If you've been thinking about ditching Comcast, DishTV, or some other cable provider, the holiday season is a great time to make your move. Online and brick-and-mortar retailers are rolling out tempting deals on a variety of "smart TVs" and streaming devices that make it easy to cut that cord.
Before you take the plunge, however, you should consider these six tips that can help maximize the gain —and minimize the pain.
1) Audit your viewing habits
Take a look at your current cable or satellite TV package to find the stations you actually watch and the ones you could do without. You should pay particular attention to sports programming if it's important to you. Many professional and college games are only available via traditional TV services, and even the local games that are available for online streaming are often blocked due to blackout restrictions.
2) Consider all the streaming options
The most popular streaming services include Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sling TV, Hulu Plus, HBO Now, and CBS All Access. (This NYTimes.com article can help you decide which service is right for you.)
3) Know your budget
Figure out how much you currently spend on pay TV and how much you're willing to spend on streaming. If you subscribe to each and every service that catches your eye, you'll quickly wind up spending more money than you do on cable. (Of course, if you're smart about it, cord cutting can actually save you money, and you can find out just how much via this cord cutting calculator.)
4) Content recording
If you want the ability to record programs, you should consider TiVo; other similar streaming boxes don't have a recording feature. If recording isn't a must, Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV and the Amazon Firestick are all decent streaming options. And smart TVs connect directly to the Internet. However, some TVs don't have broad access to streaming video providers, and many of their interfaces are awkward.
5) Make sure your Internet connection can handle HD streaming
To get the most out of a smart TV or streaming box, you need an Wi-Fi or broadband connection of at least 4Mbps. However, if you share that connection across a number of other devices in the household you'll want more bandwidth. And if you hope to stream 4K video, you'll need a lot more speed. Your Wi-Fi connection may be fine, but if your TV is close to a wired access point, it's a good idea to connect your TV or box with an Ethernet cable, because they're generally faster and more stable.
6) Consider a compromise ...
You don't have to cut the cord completely to take advantage of streaming services. In fact, a combination of lower-tier pay TV services and a couple of streaming services is a suitable option for many consumers today. I call this approach "cord cutting lite." It gets you sports packages that aren't available to stream, a DVR to record programs, and access to broadcast TV without having to install a clunky digital TV antenna.