Cable television can be expensive, especially for a service that some families, perhaps like yours, are not using as much as they used to or are supplementing with additional streaming services. Are you just not using all the “premium” channels you are paying a premium price for? Do you not even know what channels you have? If so, then it might be a time to change gears and start considering low-cost cable TV alternatives, whether it comes in the form of a cheaper cable package or a different technology altogether.
Yet what should you do, and where should you go? What are ads talking about, and are they trustworthy? In an age of information overload and too much marketing regarding these services, it can be easy to get lost. Yet if you still want television in your household, then you will need to do some navigation. Fortunately, we are here to help as much as possible.
So, without further delay, here are your options for low-cost television, the nuances between them, and things you should keep in mind:
If you’re wondering what over-the-air (OTA) television is, then the easiest way to think about it is to consider it similar to how people used antennas decades before to pick up TV signals. The OTA receiver acts as an antenna, and when the device is connected to your television, you can watch practically as you always have.
Now, if you’re worried about watching a static mess, you should know that the technology, while perhaps not perfect, has vastly improved over the previous decades. Instead of the static mess you’d hear about or experience before, you can get a crisp, clear picture and more channels than you might think. You will need to set up the antenna and capturing device, but this is an easy process (just make sure you have a good spot and space first).
What to Look for in OTA TV
As with most things, the solution to this problem depends on what you hope to get out of it. If all you want is the most basic option with a couple of local channels and the main broadcast networks, you’re probably all set with one of your area’s cheapest setups. Effectively what you want is a more advanced antenna, and that’s what you’ll get. If you’re ever wondering what channels are generally available in your area, you can use this helpful tool from the FCC.
However, if you want a more sophisticated or advanced setup, you can look into more expensive options. You probably won’t get a miracle or premium channels no matter what OTA antenna you use, but you will be able to hook up to more TVs at once, get a better signal that can support a 1080p or 4k picture, and pick up signals from a wider radius. Given the one-time cost of most of them, they can be worth the price.
You will want to check these metrics to see what the best fit for your home and your budget is, as well as how you might want to use it once it’s in your home.
What About OTA DVR?
If you are looking into a mostly OTA TV setup, you might want to consider investing a bit more money into an OTA DVR setup. While these setups, at least the quality options, can cost you a few hundred dollars, they also double as a DVR, allowing you to record programs to watch later (and skip the ads which may be worth the price of entry alone).
The equipment will vary based on the model you choose. Better models will allow you to store more content, record more shows at once (at higher quality resolutions, if possible), and in general, have more user-friendly interfaces. Additional searches and resources online can show you exactly how you might use them and what each model can offer.
One thing to be careful of with these is regular service fees after the initial purchase. They aren’t universal, so compare your options if you’re looking to keep costs low. However, there may be additional features and options with the paid fee model.
Before You Start
Before you start with OTA TV or OTA DVR, we would like you to review and note the following:
- There will be some setup required. Usually, you will need to set up an antenna, although there are many options where you can set up indoors. This will require some space and preparation, so be sure you are prepared to commit in both regards, and carefully read about a model before ordering it.
- As mentioned earlier, you will not be able to get all the content you want if you are looking for on-demand programming and premium cable channels. OTA is not meant to replace that. To get those, you may want to get a supplementary streaming service that gets you access.
- While it is much rarer in recent years, access to the signal does matter, and poor weather conditions can affect your experience.
Other Options and Services for Streaming Live TV
On top of your typical cable subscriptions and OTA TV, a recent addition to the stable of options for most households are services that allow you to stream live TV (and usually quite a bit of other content) using just your internet connection and perhaps a peripheral device.
Note that these are not streaming services along the lines of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, although there might be content set aside along those lines. Instead, these services are designed to keep you up to date with your favorite (and soon to be favorite) shows the moment they air and allow you to watch television live much like a cable broadcast. Ideally, it is the same experience, just online and perhaps with a few perks.
With that clarified, let us look at some of the most common and popular options:
Hulu (+ Live TV)
You might associate Hulu with just its streaming services, but Hulu can be an excellent option for those looking for some additional content or for people looking to keep up with the most current shows. The service is roughly equivalent to a modest cable bill in cost and has both ad-free and regular versions.
Perhaps one of the best and most well-known options for many when it comes to strictly TV streaming is Sling TV. A service with multiple options, it’s a trailblazer in the market, allowing people to have stable access to live TV without being tied to a cable company. They offer customers several options, including some for premium channels (for an extra cost), and will have most of the cable channels you already know and love.
It also happens to be a great low-cost option for sports fans and is available to watch and use on practically any modern device capable of streaming.
Philo’s main benefit is that it happens to be, with few exceptions, the cheapest option among the live TV streaming services. It also happens to be incredibly easy to set up so long as you have a good internet connection. While it may not have as many options as its competitors in some cases (as of this writing, it has 61 channels), it can be the perfect way to try out live TV streaming for your household before shutting off your premium cable plan.
Why wouldn’t one of the largest collectors and streamers of video content create a service to allow people to watch television with just their internet connection, integrated already with their other services? YouTube TV has most of the major channels you might expect from cable and has one of the most balanced sets of programming for those with varied interests. As far as price, at about $65 monthly (as of this writing), it remains a viable alternative to cable, but not always the cheapest one.
Just because a service is not listed here doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth your consideration. We also do not want you to get the idea that there aren’t many more services like those above, albeit smaller ones. There are just far more than we could go into detail about, and we found that the above represented a selection that would have something for every person and would provide insight into what is available.
These other services might offer a more specialized channel selection or a better price for the content than the above options. While we do not think looking into every one is a good use of your time, if you hear positive things, by all means, look it up and see if it is a good fit.
A Constantly Changing Landscape
As times change and innovations and innovators make their way to market, one thing we can say for sure is that what you find today will not necessarily be what you find six months from now, and most of the changes will be good. Whether existing services will improve or fall by the wayside to new and exciting competitors remains to be seen, but we want you as the consumer to keep watch for the best option.
Don’t feel obligated to any company, and switch whenever you feel the want or need. It’s generally much easier than getting out of a cable contract, and nothing is stopping you from going back if you regret your choice.
Basic Cable Packages and Bundles
You may have one right now, but you will want to consider getting a service bundle for your household if you are looking to save as much money as possible. With a bundle, you can easily save a great deal of money if you are willing to commit to a provider. You will likely have to do this if you are staying with a traditional cable provider, so there is little to be lost.
Researching Your Local Cable Options
You can use this site to help you research television packages and options in your area, as well as keep you informed as to the price you should be paying. All you really need is your location and a general idea of what you are looking for.
Also, do not be confused or discouraged if there are not many options to pick from in your local area. That is simply the reality of the market right now, and you can still find a better option or choose another cable alternative.
Potential Traps When Getting Cheap Cable Packages
Not all low-cost cable packages are created equal. Some options may have only a little more than a dozen channels. Other programming options may be more cost-effective in these cases, or you may wish to go without cable entirely, especially if none of the channels would interest you.
When signing up with a cable provider, another thing to note is whether other fees, equipment charges, or similar items are mentioned, especially if the low-cost of services seems too good to be true. Some providers expect families won’t notice these charges and then accept them, perhaps after a few months of them being waived. These fees add up and can obscure the truly best option in the long run.
FAQS and Other Items You Should Know
There’s a lot to explore when considering all your options and some problems people commonly encounter when making this decision. We have assembled some of the most common questions and pitfalls regarding low-cost cable alternatives for you to consider.
When Should I Consider a Bundle?
We think a bundle would be the best choice for many families, especially if you are also in the market for internet services (whether you’re moving to a new place or dissatisfaction with your current provider). It might be easier to ask yourself, “why not a bundle?” if you know you could use the services mentioned and are not bothered by the modest price.
However, the answer to this question will vary heavily based on your household’s location and available options. Remember, sometimes no deal when it comes to cable is better than no cable, although in the modern world, you still likely need quality internet service, especially if you’re interested in getting content elsewhere.
You may also want to consider a bundle with telephone services, but most modern households can and should easily work with only cell service plans.
What Should I Look for in a Potential Bundle?
Bundles can vary, but they also have some common threads. To avoid making a regrettable decision, look for the following with any bundle:
- Clear guidelines, terms, and conditions. Bundle pricing usually does not last forever, as we mentioned, so get a clear idea of what you’ll be paying and when.
- Reasonable savings, after all factors are considered. If you are only going to save $10 a month when all is said and done, it likely isn’t be worth it. Do the math ahead of time.
- A selection of channels that is still competitive. Some deals will leave you with only a few channels to work with. Make sure the channel list at least piques your interest.
- The quality of the other services received. Even if the cheaper cable would be great, that’s only half of the equation, and honestly, the less important half. Make sure you have good internet.
What Is My Cheapest Option?
Naturally, this will vary, but an OTA setup will be hard to beat over time, both in terms of value and minimum cost. Half the cost of a traditional monthly cable bill is hard to pass up, and if you only watch TV occasionally or for some big events, it will likely be just what you need.
However, if you’re also looking to bundle, some people can get a high-speed internet connection and about 50-60 channels for the low price of $30 a month. Compared to what many families pay, it’s a steal. Even for those who cut the cord entirely and not counting internet costs, two content streaming services equal this package.
Can I Watch Cable TV for Free?
Based on our current research and experience, the answer is no. At least if you don’t intend to break the law in your search for free cable. Cable companies take theft seriously, and content creators, studios, etc. have gotten better in recent years at detecting torrenting and other methods of obtaining the content freely. Naturally, we do not recommend this course of action.
Is Setup Difficult?
Usually, in fact, nearly always, the answer will be no. It is not difficult. If you’ve set up a cable box before or have used an antenna for your television, you can likely handle anything the above options might throw at you (and it isn’t much).
If what you are going for is, in fact, a competing yet cheaper cable service, then you have nothing to fear. You will just go through the same motions with a different partner.
Some TV live streaming services might have a peripheral they would like you to use, and setup might vary. Still, it usually involves just following onscreen instructions after plugging in the device or devices into the correct port and perhaps making or logging into an associated account.
An OTA TV setup is probably the most complicated option, but as mentioned, the most work you will do is set up the antenna and make sure everything works right and that the signal is perfect. Most people have no trouble with them, and in most cases, you can get further instructions or support if you need it.
What About Cancelling Current Cable Subscriptions?
Canceling your current cable plan might be trickier, especially if you’re going to switch from one provider. Still, you have little to fear if you put in the legwork online or on the phone. There is also the matter of canceling your current contract, which can be costly, so check before you pull the plug lest you deal with a large and unexpected bill, negating the reason you wanted to make the switch in the first place.
More optimistically, you might be able to get a new company or provider to buy out your current cable contract. You may also need to return any equipment that you are renting from your current cable provider, which should not present difficulties but is a necessary step.
Our Final Recommendations
So, after reviewing all of the options and information listed above, what should you choose? What is the cheapest alternative to your expensive cable package, not necessarily in terms of strict numbers but also in terms of generating the most value for your household? Your priorities might differ from ours, but we recommend the following order:
- If your internet provider offers a cheap cable bundle that you aren’t taking advantage of already, we recommend looking into that first. You’re going to need internet regardless, and you’ll skip over much potential difficulty.
- If the bundles do not look appealing to you or you do not have that option, a TV streaming service can be a great choice. You will want to be careful and do further research into them, as they vary drastically.
- Alternatively, if you are looking for perhaps the most cost-effective option, then an OTA TV setup of one form or another is for you; assuming setup will not cause issues, and you’re happy with the channel selection.
- Outside of the above, there are not too many alternatives, and you may wish to replace your current setup with streaming options and other forms of entertainment.
If you want to do your research, there certainly is more to do, especially to find the best option for your area and situation. Not every household will have the same needs, and there will be a lot for people to consider. Yet you can and should take your time, and you will also obviously want to consult others in your household before making a significant shift. Yet we encourage you to move forward, as we believe you can save a great deal of money or get a better TV experience as a result of your efforts.