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Last Updated: May 6, 2022 | Published: Sep 12, 2019

Cord-cutting has become a popular trend in recent years, thanks to the rise of streaming services. For those unfamiliar, cord cutting is the process of canceling your cable subscription and instead, relying on streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu to watch your favorite shows and movies. The primary difference is that you can select your streaming services à la carte while cable locks you in on a set number of channels through bundles.

So, the big question is: should you cut the cord? In this guide, we’re going to compare streaming versus cable TV so that you can make an informed decision.

How Does Cord Cutting Work?

Scissors cutting a black cord.
Cutting the cord can save you more money if you don’t watch cable TV too often.

Cord-cutting penetration in the U.S. was over 27 percent at the end of 2021. That number is only going to continue to grow as streaming services become more popular. If you consider projections, cord cutting will account for over 35 percent of all subscriptions.

What it means in practice is, after you cancel your cable TV plan, you’ll need to sign up for a few different streaming services to get the same amount of content that you would from cable. While there are four different types of television, you only need to know about cable TV. As for cord cutting, here’s what you should consider:

Reliable Internet Connection

You’re going to stream a lot of videos, so you want to make sure that your internet can offer reliable speeds and high bandwidth. To avoid data throttling and network congestion, you can opt for internet plans with either a high or unlimited data cap per month. Some internet service providers (ISPs) have soft data caps that may slow down and limit your streaming experience. Cable internet providers like SpectrumⓇ offer plans and deals with no data caps. This is ideal for gamers who use up their data cap allowance every month.

Modem and Wi-Fi Router

Another streaming essential is the modem and Wi-Fi router duo. Since you’re relying on your internet service to watch shows and movies, you’ll need a modem and Wi-Fi router that can handle the bandwidth and allow you to stream on multiple devices simultaneously. Also, most streaming devices don’t have an Ethernet port, so you need to connect them to the internet wirelessly. If your router isn’t up to par, you may experience buffering and lag time when streaming, and you might need to troubleshoot your Wi-Fi.

Streaming Devices

Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV are the most popular streaming devices on the market right now. These devices allow you to watch content from various streaming services on your TV. If you already have a smart TV, you might not even need a streaming device, as some smart TVs have apps built-in. But not all smart TVs offer the streaming apps that you need, so before you pick one, double-check to see which apps are available.

Streaming Subscriptions

And of course, you’ll need to sign up for various streaming subscriptions. The most popular streaming services are Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney Plus. There are also several other streaming services that you might want to consider, such as HBO Max and CBS All Access. When searching for streaming services that you want to pay on a monthly basis, check to see what shows and movies they offer, the price, and whether or not they have premium access for subscribers who pay extra.

Streaming vs Cable: What’s the Difference?

Now that we’ve gone over the basics of cord cutting, let’s compare streaming and cable TV. The table below offers a visual of key differences including price, content, channels, contracts, and device compatibility.

Streaming Cable
Price $20 to $70 $45 to 135
Price after first month Mostly constant Increases
Content On demand Fixed content
Channels 50 to 100 150 to 400
Contracts Month to month 1 to 2 years
Device compatibility Mostly compatible Selective compatibility

Streaming is essentially cheaper and you don’t have to worry about contracts. However, let’s take a closer look at each of these aspects before you make your decision.

Price

The first and most obvious difference is price. Cable TV can be quite expensive, especially after the promotional period ends. Most streaming services offer a month-to-month subscription with no contract required. This makes it easy to cancel your service if you decide it’s not for you. Additionally, cable TV providers often charge equipment rental fees, such as a monthly DVR fee. On the other hand, streaming services usually include everything in the price of the subscription.

Content

When it comes to content, there’s no clear winner. Both streaming and cable offer a variety of TV shows and movies. The main difference is that streaming services allow you to watch content on demand, while cable TV requires you to watch shows as they air. With that said, most cable providers do offer on-demand content. And with the advent of DVRs, you can record shows and watch them at your convenience.

Channels

Another difference between streaming and cable is the number of channels offered. Cable TV typically provides a larger selection of channels than streaming services. However, the number of channels you actually watch is probably much smaller. It’s also difficult to get all the channels you want under one bundle. Cable TV providers put your favorite channels in different bundles so that you can subscribe for more.

On the other hand, most streaming services let you choose your channels. This gives you more control over your monthly bill, and you only pay for the channels you watch.

Contracts

Cable TV providers often require you to sign a contract with a commitment of one to two years. Streaming services don’t require contracts, so you’re free to cancel your service at any time with no strings attached.

Device Compatibility

When it comes to device compatibility, streaming devices beat out cable TV every time. Streaming devices are compatible with a wide range of TVs, including older models. Cable TV is only compatible with newer TVs that have an HDMI port. If your TV doesn’t have this port, you’ll need to buy a cable box, streaming stick, or an HDMI converter.

Which Streaming Services Should I Choose?

If you decide to become a cord cutter, you might be wondering which streaming services you should choose. Short answer: It depends on what you’re looking for.

Netflix is the best option to watch new and old TV shows and movies on demand. Hulu is an excellent choice if you want to watch currently airing shows. Amazon Prime Video is great if you want to watch exclusive titles on the streaming platform. And Disney Plus is best for families.

Below is a table that compares prices for the different streaming platforms. If you’re a student, you might be eligible for discounts.

Streaming Service Content Channels Price per month
YouTube TV Diverse 85+ $64.99
Netflix TV shows, movies, and documentaries 0 $9.99 to $19.99
Hulu TV shows, movies, and documentaries 75+ for Hulu+ Live TV $6.99 to $75.99
Amazon Prime Video Documentaries and movies 100+ $14.99
FuboTV Sports, news, movies, and TV shows Depends on location and plan $33 to $79.99
Sling Sports, news, comedy shows, TV shows, and movies 50+ $35 to $50

How Do I Watch Live TV?

Here’s what to keep in mind when you choose live TV over cable:

  • Video quality: Most streaming services offer HD video quality while cable TV is limited to standard definition.
  • Ads: Streaming services typically have fewer ads than cable TV.
  • Length of shows: Fewer ads equal an uninterrupted viewing experience.
  • DVR: If you want to record live TV, you’ll need a DVR. Streaming services usually include a DVR in the subscription price while most cable TV providers charge a monthly fee.

You can sign up for a live TV streaming service like Sling TV or YouTube TV. These services offer various channels that you can watch live. You can also use an Over-the-Air Digital TV Antenna (DTVA) to pick up local channels like ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX. Live TV is a great option if you want to watch live sports or local news without committing to a cable TV plan.

Is Cutting the Cord Worth It?

Cord cutting comes down to your individual needs and preferences. If you love watching TV and don’t mind paying for it, cutting the cord probably isn’t worth it. But if you’re tired of paying an expensive monthly bill, then it could save you a lot of money. More Americans are making the switch from cable TV to cord cutting for different reasons, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s on board. At the end of the day, you get to pick what you want to watch and how.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cord Cutting

How much does it cost to cut the cord?

The upfront cost of buying a streaming device or antenna can be expensive, but the monthly savings are worth it in the long run. The final cost depends on several factors, but the average cost for subscriptions and hardware can be anywhere between $20-$70.

What channels can I watch with a streaming device?

Streaming devices offer various channels, including local channels, news networks, and sports networks.

Can I watch live TV with a streaming device?

Yes. However, you might need to purchase a live TV streaming service to access all the channels you want.

Can I get all the channels I want with a streaming service?

Yes, but in reality, you might need to subscribe to several streaming services because each one offers a unique channels list.

What is the cheapest way to watch TV?

The cheapest way to watch TV is by using a DTVA. You can also sign up for a free live TV streaming service to access select channels.