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Cutting the Cord, Part I: Best Streaming Services

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By Eric Podolsky, 8/13/12

 

In today’s rapidly changing world of home entertainment, more and more people are choosing to cancel their costly cable and satellite subscriptions and replace them with streaming services. And while this move away from broadcast television has its pros (less expensive, no commercials, on-demand content) and cons (no news or live sports), if you choose to go ahead and cut the cord for good, deciding which services to subscribe to can be a daunting task. Each offers its own set of content, and though there are plenty of overlaps across the board, there are also some very noticeable gaping holes. Luckily, some of these can be filled with a simple terrestrial antenna connection, which will pick up your major network channels (including some secondary channels not available on cable). Regardless, with the amount of streaming content increasing all the time, you just may be a candidate for making the switch. For your consideration, here’s a list of the best streaming services being offered in today’s market. If you play your cards right, you’ll be wondering why you went so long dishing out all that dough for cable...

 


Amazon Prime

 

When it comes to content selection and value, Amazon Prime is arguably the best deal available on the market today. For $79 a year (coming to about $6.58 a month), you can access Amazon’s database of 13,000 movies and TV shows and watch it all ad-free. AVS member spiritfox approves of their selection: “I do have to say I am really happy with some of the additions Amazon has made to Prime. I got rid of Netflix streaming awhile back and I have to say I have found a lot to watch at Amazon--and much of their content is HD--with quite a few in 5.1.” And as an added bonus, you also get free two-day shipping on any order you place on Amazon. The only catch is that the service is not supported on many devices at this time. But if you have hardware that supports Prime, a yearly subscription is highly recommended.

Why you should subscribe: It’s your best deal for streaming, hands-down
Why you shouldn’t: Not supported by many devices
Available on: PS3, Xbox 360, Roku, TiVio, and more


 

 

Netflix

 

 

The first of its kind and still arguably the industry leader in ease and accessibility, Netflix is still the most used streaming service. Supported by over seven hundred devices, the service’s streaming subscription is still only $8 a month, and offers thousands of current and hard-to-find movies and TV Shows, making it a great bang for your buck. AVS member mproper agrees: “Netflix has some current-ish movies, but it's not the norm...But again, you're paying $8/month for unlimited when EVERYONE ELSE is charging $4-6 for one view of one movie...Netflix is really designed (IMO) to browse for movies that might interest you and to discover new movies....not for you to have a movie in mind and expect it to be available.” Though their lack of new releases available to stream can be frustrating, their recent introduction of quality original programming like House of Cards (starring Kevin Spacey) and Arrested Development’s much-anticipated comeback should convince you to pull the trigger if you happen to be on the fence.

Why you should subscribe: Inexpensive, supported everywhere, exclusive original programming
Why you shouldn’t: Lacks many new releases
Available on: Practically everything

 

 

Hulu Plus


Having grown rapidly in the past year, Hulu Plus is fast becoming a go-to alternative to TV. Though their movie selection isn’t as extensive as Netflix and they run ads, even to subscribers, Hulu has television on lockdown, offering episodes of many current TV episodes a day after they’ve aired. That’s something that no other subscription service can boast. AVS member JoeBlow74 approves, saying that “the service seems to have a lot of current content to choose from...$8 per month is good... I think I will stay as a paying customer. One thing I will say is that I am impressed by how current and how complete the content is on Hulu. I could never get this on Netflix.” Their library of over 2000 complete seasons of shows is impressive (including every episode from all 37 seasons of Saturday Night Live), and with their recent introduction into the world of Apple TV, it’s apparent that Hulu Plus’ accessibility is growing all the time. At $8 a month, that’s a lot of good reasons to subscribe.

Why you should subscribe: Inexpensive, next-day TV show availability, extensive TV library
Why you shouldn’t: Poor movie selection, advertisements
Available on: PS3, Xbox 360, Roku, Wii, TiVio, WD TV Live, and now, Apple TV

 

 

 

Vudu


Having been acquired by Walmart in 2010, this on-demand movie service has since grown a huge following as one of the highest quality streaming video services available. Vudu has Netflix beat when it comes to new releases, often offering movies to stream the same day they’re released on DVD. Their 20,000+ titles range in price from $1-6 per movie, and their unique peer-to-peer network allows for the movie to be delivered to to your screen with a speed and smoothness that many argue looks better than the resolution of its competitors. According to AVS member mproper, Vudu’s “HDX offers the best quality of any streaming model, which really looks great. IMO the best quality streaming has to offer.” joeydrunk also attests that “the picture is so much better than any other streaming hd picture or any cable, fios, or satellite hd picture.” Vudu also offers 5.1 surround sound, though some say that it often comes through sounding compressed. Though it is certainly pricier than other subscription services, you’ll certainly get what you pay for with Vudu.

Why you should subscribe: Excellent video, 5.1 surround sound, extensive new releases
Why you shouldn’t: Expensive on-demand purchases, compressed sound, limited TV selection
Available on: PS3, Xbox 360, Boxee, WD TV Live, and some others
 

 

HBO Go

For those looking to get their HBO content streamed without a cable subscription, you’re unfortunately out of luck. As of press time, there is no conceivable way to get an HBOGo subscription without paying a hefty sum for its premium cable counterpart. This is one conundrum that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, though it does seem to be worth it to some users. AVS member TeddyGVT said that he “was offered the basic Comcast service for $29.99/mo and HBO for free for 6 mo. That might be worth it in order to have access to it again. I just don't want to write them a $100 check each month...and HBO is definitely worth $15-20/mo for me...that last $10 makes it hard to justify.” It looks like we’re just gonna have to fork it up to get our Game of Thrones fix for the foreseeable future.

Why you should subscribe: HBO programming is top notch.
Why you shouldn’t: You need a cable subscription!
Available on: Xbox 360, Roku, and tablets

 

Have you gone ahead and cut the cord? What are your favorite streaming video options?

 

 

Keep reading with Cutting the Cord, Part II: Best Streaming Devices

 

Comments (25)

It is possible to stream live sports. Of course, it costs.
I think the least expensive way to get HBO is from Dish Network. Dish offers the Welcome Package at $14.99 and has your locals plus a handfull of cable networks (like History, Hallmark and HGTV). Add HBO for $16 and you have a total monthly outlay of $30.99 + taxes. Add a DVR for $6 per month if you want to get fancy. The two main drawbacks are that the Welcome Package is a retention package and isn't available to first time subscribers and the it's a SD package. But any locals that Dish carries in HD and any HD channels in add-on packages will be in HD if you have a HD receiver.

Not really cord cutting, more like cord shaving.
What are the minimum broadband connection speeds required for each service? if I have to pay more to my ISP to be able to stream reliably it must be weighed into the total cost.
I currently have 15/2 cable internet and have no problems with any service, even Vudu (1080p HDX streams need 9+ mps download speeds). I did have 3/1 DSL quite a few years ago an Amazon/Hulu didn't have any problems with that service, Although at the time, I was only streaming SD. But after I upped my speed to 6/1 DSL, I signed up with Netflix and HD streams were great..
@gremmy - what services do you use for that? thanks!
MLB, NHL, NBA and MLS all have "season pass" subscription services that are as good as their pay-tv versions. The NFL also has an online package, but it isn't anywhere as good as the Direct TV package.
Thanks @mhufnagel! So those are all online streaming services? Do you then stream directly to your home theater? What hardware do you use for that?
In addition to pcs, they all, except the NFL service, can be streamed to Roku players. The Xbox 360 also has MLB and is going to add the NHL and NBA services. And the Xbox 360 also can do ESPN3.

If we do ever cut the cord, I'll be signing up for the NHL online service. $159 for a year and it also has a lot of additional content such as classic games from the past. And after 48 hrs you can stream recorded games from your local team that are always blacked out live.
Nonthing to do with the article, but who decided to use light gray text on a black background??
My eyes are now bleeding....
Watched the Dark Night via Vudu HDX and it was without a doubt as good or better than many blu-rays I have seen. I could detect no compression artifacts in the video. This on my 70" screen from 9ft. The audio was really good, though the LFE channel was WAY hot. Maybe an effect of the compression? It still sounded great and was the best I've seen from streaming or satellite.
Why can't two or more people share an Infinity (Comcast) subscription that includes HBO, Showtime etc. to play on their Tablets? One of the people would actually have to subscribe.
You could do the same with HBO Go, I assume. It would be like two people sharing a newspaper or a book.
We have (for a while) two homes where we split our time. One has HBO, Showtime etc. Not about to pay for to very expensive services. In the 2nd home we watch True Blood, Newsroom, Bill Mahr etc. on our Tablets. Obviously, we can't be using the services in 2 locations at the same time.
What we need is a Tablet with video output that we can hook into our main display.
snidely, as a matter of fact you can do what you mentioned in regard to sharing HBO. My mom has it as part of her cable package and she doesn't have internet service. So my brother (who lives in New York) and I (who live in Michigan), use her HBOGO subscription. Never had any problems at all. Although sharing is against the TOS. I bet this happens all the time. Especially with people who have kids at college who live away from home.
Mhuf -
I knew that. Didn't want to be too obvious about TOS problems. In our case, we are the only ones using it.
as soon as amazon VOD figures out the user interface netflix could be in trouble... there are actually lots of live sports options available for free if you know how to get to them. I have not had pay tv for over 3 years and dont miss a thing!
So, Mr. FreeTV, how do you do that?
it really just depends on what sports you like. most of my customers use an OTA antenna that gets them about every sport for FREE in HD. combine that with FREE ESPN3 to fill in the rest, it basically covers everything on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU. specialized sports content is on specific websites, and all major sports offer a streaming pay option if you still cant get what you need. not to shabby for $0 a month...
freetvEE, national telecasts may work if you don't care what team you watch. But since most teams games are shown on a local RSN, you'll have to resort to methods of questionable legality if you want to watch your home team. And ESPN3 has been neutered by Disney. You'll need to get a provider that has the entire WatchESPN package to get games most people actually want to watch.
I am obviously talking in a general manner since everyone's situation is different. It really depends on what one wants to watch, and then what is available in their area. Not sure what you are referring to on ESPN3, I am able to get 99% of the sports that are on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU and I certainly dont have a pay tv package...
freetvEE, who is your ISP? Do they give you all of the ESPN channels (complete WatchESPN and not just ESPN3)? I read that a lot of things that are on ESPN 1/2/U were no longer going to be available on the ESPN3 portion of WatchESPN and just on the ESPN 1/2/U sections. And most ISP's don't have the total WatchESPN package yet. Of course I haven't watched ESPN3 in a couple of months either, so I don't know the whole story. I'll check it out when I get home tonight.
i have comcast for my isp only-no phone or TV, since I can get those for free. its not watch ESPN, so no shows only clips or highlights for shows, but I basically get most of the sports which is all I care about. To be honest I am in the same boat, I rarely even use it so not sure if they have cut back on it lately. I just checked and it seemed to be pretty similar, but then again I rarely go out there, especially for live games usually just on demand. most of the sports I have time to watch are in stunning HD for free on an OTA antenna anyway, which I DVR.
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