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How to cut the cord

What gear do you need to watch TV without cable or satellite?

In this article: I'll tell you what gear you need to cut the cord, and cover topics that include:

  1. What you can watch or stream without cable
  2. Smart TVs and streaming video players that connect to your TV
  3. How to build a strong home network and beef up your Wi-Fi for better streaming
  4. How to pick up local and network TV stations with an HDTV antenna

Our Product Advisors hear it from customers all the time: “My cable bill is outrageous — what gear do I need to cut the cord?” And now that everyone is hunkered down and stuck at home, we all need something to watch and pass the time.

We have some go-to product and equipment recommendations for cord-cutters. I’ll share those with you and discuss some of the cable TV alternatives out there. I'll also go over a few things you’ll want to consider before you get started.

Will you save money by cutting the cord?

It’s possible. But how much will you pay for your internet connection? Which online TV subscription services will you need?

There are tons of streaming video services these days, and more are coming. We used to talk about the “big 3” of Netflix, Prime Video, and Hulu — but now Disney+ has burst on the scene. (Thank goodness, Frozen 2 has helped entertain my kids while we're locked down.)

Netflix screen

Netflix is still the most popular streaming video service, but they are hardly the only game in town these days.

And with AppleTV+ out there, and new services like Peacock (from NBC/Universal) and HBOMax set to premiere, it’s getting overwhelming. Not to mention all the sports and niche services. It’s great for choice, but you need a score card — and deep pockets — to keep up with everything.

But, of course, most streaming services bill month-to-month, so you can pick and choose depending on what you want to watch. Like right now, with no live sports for the foreseeable future, maybe you pick a service with more binge-worthy shows.

Which brings us to our next topic...

What can you watch without cable?

The short answer? Just about anything you want. Most shows, movies, and sports are available without a dish or cable box via over-the-air broadcasts and online streaming services.

Using a combination of the two, you can watch a lot of the most popular programming — including live ballgames when they come back.

Cable TV alternatives

There are even streaming alternatives to cable TV like YouTube TV, SlingTV, and Hulu+ Live TV that bundle together popular TV networks.

Sling menu

SlingTV offers several traditional cable channels including sports stations, like ESPN and ESPN2.

Since my cable company doesn’t offer the ACC network, I used a free trial for all three to watch UVA football and basketball this past season. The user interface is much more like a Netflix menu than the traditional cable TV guide, so that takes a little getting used to. But streaming live sports and live shows typically came through clear and without issue — at least no more than I’ve had with cable.

And whenever we get back our sports — sorry to harp on this, I'm fiending — the NHL, NBA, and MLB all have subscription streaming services that let you watch every game of the regular season. (While most local NFL games air on broadcast networks, DirecTV is still the only place you can get the Sunday Ticket.) And fight fans can watch UFC on ESPN+ and big boxing matches on DAZN — among other sports on those streaming platforms.

Gear you need for streaming TV

There are a lot of ways to stream video. Of course, you can watch on devices as small as your phone. But at Crutchfield, we're all about watching on your biggest and best screen. Here are a few options.

Smart TVs

Most of the LG, Samsung, and Sony 4K TVs we offer have “Smart” features. These TVs connect to you internet network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet. They can even stream video in 4K and HDR (High Dynamic Range) for services that offer it.

Smart TVs are more likely to support Dolby Vision than other connected devices. This sophisticated HDR format can adjust brightness and color levels on a scene-by-scene basis, for greater depth and realism.

Streaming video players

We offer two types of streaming video players: Roku and Apple TV. These compact devices connect easily to your TV and your home network to give you access to most of the streaming services we’ve discussed.

You can also use Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire devices in a similar way.

Apple TV

The Apple 4K TV is popular among iPhone users for streaming video and music.

Apple TV 4K is a popular choice for Apple users because it works so seamlessly with iPhones, iPads, and Macbooks. These devices also support Dolby Vision content, and feature Apple AirPlay 2.

Roku

The Roku Ultra includes JBL earbuds that connect to the remote for personal TV listening.

The Roku Ultra serves up the largest selection of video content I've seen. And while most 4K TVs have some streaming services baked in, Roku offers the most complete list of 4K and HDR options available in one box.

Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, Vudu, and AppleTV+ are all available in 4K. Most of those services also have HDR content. 

Plus there's a ridiculous amount of standard HD streaming channels — movie channels, news, kids, sports, you name it. I used my Roku to watch baseball games on MLB.TV last season and order UFC pay-per-views on ESPN+. I can't watch either on my older Smart TV without the Roku.

voice control button on remote

Several video streamers and Smart TVs offer voice control — the Apple TV remote has a dedicated Siri button.

Game consoles

Game consoles like the XBOX ONE, Playstation 4, and Nintendo Switch have a select number of streaming video apps. These consoles connect to your TV with an HDMI cable. If you want to watch in 4K or HDR, be sure to choose a compatible HDMI 2.0 cable.

A strong home network is the key to success

To get the most reliable streaming video performance, you'll need a strong network with robust Wi-Fi. Quite frankly, that means you might have to keep doing business with your cable company. But the good news is an internet-only package is typically much cheaper than a cable TV package. And you can purchase top-notch, easy-to-use modems and routers, rather than renting an inferior one month-to-month from your service provider.

wireless illustration

A wired Ethernet connection from your TV to the modem will give you the strong most reliable network connection — and won't compete with other streams in your house. 

It kind of depends on the choice of internet service providers you have in your area. Verizon Fios and other fiber-optic internet options only recently became available here in Central Virginia.

What if you don't have internet service at all?

Even in the relatively well-covered area surrounding Crutchfield HQ, there are still rural places where you still just can’t get service. Unless you get creative.

Crutchfield editor Deia purchased a dedicated hotspot for TV through her cell phone company. She has a 100GB plan that she uses to stream shows to her Roku. She lives out in a remote area, so there are not a lot of competing signals, and only occasional buffering problems. (She also got a free year of Hulu, and quickly binged through all available seasons of Rupaul’s Drag Race.)

What gear (and how much bandwidth) do you need for 4K streaming?

The more 4K streaming you want to do, the better the network (and faster the connection) you need. Particularly if you have phones, computers, and other devices using the same network.

In our article “5 Tips to solve Netflix streaming problems,” we recommend at least 10 megabits (Mb) per second for streaming HD on busy networks. Most manufacturers recommend over twice that — at least 25Mbps — for 4K streaming.

Internet download speed graphic

We recommend at least 10 Mbps for HD streaming and at least 25 Mbps to stream 4K.

A wired Ethernet connection will give you the strongest, fastest, most reliable network connection and won’t interfere with any other streams in your home. But of course, that’s not always possible. Sometimes your TV set is too far away from your router and some streaming devices don’t even have an Ethernet port.

If you have trouble streaming video via Wi-Fi, a new wireless router or Wi-Fi signal booster may be in order. Some routers let you put streaming video first in line for available bandwidth.

Want to watch network or local TV? Try an antenna

The right indoor or outdoor HDTV antenna can help you pull in broadcast TV. Local programming and major network fare is still broadcast for free in high definition. That means you can still get popular shows like The Bachelor, This is Us, Black-ish and The Masked Singer with an antenna. In fact, 89% of U.S. households have access to five or more local stations — and some people don’t even know.

Perhaps they have a Smart TV, but basically only watch Netflix. They don't realize that a simple indoor antenna will pull in FOX, CBS, NBC, and ABC. Plus, you can pick up “digital sub-channels” like CW, MyNetwork, or MeTV.

You can find out what broadcast channels are available in your area using this tool from antennaweb.

Leaf 50

The super-thin Mohu Leaf 50 indoor antenna mounts easily on a wall or window.

My parents live 15 miles outside of Charlottesville, so the paper-thin, yet powerful Mohu Leaf 50 will do the trick. They can pick up all the major networks — including most NFL football games — in crystal-clear high-definition.

Outdoor Antenna mounted on roof

The amplified Mohu Crescent outdoor antenna mounts on your roof and pulls in signals from multiple directions, so you don't have to move it around.

I live about 30 miles out of town, over a mountain, so I can’t pick up much with the Leaf antenna. However with an outdoor antenna — like the Mohu Crescent pictured above — I picked up stations from both Charlottesville and Harrisonburg. That's about 40 miles the other way.

Questions? Contact us.

So do you think cord cutting will work for you? If so, we’re happy to help. If you have any questions about the gear discussed here, please get in touch with a Crutchfield Advisor.

Last updated 4/17/2020
  • Anderson

    Posted on 7/13/2020

    Alternatively you can use "BCE Premium TV". We are using it for a long time and we are completely satisfied. You can watch all the Premium Sports HD channels like beIN Sports, Sky Sports, BT Sport, Fox Sports, NBCSN, TSN, ESPN, ... all in one package with only $20/month or $85/year. just search "BCE Premium TV" on Google and you will find it easily.

  • Laura from New York

    Posted on 5/22/2020

    I bought a Sony smart tv from crutchfield in 2017. I currently only use netflix, hulu and prime because I'm a cable subscriber. However, I'm considering cutting the cord. Question: Why would I need a streaming device like Roku when it appears many of those same apps are available right on my tv? What am i missing here? .... thank you.

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 5/26/2020

    Hi Laura -- for those services, you should be good. I personally had to get a Roku because a few streaming services I wanted to watch (namely MLB.TV and ESPN+) were not available through my TV's built-in streaming apps.
  • Paul from Belton

    Posted on 4/27/2020

    Is it really worth it? Buying all these devices, and subscriptions to all these streaming services when you can get everything from one box. One price and around the same amount as all these services put together The digital antenna is a hit and miss, never working as stated....sometimes good sometimes bad... no i will stick with cable for now until i find a better, cheaper solution for my tv warptching needs

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 4/27/2020

    I hear ya, Paul. A lot more to TV to keep up with than even just a few years ago. It really comes down to what you want to watch -- and what you don't mind missing out on!
  • Felix Rivera from Long Beach, Ca

    Posted on 4/26/2020

    I found your article very informative. I have an antenna all my life and right now with this pandemic people should cut their cable and satellite in order to save money and maybe use these devices such as Apple TV, Roku and a like and pay per view instead of automatic payments. I'm happy with my Apple TV. Maybe perhaps look into Cruhfield what they got to offer.

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 4/27/2020

    Thanks, Felix.
  • Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/30/2017

    Daniel -- that's certainly one catch. Depending on the choices of internet service providers in your area, you might end up having to do the business with the same cable company.

  • daniel wahl from casper

    Posted on 10/26/2017

    do i still have to pay for internet to get this my internet is from the same company as tv

  • Gene from Elgin, IL 60123

    Posted on 12/5/2016

    This article is a GREAT help to me as this is precisely where I stand today - senior citizen, so not up to date with all the new modes of streaming. But I am aware that Cable TV, just as land lines, etc., appears to be a dying breed.