to pay for your internet connection to access thousands of shows and movies. There will be enough choices to last multiple lifetimes, but in reality you’ll only get a lot of content that’s not highly valued by the providers. 

If you’re looking at your list of shows, movies and premium channels (HBO, Showtime, etc.) that you currently get from cable, you can replicate that with online streaming, but you might add to your cost. 

Your cable provider probably has you on a bundle that includes a lot of channels that can be broken apart – or unbundled. Your cable likely includes live news (CNN, Fox, MSNBC) and sports (ESPN and the Bally Sports regional channels), and you might pay extra to stream them individually without cable. 

Fortunately, you can get most of your cable channels through streaming services. YouTube TV, Sling, Fubo TV, and Hulu Live are the major players for providing this, but they can be just as expensive as what you pay for cable – or maybe more after you finish tallying up everything you want to watch. 

If you want to watch just shows without the live programming, you can find them at a lower cost from Philo or Hulu, to name two. If you want some live programming, you can hook up an antenna for broadcast TV and supplement it with subscriptions to providers that specialize in the content you want. Many people who stream content on their TVs find that YouTube (the parent company of YouTube TV) offers more than enough choices. You can not only find shows, but you can also find all sorts of “how to” videos – just like you find on your computer or device.

Don’t think we’ve left out the “buzz” services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV and Disney+, which can also be bundled to include ESPN (there’s a lot of overlap). One could make a case that they are responsible for the surge in streaming. You’ll likely need to subscribe to them individually, something you already do with cable.

When you add it all up, the cost of the content you want to watch could be less expensive, the same or more expensive. But there are other costs to consider, both monetary ones and aggravation. 

The monetary costs are for subscriptions and equipment. If you are a cable customer, you likely are already paying a monthly fee for a cable box for each TV connected to the cable. If you switch to streaming your TV over the internet, you’ll need to buy a streaming device for each TV – unless you have a smart TV with Wi-Fi and streaming capability built in. 

Depending on the device you buy (Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, Apple TV), you can spend anywhere from $30 to $125. But you should be able to find one that’s right for you for $75 or less. The more expensive ones are for 4K TV; there is very little programming in 4K definition, and not all TVs have the capability.

In all likelihood, you get your internet service from your cable provider, and you’ll need to make sure you have fast enough service. Netflix recommends 25 Mbps service, while most others recommend 15. The more TVs and other devices you have, the more service you’ll need.  You should consider 50 Mbps at a minimum, and anything over 200 Mbps is probably overkill. 

The faster the service, the more it costs. But speed alone is not the only factor that will affect your viewing on TVs, computers or any devices you have. You’ll need a good modem and router to bring in the faster speed and distribute the signals over your Wi-Fi network. 

Any modem or router – or combination modem and router (also called a gateway) – that’s more than five years old probably lacks updated technology. Depending on your home, you may need a mesh network to get the Wi-Fi signals (that carry your TV content) to the place where you watch. Your investment could be several hundreds of dollars.

The equipment costs cover both money and aggravation, but there are further aggravation costs. If you are not comfortable with internet and Wi-Fi technology, you’ll face a learning curve of some sort. Streaming devices operate more like computers than cable, and you may find them to be cumbersome or confusing. You may also find the actions from your remote take longer to complete. 

In the end, you might find that sticking with cable outweighs the benefits of streaming, which offers more viewing and pricing options. But here’s a reward factor for each decision:

If you stick with cable, your provider can also give you access (we’re not talking about any kind of cost factor) to the premium services associated with streaming. You’ll be best served by having a remote that takes voice commands, but otherwise you can get a lot of extra programming without any major upheaval in your life.

If you embrace streaming, you’ll have many times more options and much greater flexibility in choosing the content you want to watch and being able to watch it on anything that has a screen. 

Whatever choices you ultimately make, they should be the ones that maximize your viewing pleasure.

Gene Rubel

Gene Rubel is a tech consultant and writer based in Sandy Springs.