Here’s the grim reality behind your favorite reality TV show: it’s costing you more than ever and it’s going to get worse. Cable costs are rising and they’re rising fast. According to an April 2012 survey from the NPD Group, cable costs are rising 6% a year, while household income remains flat. At that rate, the average monthly pay-TV bill will be $123 in 2015 and $200 in 2020. Ouch.
But you can save some money if you think outside the cable box. Read on and see if one of these cable-free alternatives is for you.
If you have a digital-ready TV set you can use an indoor antenna to pick up your local UHF and VHF channels. It can be tricky, however, to know in advance what channels you will receive and what kind of antenna you need. AntennaWeb has a tool that allows you to enter your address and learn what stations you’ll receive and what kind of antenna you’ll need. Depending on the type and features, most indoor antennae range in price from $8 to $70.
Streaming video services
If you want to get anything beyond your local channels, you’ll need to use a streaming video service, like Netflix, which costs about $9 a month for streaming service. Netflix doesn’t have the most recent movies or episodes of TV shows, but it’s great if you want to catch up on the all the old seasons of shows that you missed first time around.
Hulu, another streaming video service on the internet, is free, but doesn’t have the most recent selections either, and does have commercials. Hulu Plus offers the entire current seasons of hit shows for about $8 a month; however, it still has commercials.
Streaming video player
You can easily watch the streamed video on your computer, but if you want to watch it on that big flat-streen TV you’ll need to connect your computer to your TV, which requires a little bit of technical skill. Plus, it’s just not as convenient as using a remote control from the couch.
To avoid that complication, use a atreaming video player. These are highly specialized devices that take your computer out of the system.
The simplest to use is Roku. It’s a device that connects to your computer and to your Internet service. Roku has many streaming channels. Depending on the features it costs between $48 and $85. This is a one-time cost, not a subscription. Its remote is simple and intuitive to use. There’s even an app so you can use your iPhone as a remote. Roku can also stream music from sources like Pandora or Spotify.
If you have a teenager in the house you might already have a gaming system. Most of them (Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii) also support streaming video.
If the shows available on Roku aren’t enough for you, consider PlayOn. It’s another streaming video service with more than 60 channels, including Disney, ESPN, Comedy Central, HGTV and many other popular channels. It works with Roku and most of the other streaming video players. PlayOn has frequent “lifetime license” sales where you can get a lifetime license for $39.99 or a lifetime license with a Roku for $69.99.
Add it up
For a complete solution, you do have to cobble together a few different products. Is it worth it? Let’s add up some estimated prices.
One time costs:
- Indoor antenna for local stations: $40
- Lifetime license for PlayOn, including Roku: $69.99
- Netflix Streaming: $9
- Hulu Plus: $8
Even if you budget an additional$15 a month for DVDs from Redbox, you will save substantial money over cable TV. And don’t forget about free DVDs from your local library. Whether it’s worth it depends on how simple you want your solution to be and if these streaming video sources include the shows you want to watch – when you want to watch them. What’s certain, however, is that the Internet-only TV solutions will continue to expand and cable costs will continue to rise.