Thinking of ditching cable? Meet the alternatives

By BrickUnderground  | June 12, 2015 - 8:59AM

Cable doesn't come cheap: Try anywhere from just under $30 a month (Time Warner's "starter" package with HBO Go and 20-plus channels, for instance) to around $100 or more a month for combo plans that offer hundreds of channels, high-speed Internet, premium channels (HBO, Showtime and the like).

Still, as many of us Hulu- and Netflix-subscribing types have discovered, there's another way to get your entertainment fix. We recruited four Brick editors and writers to try out devices — not including the Apple TV, also an option — that allow you to skip the cable subscription and stream to your heart's (or bandwidth's) content. Our findings were mixed, but some were more satisfying than others. Read on:

• Roku

How it works: While the Roku has a lot of features, we mostly think of it as "the thing that hooks Netflix up to your TV." Rather than a subscription service, the Roku is a one-time purchase that allows you to connect accounts like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and HBO Go to your TV so you can search in one place (and avoid watching TV hunched over your laptop). It comes with its own offering of free channels like PBS and Crackle, as well.

Cost: Models range from the $49.99 streaming stick (on sale right now for $39.99) to larger Roku players (these cost between $50 and $100) to full-on Roku TVs that can be as pricey as $500. It's a one-time fee, but you'll also need your a la carte monthly subscriptions in order to make the most of it, so consider those as a part of the total cost.

Ease of use: Simple and user-friendly, though the search feature (which on the remote, involves moving arrows up and down over a grid of letters to slowly type in the name of what you're looking for) leaves something to be desired. It should be noted, though, that the Roku can also be controlled via smartphone app, which makes search much easier.

Verdict: If you've got a bunch of accounts and want to put 'em all in once place, we'd highly recommend it.


How it works: Similar to the Roku, plug the device into the HDMI port on your TV to stream content wirelessly from your laptop, tablet or smartphone (Android of iPhone) onto your TV’s big screen.

Cost: About $35

Ease of use: The installation was a cinch: After plugging in the device and following the prompts on a Chromebook, our tester was casting episodes of favorite Netflix shows and YouTube videos in no time. She set it up on her MacBook Air and iPad with similar ease and results.

Verdict: Great if you use Netflix, YouTube, HBO Go, Google play and other Chromecast-supported apps. Since our tester cut the cable over a year ago, she and her family rely on Chromecast mainly for satisfying the children’s appetite for kid-centric content, like episodes of Lab Rats and Pokémon and family-friendly movies, most of which we access via Netflix. This has worked out pretty well since her kids are mostly satisfied with what’s available to them. That said, not all Netflix content is stream-able, which can be a problem if you have your heart set on watching a very particular show or film.


Amazon Fire Stick

How it works: Just like the Roku and Chromecast, the Fire Stick is essentially "plug and play," fitting right into the HDMI port on your TV and streaming media onto your TV screen instantly.

Cost: The model we tried, the Fire TV Stick, costs $39, though the Fire TV is available with more features at $99.

Ease of use: Pretty much ready to go out of the box. (The remote even comes with batteries.) There's an initial setup that doesn't take too long — about two minutes at most for our tester — and once that's over, navigation is intuitive. You do need an Amazon account to get started but don't need to have Prime to use it (though this means not getting access to Prime's vast Instant Videos, which would be a shame as there are thousands to choose from). Adding Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and other "channels" is fairly straightforward, though there is sometimes a buffering delay. No Google Play, too. But you get access to channels like Fox Sports Go, Twitch and Spotify that the Chromecast or the Roku, or both, don't.

Verdict: Yes. At this price, why not? But if you're reliant on recording shows and watching them later, no dice.

XBox (to access Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime); separate HBO Now account

How it works:  Just fire up the Xbox as if you're playing a game, and then log in to your Xbox Live account. You'll need to download the Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime apps to access the content, but once they're installed, it's fairly simple to find TV shows and movies to watch.

Cost: Xbox: $500; Netflix- $16/month; Hulu Plus - $7.99/month; Amazon Prime - $70/year. HBO Now-$14.99

Ease of use: Pretty easy. The controller for the XBox took getting used to, and is hard to explain to newbies, and sometimes Netflix has connectivity problems and will stop mid-show. (To be fair, you can use the Wii for the same purpose, too.) Our tester opted for HBO Now through her laptop, which she hooks up to her TV.

Verdict: It can be a little bit of a pain getting your shows from all different places, and is certainly not as easy as just turning on the TV and watching what's on. Our tester also didn't love waiting months to see shows' new seasons. For instance, waiting for the last season of Homeland to become available on Amazon Prime took what seemed like "forever" to our tester. But overall, the only things she says she misses, really, are awards shows like the Oscars and, she admits a little sheepishly, Bravo reality shows. 


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