Back in late December I wrote about my experience ditching DirecTV and cutting the cord. It’s a fun story about me getting PLAYED and then overcoming obstacles and eventually becoming the batman. You should read about it sometime.
Unsurprisingly, since becoming the batman things have changed…for the BETTER! There are more options than ever: HBO has officially gone a la carte (with some caveats) while other a la carte options such as Sling TV have revealed themselves.
Today marks the 39th Friday of the year. Which means absolutely nothing. But it has been a little over a year since I officially cut the cord so today I’m going to break down my over-all cable cutting experience thus far. I’ll also touch on how I rate my experiences with each device, app, program and service that I use on a regular basis. FURTHERMORE I’ll go into what I wish I had and want moving forward. I have needs too ya know!
Hopefully I can help you on your way to a cable-subscription free life. Maybe save a little $$$. And who knows…maybe if you put in the work, you can be my red-caped-cable-cutting sidekick! Probably not though so don’t get your hopes up.
So without further ado, I give you my cable cutting experience…
The Amazon Fire TV
The Amazon Fire TV is my primary means of getting and watching content. I use it almost every day. The reason I chose the Fire TV over other devices was because I already subscribe to Amazon’s Prime service for $99/year.
What is Amazon Prime?
For those unfamiliar with Prime, it gives the subscriber free 2-day shipping, access to the 800,000 titles on the kindle owners’ lending library (the kindle paperwhite is my favorite device ever), prime music and photos (I don’t use these) and last but not least access to Amazon’s Prime Video collection of over 40,000 titles.
Amazon Prime Video has some pretty great original series in its TV catalog along with a steady rotation of movies and TV shows from various networks. These all fall under the “Prime” moniker and are part of the $99/year subscription cost. Also of note is the ability to buy and/or rent movies and shows on the device, similar to cable’s “on demand”, but without the awful 1990’s user interface.
Other Streaming Devices
If you’re unfamiliar with the streaming device options out there, the big four are the Apple TV, Google’s Chromecast, the Roku 3 and the Amazon Fire TV. If I were a big powerhouse tech blog I would probably have the privilege to test out each of these devices and compare notes, but alas, I write about building shelves and toilet paper buckets. And being on a budget, I was only able to pick one streamer out of the four, so I chose the one most logical for my situation. And though I don’t have direct experience with the other devices, I can compare tech specs, customer reviews, etc.
If you’re all up in the apple ecosystem, the Apple TV may make the most sense for your family. You’ll be able to access and stream all of your digital content via iTunes. You can even stream content from other iOS devices via Airplay. Like most Apple products, the Apple TV sports a fast, clean-cut and intuitive UI. The current model’s tech specs are slightly below both the Fire TV and Roku 3, with 1080p video, Apple’s A5 (dual core) processor and 512MB of RAM. The Apple TV is currently $69, but keep an eye out for the new version coming later this year. The new Apple TV sports a fancy touch-remote, Siri voice search integration, 2GB of RAM, a quad-core processor, a new interface and will be $149 at launch.
The Roku 3 may be the most “open source” of the streaming devices on the market, offering 2000+ streaming channels for free, subscription and to buy/rent. The latest Roku 3 rocks voice search via remote, which according to various verified customer works VERY well. Unlike the Fire TV, the Roku’s voice search reaches across all 17 of the streaming services provided, kicking back results from the likes of Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, HBO, etc. This is COOL! It’s also got a headphone jack on its remote so you can tune out the sound of your nagging mother in law while you watch your soaps. Another cool feature of the Roku 3 is that you can customize the UI and select which apps you want to see on your home screen. As far as I’m aware the other devices on the market don’t let you do this. In terms of speed, the Roku 3 seems to hold its own compared to the Apple TV and Fire TV, launching and loading apps smoothly and without much of a wait. The Roku 3 can be had for $99.
If you have an android phone or use Google Play for your digital content, the Google Chromecast is likely for you. You can plug the Chromecast into any HDTV, connect it to WiFi, then send content your phone, tablet or laptop to your TV. So basically you use your phone as a remote for what you watch on your TV. It looks to be powered by either microUSB or an AC adapter, which are both included. The Google Chromecast is $38.
Fire TV Apps
Out of the thousands of apps available on the Fire TV, I probably use but a few of them regularly. I find that between prime instant video and a few other apps, I can fill in the content void left from cutting cable.
Below I’ve compiled a list of my favorite apps along with the most buzz and noteworthy ones. There are a couple of apps that I haven’t gotten around to using yet, but many people are interested in, so I’ll try my best to post an update to this write-up and summarize their offerings with the limited information I DO know about them. OK! Check it out…
Since I’m a documentary junkie, I keep Netflix year round. Their original content and steady rotation of quality movies also keeps me coming back. While House of Cards is sort of fading (in my opinion), shows like Daredevil, The Peaky Blinders and Marco Polo really surprised me with how good they were. Netflix sets me back $7.99/month.
When my wife’s shows come around in the fall I re-up the Hulu Plus subscription for her. My major gripe with Hulu Plus is that it has commercials, even though I’m paying for their “plus” service. My wife doesn’t seem to mind, just as long as she gets to watch some promiscuous lady commit adultery with the president of the United States.
If you’re also a scandalous person, Hulu Plus is $7.99/mo for “limited commercials”. For $11.99 a month you can subscribe to their “no commercial plan”, but please note the following taken directly from the Hulu website: Due to streaming rights, the shows below are not included in our No Commercials plan. You can still watch these shows interruption-free. They will play with a short commercial before and after each episode. The shows are: Grey’s Anatomy, Once Upon A Time, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Scandal, New Girl, Grimm and How To Get Away With Murder.
Finally, and I just noticed this, but you can add Showtime and it’s catalog to your Hulu Plus subscription for an additional $8.99 a month.
HBO currently has two apps available on the Fire TV. One called HBO GO and the other HBO NOW. HBO GO is for current cable subscribers with an HBO package. You put in your cable provider and username/password to access the content.
HBO NOW is the a la carte option for the rest of us cable-free serfs. For $14.99/month you have access to all of HBO’s past and current series along with their library of movies. And unlike other providers, there is no limit to the number of supported devices you can use with your HBO NOW subscription. Meaning if you want to use your subscription on your both your family room and bedroom TVs, you’re good to go. WINTER IS COMING!
Showtime’s app for the Fire TV is called Showtime Anytime and requires a cable subscription in the same manor as HBO GO. Don’t forget that if you want Showtime but don’t have a cable subscription, you can subscribe to Hulu Plus and add on Showtime for an additional $8.99/month. No idea if Hulu throws ads into the Showtime shows, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do.
The ESPN app is cleverly called “Watch ESPN”, but you need a cable subscription to watch any of their content. Total bummer. There’s one alternative way to get ESPN on the Fire TV, which I’ll touch upon uh…right now!
One interesting addition to the Amazon Fire TV’s app offerings is an app called Sling TV. One day the powers that be decided, HEY! We can make money off these good for nothin’ cable cutters! Let’s throw em a few scraps! We’ll be rich(er)!
So like bros, they bundled a few channels together. And guess what happens to be included in this bundle…you guessed it…ESPN and HGTV! It may as well be called RickTV, amiright? There was a one-week free trial offer so I figured what the hell, I’ll Sling it for a bit.
Sling TV starts off with a base package called the “Best of Live TV Package”. From there you can add channels for additional monthly charges…such as the “sports extra” (+$5/mo), the “kids extra”(+$5/mo), the “family extra”(+$5/mo), etc. No “kung-fu movie” extra?! C’mon now Sling! Get it together! You can also add in HBO for +$15/mo. I opted to do none of these things, as I really only need food (HGTV) and water (ESPN) to survive. Here’s how my first night of service went down…
I got to watch my Eagles get BEAT DOWN on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. It was great. After missing a play while chasing my daughter around, I realized that there was no DVR functionality (pause, rewind, ff) on ESPN and other channels.
The second thing that I noticed, and the one that really broke my fragile heart, was the buffering. The Eagles FINALLY made it to the red zone and it was looking like they were going to score, when suddenly Monday Night Football turned into “The day the Sling stood still”. Next thing I know the Eagles had apparently scored and were now kicking off to the other team. This happened countless times throughout the game (not the Eagles scoring, the constant buffering!). What the hell Sling! First no kung-fu extra and now this?!
And let me stop you right there before you mention it could have been my internet connection or WiFi. I’m decked out with one of the top home routers available for peon purchase and NEVER had or have any such issues. This compounded with the fact that I could not rewind to see what I missed while Slingy was buffering, well, you can probably guess where this is going. But you bet your butt for the next six days I binged watched the SHIT out of House Hunters Int’l, Love It or List It and Fixer Upper before my free week was up!
The final nail in the coffin for Sling TV was that unlike most apps, you have to pay separately for each additional device you want to use it on. For example, if I wanted to access the Sling TV content up on my bedroom Fire TV Stick, well, that’s an extra $20/month! Plus whatever extra package I subscribe to. Does this sound familiar to you? IT SOUNDS LIKE THE BEGINNING OF A CABLE PLAN! JERK MOVE, SLING! (I’m not actually angry, just enthusiastic!)
So would I try Sling TV again? I would. IF they fixed their buffering issues. And added DVR capability. And kung-fu extra.
Along with getting an ESPN app I can actually watch, I wish the UFC would release their UFC.TV app for the Fire TV. I wrote and asked them about it on twitter but to my astonishment, being the really important blogger that I am, they ignored me. So I wrote to them via customer service and got a very vanilla response…
IN SHORT, There’s an app on the Apple TV, Chromecast and Roku 3, but no love for Amazon. So those lonely Saturday nights when I want to watch a fight, I have to hook up my laptop via HDMI like an unrespectable HEATHEN. It’s embarrassing.
Amazon Fire TV Hardware & Software
As for the device itself, I have very few complaints. It’s responsive. It’s fast. The voice search is easy to use, recognizes your voice accurately and quickly. The Fire TV rocks a quad-core processor, 2GB of memory and Dual-band/Dual-antenna. The new Fire TV even plays up to 4K resolution. For those unaware, that’s best in class tech specs for the current streaming boxes available on the market. As I mentioned earlier, Apple TV is stepping up their game with the newest update to their Apple TV, but unfortunately that’s still not available for purchase yet.
The user interface is intuitive and user friendly. It’s easy to navigate and find what you’re looking for with both the text and voice search. Sometimes the Amazon video service is down, meaning I can’t watch ANY Amazon prime or purchased content, but I can count on one hand the times that this has happened to me. Also, one Friday night I ordered a movie and it didn’t process for some reason, but customer service had me sorted out in about twenty minutes. Not too shabby. They even offered to throw in a personal Amazon massage for my inconvenience. I thanked them for their offer but politely declined.
I’M KIDDING, of course I took a free massage! C’mon now.
Mohu Leaf Digital HD Antenna
My secondary source of content is the Mohu Leaf digital antenna, which has been amazing. If you told me ten years ago when things starting going HD that I would be using an antenna in 2015, I would have DIED from laughing. But this sucker gives me almost everything I need. AM kids shows (for that extra cup of coffee) on PBS, the local weather, the news, late night talk shows from time to time and last but not least…FOOTBALL. I get four games on Sundays and one on Thursday all for the monthly price of ZERO! I paid $40 bucks for the antenna, that’s it!
HD Digital DVR for Antennas
If you’re looking for a DVR for your digital antenna, there’s a device called the Tivo Roamio OTA. It hooks up directly to the Mohu Leaf (or any digital antenna) and it’s only $50! BUT! There’s a $15/mo subscription fee, so keep that in mind! Here’s a list of its features, which are pretty legit:
+ Works with all digital HD antennas. Enjoy network shows from ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS, Univision and more
+ Record four shows at once and up to 75 HD hours of programming
+ Access TV and streaming content from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus and more without switching inputs
+ See 14-day program guide and schedule recordings ahead of time
You Do You
Finally I’d like to note that though it may seem like I’m an Amazon fanatic, I really have no horse in this race. Before their prime video service even existed, I was a prime subscriber and purchased the large majority of life’s non-essentials from them. So it only made sense when choosing a streaming device that I go through them, having no former allegiance to say an Apple or a Google.
I urge you to evaluate what ecosystem you’re currently invested in and make a choice that’s best for your family’s needs. Cutting cable can really save you a ton of money in the long run, along with a ton of TIME, since you get to personally curate your content. Speaking of time, I’d like to thank you for reading all of these words and wish you the best of luck in your cable cutting endeavors.
I’d love to hear about your experiences cutting cable in the comments below!