8 Alternatives to Cable TV That Will Keep You Entertained
According to the SmartMoney, nearly 144 million consumers watch videos online.
A recent experiment by WalletPop revealed that “for the price Americans pay for cable TV, they can enjoy a mini-vacation.” Just how much are we spending for the convenience of cable? Comcast, for instance, costs about $552 a year – and that’s just basic service; premium packages run more than $1,200 annually.
If you’re looking for alternative ways to catch your favorite shows and movies without having to take out a second mortgage or find another roommate, consider these suggestions.
1. DVD Kiosks
I prefer Redbox over Blockbuster Express for several reasons, the most important being that I hate Blockbuster. They’ve been ripping off Americans for years, and I think they deserve to go out of business. Personal feelings aside, the DVD kiosk business is booming, mostly because it’s nothing short of genius. You can’t beat a one-dollar nightly rental — unless, of course, it’s FREE. As often as I've frequented the kiosks over the years, I’ve only paid for a handful of rentals thanks to sites like Inside Redbox and Coupon Dad. When I get to the box, I do a search for coupon codes on my iPhone for that particular brand of kiosk; 9 times out of 10 I find a working code. Beware, however, of the hidden fees. The coupon-code rental is only free for the first night. If you don’t return it within 24 hours, you’ll be charged $1 per extra day it’s out. Which, I assume, is how they can keep pushing out new promo codes and still make money. (See also: Never Pay for a Redbox DVD Rental Again)
2. Network Websites
Sites like ABC.com, NBC.com, and CBS.com are perfect for watching the shows you missed the night before. Shows are usually available the morning after they originally aired, so you can catch up on your lunch break or when there’s nothing else on that you want to watch. I became a convert a couple years ago when “Lost” was still in new episodes. I had kickball on the night that it aired, which forced me to miss it. Luckily I didn’t have to wait too long to get my fix.
ABC has an excellent app that mimics its website; the content is free and available the morning after a show originally airs. The downside is that ABC is really the only network with an app like this. HBO just launched an app, but you have to be a cable subscriber, which totally defeats the purpose of cutting the cable. Hopefully the basic networks will follow suit and the cable networks will offer a la carte options to purchase pay-as-you-go content on mobile devices.
Hulu has a similar premise as the individual network sites, except it consists of several networks providing content so you can watch many of your favorite shows in one place. One of the best things about Hulu that I’ve found is that you can set subscriptions for some of your favorite programs. When they’re available to view, you’ll receive an e-mail letting you know. If you want even more content, you can purchase Hulu Plus, an advanced service that allows you to access content on mobile devices, but frankly I think it’s a waste of money considering that most of the TV content it has is available for free on the respective network sites.
5. Netflix Streaming
I canceled my DVDs-in-the-mail subscription last year because the selection was lacking. I had either seen the available movies in the theater or they weren’t available upon regular release because the kiosks got them first. I still have Netflix streaming, however. It’s great for a rainy day, or when you want to watch content from your iPhone or iPad. A monthly subscription for unlimited streaming — there’s no extra charge for your hand-held devices — is only $7.99.
6. Amazon Instant Video
Directly competing with Netflix in the unlimited-streaming category, Amazon recently launched its own streaming option that includes over 5,000 commercial-free movies and TV shows available with an Amazon Prime membership, about $79 a year. When you do the math, it’s cheaper than Netflix streaming, but the selection isn’t as robust. In fact, Amazon has less than half the titles that Netflix boasts. Still, that’s a pretty good selection.
7. Warpia StreamHD
A total game changer for the cutting-the-cable argument, Warpia StreamHD ($169.99) allows users to wirelessly stream anything on a laptop or PC to the flatscreen. The USB-based device mirrors the computer screen without the mess of cords. The transmission shows up on the TV in 1080p resolution and 5.1 surround sound. The package comes with all the bells and whistles, including an HDMI cable and SPDIF cable. Warpia is compatible with Windows 7, Vista SP2, and XP SP3.
8. Apple TV
Many of my friends have converted to Apple TV, and they rave about it. The box, which costs $99 with free shipping from Apple.com, gives you access to iTunes’ impressive library of titles, which vary in price; new-release HD movies are $4.99, SD movies are $3.99, and TV shows are $0.99. The box is also compatible with Netflix, and it allows users to stream content directly from their Mac or PC to the TV screen.
Have you cut the cable? How are you saving money on media content? Let me know in the comments section below.