Now that you have a new internet media streaming device, you’ll need something to watch on it. I cut the cord in 2009 and here are the best services I’ve found since then.
Before launching into it, though, you should know things are changing. Cord cutting is no longer remarkable, it’s normal. The media companies are giving up fighting this. They’re now offering service bundles that sound like cord cutting, but they’re really just moving cable and satellite packages to the internet.
Today when you place a phone call you have no idea if the call is being made on Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) or legacy phone technology. We’re heading to a future where that will be true about video as well.
Frankly, unless you care about technology, that’s a difference that makes no difference. So long as you can talk to aunt Polly or watch Archer do you really care whether the signal is coming to you over the internet or not? No, you don’t.
What you should care about is that the media companies will be bringing their old, costly business models to cord-cutting. I cut the cable cord because I wanted to cut costs and not have to deal with “fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on” to watch. So, before you buy into one of these new/old meta-streaming services such as Playstation Vue, Sling TV, or DirecTV Now, look carefully. You may end up paying just as much as ever for just as many pointless home shopping channels.
Before deciding on a service, keep in mind that to watch 4K video with high dynamic range (HDR) color on your Roku Premiere+, you’ll need to pay more for high-end video. On Netflix, for example, you’ll need to pay $11.99 a month, instead of the basic $7.99 for 4K and HDR. Even then, there are still relatively few shows available with top-of-the-line resolution and color. So think carefully before subscribing to a service for your best-of-the-best new TV.
Now, on to the services:
Which service has more movies? Amazon Prime Video or Netflix? The answer, by more than four to one, is Amazon. Quantity isn’t everything. Amazon is still far behind Netflix and YouTube when it comes to viewers.
Still, Amazon has worked out that in the new streaming world it’s more important to have high-quality original content than it to have old movies to get subscribers. Bosch, The Man in The High Castle, and Transparent are all well worth watching.
Amazon, which also offers rental movies, is becoming ever more aggressive in its efforts to offer viewers more than Netflix. You can now get Amazon Video for $8.99 a month without Amazon Prime’s free shipping. For my money, and as someone who shops a lot at Amazon, the best deal is Amazon Prime for $99 a year.
Crackle presents a small hodgepodge of older TV shows and movies. The best thing about it? It’s free. Need more be said?
In case you haven’t checked into Hulu recently, it no longer has a free service. So why bother with it? If you’re watching network TV, Hulu gets the most recent episodes of many popular shows from NBC, ABC Fox A&E, Bravo, FX, Syfy, and USA Network before the other streaming services.
Hulu has also recently started showing its own original TV shows. While none of them have caught the public fancy like say Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, some of them, like the recently released Shut Eye, show real promise of gaining an audience.
The minimum service level, $7.99, comes with ads. You may not see as many ads as you do on ordinary TV, but it’s close. For $11.99. you can skip almost, but not all, of the ads.
Netflix is what turned cord-cutting from something that only die-hard hobbyists would bother with to the point where today over 52-million Americans subscribe to the service. Why is it so popular?
Well, it’s not the movies anymore. While Netflix still has thousands of movies, the other media companies have been cutting back what movies they’ll let Netflix license. What Netflix does have, but its rivals don’t have — yet — are a slate of very popular original TV shows. These include Stanger Things, BoJack Horseman, House of Cards, and several Marvel TV shows set in a shared universe.
Netflix, while it still has a DVD service, is firmly focused on streaming. There are three tiers: One standard-definition stream, $7.99 a month; two concurrent HD streams, $9.99 a month; and four simultaneous streams with 4K content support, $11.99.
Dish Networks was the first major TV distributor to decide if you can’t beat cord-cutters, join them. It’s basic Sling TV Orange package starts at $20 a month.
In that package, you’ll find such more than 30 cable/satellite networks as AMC, TBS, CNN, TNT, ESPN, and ESPN2. In the multi-stream, Blue package, you can watch content on up to three devices at the same time. It also includes more channels from the Fox Networks and others such as the National Geographic channel. This package costs $25 per month. You can bundle them together for $40 a month. Finally, Sling offers a variety of other bundled channel packages. These tend to cost $5 a month. They include Sports Extra, with 18 more sports channels; HollyWood Extra with Epix movie channels, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), and HDNet Movies; and Best of Spanish television for $10 per month.
Sling TV is also the first streaming network to include built-in DVR functionality. This is only in beta now, but, in my experience, it already works well. I expect it to be rolled out to all users sometime in the first quarter of 2017.
Single Network Streaming:
Several premium movie channels are now offering their own streaming services. These include HBO Now, $14.99 a month; Showtime, $10.99 per month plus sometimes for less when bundled with Amazon Prime, Hulu, and PlayStation Vue; and Starz, $8.99 a month as either a standalone service or as an odd on to Amazon Prime.
CBS, ZDNet’s parent company, now has its own streaming service: CBS All Access. With this service you can watch many old and new CBS shows such as The Big Bang Theory, Cheers, I Love Lucy, Taxi, and every Star Trek TV episode. Moving forward, some CBS shows will only be available by streaming. These will include the new Star Trek TV show, Discovery and The Good Wife sequel, The Good Fight.
CBS All Access starts at $5.99 per month. For $9.99 a month, you can watch any of the thousands of archived on-demand TV shows for $9.99 a month.
FilmStruck is still rolling out. So, for example, it’s not available on Chromecast or Roku. Prices start at $6.99 per month. This gets you a selection of TCM and Criterion movies. For $10.99 a month, you get far more access to the Criterion collection. If you know you’re going to watch a lot of classic movies, you can also pay for the FilmStruck + Criterion Channel for $99 a year.
Cable Replacement Streaming:
PlayStation Vue, despite the name, works with many, but far from all streaming devices. At a starting price tag of $40, it’s more expensive than most of the cable-replacement services. It also has rudimentary DVR functionality — pause, fast-forward, and rewind.
One service I can’t recommend, for now, is DirecTV Now. It simply doesn’t work that well yet. And, at an introductory price-tag of $35 a month, going up to $60 per month later, it’s the most expensive service.
So which package will work best for you?
If cash is tight, I’d go with Netflix and Crackle. With more money in hand, I’d add Amazon Prime.
Love today’s TV shows? Your cheapest approach is to bundle Hulu and CBS All Access. Have more cash? Go with a Sling TV combo package.
Sports fan? Sling TV is for you.
Personally, I use Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access, Sling TV, and once FilmStruck comes to Roku, I’ll be adding it as well.
So, break out your new streaming box, subscribe to a service or two and enjoy some couch potato time. I know I will!