Cord Cutting Setup for Beginners

The best devices and services to get you started on your cord cutting journey.

So, you want to cut the cord, huh? Well, if you’re a little late to the party and you’ve been clinging to your cable or satellite subscription up to now, switching your TV service can be a little intimidating. There are a lot of options out there, which is awesome but it makes the decision harder. Today we’re going to address the basics of cutting the cord, and we’ll start by asking a few questions.

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Check your internet speeds

First, you’ll need to ask, “Is my internet up to the task?” Luckily, this one’s fairly simple. If, for whatever reason, you’re still on dial-up internet, cutting the TV cord probably isn’t going to happen. But for the rest of you, you should be able to do it. Yes, even you, satellite internet people. I see you, I understand.

But one screen streaming video, like Netflix or Hulu, in HD will need about 5 Mbps of internet speed. Two screens would need 10 Mbps, and so on. Now, the average household internet speed in the US right now is just under 20 Mbps, so if you’re close to or above that, you should be all right. Now, you won’t be streaming in 4K, which requires 25 Mbps, but really that’s okay. Honestly, HD is pretty darn good.

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Internet not up to the task?
If you don’t think your internet provider is gonna cut it, check out our review on the best internet providers for streaming.

Review your budget

The second question you need to ask yourself is, “What is my budget?” I’m assuming, like most people who cut the cord, you’re coming to this trying to save some money. It’s possible you have some other motivations (like you want to watch that great new show on HBO Now or Max, or whatever they call it these days), but most of us are in this simply to save some money.

The average cable package right now in the US is $217 a month. To be fair, that is usually for TV and internet as a bundle. The average internet-only package, though, is around 60 bucks a month—that’s a lot lower. Let’s say you’re around the average. You could earmark $40 for TV streaming content and still stay under $100 a month, that’s a lot of savings over what you had before.

Your budget and your preferences are going to be different depending on your situation, but budget-wise, you just pick your number: is it $30 a month, 40, 80? Knowing how much you’re willing to pay for TV is going to come in handy, especially when we talk about streaming apps.

Pick live or on-demand

But the last question I want you to ask yourself is, “How do I like to consume my movies and shows? Do I like live TV or on-demand?”

Well, what’s the difference? Live TV is what you’re used to with cable or satellite TV. Shows are scheduled at a certain time, and you need to watch it at that time or use a DVR to record it.

On-demand would be something like Netflix. There’s a bunch of stuff available for you to watch whenever you want. So, going back to the budget issue, if you want live TV, here’s the deal: you’re going to pay for it. It’s expensive. If you want to save money, you can stick with on-demand stuff, like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Disney+.

Pick a streaming device

Let’s talk about the streaming devices that you need to consider. Really, you’ve got two choices, Roku or Amazon Fire. Yes, there are other choices, but they aren’t quite as good for most people. Chromecast seems to be losing a lot of steam and support. And the Apple TV and Nvidia Shield are really great devices, but they’re relatively expensive, and they’re meant for a really specific audience.

Roku and Amazon Fire are the best for a wide audience. Together, they make up about 70% of the streaming device market, and there’s a big reason for that. They are pretty great, but they’re not free. You’re going to count on about 40 or 50 bucks for a decent device in either lineup.

Or if you’re in the market to just buy a new TV, then you can go for a budget TV. The best budget TVs these days tend to have either Roku or Fire TV built right in.

Streaming stick comparison
Streaming stickList priceLearn more
Roku$49.00View on Amazon
Amazon Fire$49.99View on Amazon

Amazon.com List Prices (as of 06/26/2020 11:28 MST). Full disclaimer

Both of those platforms have their strengths and weaknesses, and this is not a full-on Roku versus Amazon video, so I’m going to keep this brief. Roku is better for simplicity. It’s easy to navigate, and it’s easy to use. Roku also has a brand-agnostic approach, meaning it’s not going to push content from Amazon, Apple, or whatever other services you might see out there.

Amazon Fire TV, on the other hand, is a little bit more cluttered as an interface, and so it has a slightly steeper learning curve. And while it does push you toward Amazon content (obviously, because it’s an Amazon device), that might not necessarily be such a bad thing, and I’m going to explain why that is in just a moment.

So while my heart is with Roku, if you’re shopping for literally your first device, I would go Amazon Fire on this one. And the reason why basically comes down to apps and content, so let’s talk about that next.

Subscribe to streaming apps

Whether you decided you prefer on-demand streaming or Live Tv, you’ve got options.

On-demand

If you’re trying to figure out what apps you want to pay for, there are two that I would say are close to non-negotiable: Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Now obviously, some people are going to quibble with that statement, which is fine. I will see you in the comments.

Netflix is Netflix. Almost everyone’s got it, and not for no reason. It is great. But I include Amazon Prime Video in this because it comes with an Amazon Prime membership. You come for the free shipping, and you stay for the giant catalog of movies and shows.

If you’re not a Prime subscriber, and you refuse to be one, then go back to that devices section that I just did, and swap in the Roku. It’s probably the better bet in that case.

But if you combine Prime Video with an Amazon Fire device, you’ll get much better mileage out of Fire TV’s recommendation algorithm, since it tends to recommend Amazon Prime content. Especially for a beginner, the combo of an Amazon Fire device plus Amazon Prime content will be really nice to start your cord-cutting journey.

Once we get outside of Netflix and Prime Video, there are 1,001 streaming apps out there. You’ve got Disney+, Hulu, CBS All Access, and on and on and on. There are also some amazing free apps out there as well. I’ve got lists of the best free apps for both Amazon Fire and Roku, so make sure you check those out. In fact, you could get rid of every paid service, just go with the free options, and you would still have more content at your fingertips than you could ever watch. What a world, huh?

Best on-demand streaming services
ProviderMonthly priceLearn more
Netflix$8.99$15.99*View Plans
Amazon Prime Video$12.99*View Plan
Hulu$5.99$11.99View Plans
Data as of 07/29/19. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
* Data as of 07/29/19. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.

Live TV

Of course, I shouldn’t forget the live TV options. If you do want live TV, then you’re going to be looking at something like Sling TV, Hulu Live, or YouTube TV. Now, these services are pretty great, and they often do a good job of mimicking your cable or satellite experience, if that’s what you’re after—but for a price.

Like I said earlier, live TV is expensive. This is where that budget comes in handy. Live TV starts around 20 bucks a month for the most bare-bones service out there, which is Philo, and it goes all the way up to $80 a month or more for AT&T TV NOW. That’s maybe not so attractive if you’re in this to save money.

There’s no getting around it; you’re going to pay a bunch for live TV.

Best live TV streaming services
ProviderMonthly priceLearn more
AT&T TV NOW$55$183*View Plans
Sling$30$45View Plans
Hulu + Live TV$54.99$60.99*View Plans
YouTube TV$64.99*View Plan
Data as of 07/29/19. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
* Data as of 07/29/19. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.

Add accessories

I’ll have a lot of great accessories to recommend when I do an advanced cord-cutting video, but for now, we’re going to stick to the basics. As a beginner, all you need is an HD antenna. For about 20 or 30 bucks, an HD antenna will pick up the local channels that are still being broadcast over the airwaves, just like they have been since TV was invented.

It won’t get you cable news or ESPN, but it will get you your local channels for no extra cost, assuming that you’re within range of a transmitter. If you want to learn more about which antennas are good options and how to get the most out of your antenna, check out my video of the best HD antennas.

Recap

So there you have it, snag an antenna, choose a device and a couple of apps, and you’re off to the races. Cutting the cord doesn’t have to be all that intimidating if you just start with a few basics and build from there.

Now that you know what to do, hit that like button, subscribe, or Venmo me tons of cash—all are perfectly acceptable forms of thanks. And if you’re ready to cut cords like a pro, check out my video on cord cutting for experts.

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