Using an Inexpensive Streaming Video Box to Replace Cable Television

There is an astounding amount of quality movies and television series available on Netflix. There’s a shocking number of great channels available on Youtube. Add on top of that the many, many other streaming services out there, both free and paid, and you begin to realize that there is far more than enough television content floating around out there on the internet to permanently replace your cable television.

It’s cheaper, too. Netflix is $9 a month for streaming. Youtube is free. Those two services alone provide more things I want to watch than I possibly have time to watch. That’s a lot cheaper than a cable bill – assuming, of course, that you already have home internet access which, if you’re reading this, is a reasonably safe assumption.

So why not just cut out the cable?

One of the big obstacles standing in people’s way is the convenience of just flipping on the television and watching something. Although there are some televisions out there that have Netflix and Youtube and other services built right in, many people don’t have such an option. The perception for many people is that you have to be sitting in front of a computer to enjoy Netflix or Youtube.

Fortunately, that’s quickly becoming a thing of the past. There are several companies out there producing simple boxes that you can hook up to (almost) any television that can make services like Netflix or Youtube appear on your screen just like ordinary television channels from your cable box.

If you have reasonably fast internet access at home, the convenience of a streaming video box hooked up to your television and the huge amount of live video available makes this an extremely compelling alternative to regular television. In fact, if I were personally in charge of the decision, this is what we would use for all television in our home and, in the near future, the options are going to be strong enough that we will make this switch permanently.

What options are available? I have personal experience with four options, the Roku 3, the Amazon Fire, Apple TV, and Google Chromecast.

For most users, I’d recommend the Roku 3 or the Amazon Fire, as they’re the most well-rounded; Roku has more “channels” available at the moment, but Amazon will catch up like gangbusters and they have a pretty good customer support history.

The Apple TV works best if you have a ton of movies and TV shows you’ve already purchased from the Apple Store. The Chromecast works best if you’re going to be moving from television to television a great deal, but I think it’s the weakest package in terms of just sitting down and using it.

What about news? Both Roku and Amazon Fire have streaming news. It’s a little bit different than watching CNN or Fox News or MSNBC in that it mostly just shows you a sequence of segments from their various shows, sometimes with one commercial between them. If a major event happens, they’ll switch to live coverage. These are all free.

There isn’t good local news coverage on these boxes; however, if you want local news, it’s pretty easy to supplement this with over-the-air broadcast channels for free.

What about sports? All of the major sports leagues (except for the NFL) offer subscription services that let you watch all of their games live. The subscription fees vary; usually, they charge you for a full season at once. If you’re an addict of a particular sport, this is amazing.

If you’re an NFL addict, this is probably the biggest drawback of switching away from cable. You can watch many games over the air via the traditional broadcast channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox) for free.

What about my favorite show? It depends on what your favorite show is. Many shows have their current episodes available on Hulu, so you’ll want to poke around there.

I’m much more of a “binge” watcher, in that I’d rather just watch a whole bunch of episodes of a show all at once. Netflix is far better at this than cable or network television as it’s set up for exactly that. I watched two full seasons of House of Cards in four days a while back, for example.

Basically, it’s television that works a little different than before and has a somewhat different selection of programming. You have much more control over what you want to watch, though you might not have everything you want, and there’s an almost infinite variety of stuff out there to discover.

Plus, there’s no contract, Netflix is just $9 a month, and you’re investing less than $100 in the box with no more bills ever.

If you’re more of a casual television viewer, which is what I would call myself, this is a great way to still have a lot of options on the television for a dirt cheap price.

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