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Cutting the Cord and Streaming 101

As of mid-2019, over 14,000 people were cutting the cord every day, and all projections show that number increasing over the coming years. There are strong motivating factors: there’s a lot more advertising on cable TV, streaming services continue to expand into new areas of content (such as sports), and choosing streaming services over TV bundles offers better value for your money.

If you’re ready to cut the cord, you’ll need to make sure your equipment is up to par and figure out how to choose the streaming services you want while still lowering your overall media budget (if that’s one of your reasons). With hundreds of options now on the market and more coming out every day, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But one of the major benefits of switching from network to digital streaming is that you can curate what you pay for, so you’re getting the most value. We’ll cover some good options.

But first, let’s talk about hardware.


Entertainment Equipment

If you’re cutting the cord, you may be looking forward to watching more movies and media in high-definition. But your enjoyment will depend partly on how good your entertainment system setup is.

Start by evaluating your current setup. Is the screen as big as you’d like? Do you have the right size for your viewing distance? The general guideline is that your distance from the screen should be approximately 1.5 to 2.5 times the size of the screen. So for a 42-inch TV, you’d want about 7 feet between the couch and the TV. For a 60-inch, about 10 feet. The first thing to do is to figure out the best configuration of furniture and television.

If you’ll be upgrading your TV, decide on resolution. Almost all new TVs come with at least 1080p, though some smaller ones still only offer 720p. The highest-end resolution to be had is 4K. Most streaming sites are serving up 1080p resolution content, but over the coming years, they’ll start to provide more 4K content. So if you want a TV that will keep up with the times for a good long while, consider investing in an option that supports 4K content.

Then, think about sound. A common complaint about flat-screen TVs is poor sound: there simply isn’t enough room in the device to include decent speaker drivers that will deliver good detail and range. At the very least, you may want to add a soundbar or pair of desktop speakers to your TV. But for the best sound experience, get a 5.1 surround sound home system.


Network Support

Since you’ll be relying on your network connection for media, it’s important to make sure you have enough speed. Ideally, you will hardwire your modem to your TV—this will give you the most reliable streaming.

You’ll also want to make sure your internet plan provides plenty of speed to support streaming. There’s no one standard for speed, but major companies’ recommendations fall within these ranges:

  • 1 Mbps for standard-definition content
  • 3-6 Mbps for 1080p HD
  • 11-15 Mbps for 4K content

That’s for one device at a time. If you are sharing a network with multiple people, add the same amount of speed for each extra person/device. Broadband or fiber are your best bets for getting enough speed.

If you can’t hardwire your TV to your modem, you might want to update your router to make sure you’re taking advantage of the speed you pay the ISP for. Your router should not be the limiting factor when it comes to connection speed—that will be the connection your ISP provides. Look for an 802.11ac router. But remember that the router can’t transmit any faster than the ISP does, so don’t spend a lot of money on a top-of-the-line router when you’re paying Xfinity for a 50Mbps connection.

Most routers are now dual-band but double-check that the one you’re looking at is before deciding. Streaming on the 5GHz band gives you a stronger signal. There are now tri-band options on the market, which you should consider if you’re a multiple-device household wanting to stream 4K content. Otherwise, they’re probably overkill.

Netgear, TP-Link, Linksys, and Asus are all respected brands of routers. Choosing between them will be a matter of if there are specific features you want and your price point (or maybe just what’s on sale right now).


Streaming Services

Now for the exciting stuff: the content itself. This is where you get to see the payoff of cutting the cord. Of course, a few subscriptions can add up quickly, so the key is to find service options that give you your favorite stuff. Here are some ideas for people with niche interests.

With over 2,000+ documentaries in its collection, MagellanTV is a documentary lover’s dream. With a subscription cost around $6 (depending on quarterly or annual membership length), this ad-free streaming service has curated playlists so you can binge-watch your favorite subject matter. They have a huge history collection, as well as space, true crime, science, tech, and more. Some of their content is available in 4K (at no additional cost).

For comic lovers, DC Universe is a must. It offers a full range of live-action and animated movies, TV shows, documentaries, and comic books, from old school to new stuff (as well as toys available only to subscribers). While some of this content is available elsewhere on the internet, here it’s all collected in one place. And the service has original content as well, like Titans and Young Justice: Outsiders, as well as a DC Daily program—perfect for DC aficionados who want to keep up with the niche news.

Horror fans will want to consider Shudder, AMC’s service that delivers enough horror, suspense, and thriller movies to satisfy any lover of the genre. It has pulled out ahead of the competition in terms of the depth of its collection, which includes classics, foreign features, and newer features. At only about $5 a month (depending on subscription plan), it’s pretty much a no-brainer for horror fans.

Older cord-cutters will want to know about Night Flight Plus, which offers original episodes of the 80s show Night Flight as well as thousands of music videos and other curated content that captures an “eye-opening taste of counter culture, smoked with timeless jewels of artistic buds.”

Shout! Factory TV is for lovers of pop culture. The service offers over 2,000 hours of cult and classic TV shows and films like The Weird Al Show, a Werner Herzog movie collection, and Hoop Dreams. With an ad-supported free option, there’s no reason not to check it out.

For the generalist, a new streaming service to keep your eye on is Peacock, from NBC. Launching later this year, Peacock will be free (with an ad-free subscription option) and provide over 7,500 hours of current and classic shows as well as movies, news, and sports. The premium subscription will have even more content. This service presents a newer kind of challenge to cable TV by offering the same content in a different format.

Now go forth and cut that cord.


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