Essential Cordcutting Tools for 2017 and Beyond

When I left Corporate America in 2011, the first bill I cut and never looked back at was cable. Being computer literate and a general fan of the Internet, I had little need for curated content and couldn’t justify the expense.

Although I briefly flirted with the idea of satellite TV when DirecTV and AT&T merged, I quickly grew sour on both companies and nullified the contract.

Fast forward six years, and I still don’t care much for cable, and I’m far from the only one. Back in 2015, I sat in on a keynote speech from Dreamworks head Jeffrey Katzenberg about Hollywood studios focusing on online content. HBO, NBC, and other networks are creating individual apps for each channel. Netflix, Hulu (a jointly-owned venture from cable networks), and Amazon are creating and harvesting original programming.

Fire TV, Chromecast, Apple TV, Shield TV and Roku make great set-top streaming boxes that can be useful even if you have one of the hundreds of smart TVs now on the market. Between these devices and smart TVs, the line between computers and televisions has been effectively blurred.

These days cordcutting is the norm, and there’s a variety of tools and gadgets that can make things easier. According to Pew Research, one out of every seven American adults don’t subscribe to cable. I’m one of them, and it’s for very specific reasons, the $100 average monthly rate being only one.

Television, Radio, Internet, and Widespread Communications

I was born in 1980, and in the 1980s, television and radio were the only forms of shared communication we normal plebs had. Information is power, and before the Internet, access to information was tightly controlled and restricted as normal process and procedure. Everyday people like you and I would never have an opportunity to have our voices heard.

The Internet changed all that, and it’s Net Neutrality that’s responsible for the even playing field that drove all of today’s innovation. It’s important you understand what net neutrality is, because the United States government has already attacked it as recently as 2010, and they’re doing it again.

Net neutrality allows content on my website to be given the same level of importance as content on a corporate-owned site (so long as I can afford the bandwidth). With it removed, Internet Service Providers can limit the speeds of something like Netflix and prioritize speeds on their own channels, effectively removing all sense of fairness.

With net neutrality removed, the Internet becomes like radio and television, where all content is carefully controlled and curated. In order for me to run my own website and have it be seen, I’d have to pay all sorts of middlemen and abide by whatever restrictions the ISP sets.

You can’t have your song heard on the radio or your show seen on TV to become an Eminem, but you can post it online and promote it yourself to become a Tech N9ne (who did it so effectively he’s been on every channel these days). It’s this two-way communication that makes us all love the Internet, and it’s why I chose it over cable (and it is an either/or situation as there’s zero need for both).

Cutting the Cord

The first reason you need to cut the cable bill is because you’re already paying too much for other services that provide practically the same thing. Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video all come with subscription fees. Amazon Prime is the only one I pay for personally, and that was way before streaming video was included with the service.

By the time you add up Hulu Plus ($8/month), Prime ($8.25/month), and Netflix ($8/month), you’re already paying $24.25/month, which is about equivalent to paying for basic cable. What you used to lose out on (unless you’re a pirate) is live events, but these days, it’s mostly convenience, as a ton of events are making their way online.

The Super Bowl, for example, was streamed online, and NFL Game Pass is offered to those without cable, although you’ll need DirecTV’s expensive NFL Sunday Ticket packages for the most complete access to live game coverage. Twitter and other online services are also starting to live stream games. Sports and sports entertainment leagues like UFC and WWE are already bypassing traditional pay TV models.

Pay channels like HBO and Showtime have their own individual subscription services like HBO Go, which works on mobile devices and Apple TV, and SHOWTIME Now, which works on mobile devices and Roku, PlayStation Vue, and Apple TV.

HBO Go is $15/month, and SHOWTIME Now is $11/month, though it can also be added onto Hulu Plus for $9/month. With the full package, you’re looking at $44.25/month in fees before adding in your favorite sports. It reaches a point where you may as well have cable (which is what they’re going for), unless you use other means.

Tools of Cordcutting

I typically pirate content when necessary, but since I had access to all the tech companies, I decided to ask around and see what kind of gadgets and tools were available for cordcutters. It turns out the trend is being noticed all around, and I found a lot of things are available to view content online.

1. Tablo HDTV Antenna DVR (TabloTV.com)

Tablo HDTV OTA DVR

The first thing you’ll miss when cutting the cable bill is DVR functionality. Ever since TiVo, we’ve become accustomed to searching for programming using a visual interface. Tablo recreates that interface and allows you to create your own DVR for over the air (OTA) programming.

Simply connect an HDTV antenna and external USB hard drive, connect to your network either through hardwire or WiFi, and download the Tablo app on whichever computer, mobile device, or streaming device you want to watch on.

The up-front cost of the device is $199.99 for two tuners ($300 for four), and after 30 days, you’ll need to pay $4.99 a month for continued access to the graphical interface and programming. If you choose not to continue your subscription, you can still record and watch live TV, though it’ll be a bit harder.

2. Actiontec Bonded MoCA 2.0 Ethernet Adapter (Actiontec.com)

Actiontec Bonded MoCA 2 Adapter

Once you cancel your cable bill, you’ll still have all those coaxial cable outlets in your home, likely in every room. These still have value and can actually be used to reroute video through and relieve congestion on your WiFi network. This is invaluable in today’s world of Ultra-HD 4k streaming formats, which take a huge amount of bandwidth, especially to maintain on larger-format screens.

Actiontec has a solution for both these pain points with the Bonded MoCA 2.0 ethernet adapter. Using these adapters, you turn your home’s coaxial cables into a path for hardwired internet connections that can be connected to your video game consoles, smart TVs, DVR, and other devices to improve connection stability.

With virtual reality gaming requiring even more bandwidth than your typical passive video-watching experience, these adapters are an invaluable tool for cordcutters. Each two-pack will set you back $150, but its worth it to stabilize your connection.

3. iSmart F1HD OTA Satellite TV Receiver (ismartt.com)

iSmart F1HD Satellite Receiver

Back in the analog 80s, your TV could pick up free channels, but premium channels had a line through the middle of them to scramble them. We used descramblers (and TVs that allowed for fine tuning) to remove this scrambling until everything was converted to digital in the early 2000s. With digital TV comes digital encryption, but there’s a loophole that’s not often talked about.

Satellite dishes can pick up free OTA satellite signals. Aside from premium channels like HBO and pay-per-view, HDTV satellite signals are largely unencrypted because the equipment to pick them up isn’t widely recognized as available.

Just because you don’t have DirecTV or Dish doesn’t mean you don’t have a dish attached to your roof that can’t be used to pick up their signal. In fact, it’s likely already configured to point exactly there it needs to pick them up. All you need is one of these satellite receivers to pick it up. It also includes Internet TV. You’re welcome.

4. Mohu ReLeaf HDTV Antenna (GoMohu.com)

mohu-releaf-antenna

In major metropolitan areas, all you need to pick up a few dozen TV channels is an HDTV antenna. The ReLeaf by Mohu is one of my favorites because it uses recycled materials and picks up a great signal. Beyond basic cable, public access, and Spanish networks, I could get USA, TBS, and a few others. In Flagstaff, over 100 miles from a network, it’s not as good but still works well.

Keep in mind your HDTV signal won’t always be the strongest, but you’ll have access to watch live events on the Big 4 (Fox, CBS, NBC, ABC) where most of them happen anyway.

Plugging this antenna into a DVR or your computer (with a TV tuner card or adapter) opens up even more possibilities. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better antenna for under $40.

5. Clearstream 2V HDTV Antenna (AntennasDirect.com)

Clearstream HDTV Antenna

If you live further than 30 miles from an antenna, you’ll have issues picking up the signal with the Mohu ReLeaf. In this case, the $90 ClearStream 2V can pick up signals up to 60 miles (when attached to your roof – it’s a bit smaller range indoors).

This antenna is built for indoor and outdoor use, so it’s rugged and can withstand any weather. It can overcome tall buildings, mountains, and other obstructions in some situations. Keep in mind a TV signal can only reach about 100 miles, so if you’re further away than that, you’ll need a satellite.

6. WeBoost Home 4G (WeBoost.com)

WeBoost 4G Home

Without cable, mobile devices become even more important. Unfortunately for many people, cell signal strength indoors isn’t that great. It gets even worse if you live in an apartment building or heavily congested area with a lot of obstructions. WeBoost has an answer for that.

Once you register the $400 Home 4G (which is currently on sale at Amazon for $270), you’ll be able to boost 3G and 4G LTE signal strength exponentially. Connectivity, reliability, and speed is all increased to the point you could conceivably use your unlimited wireless data plan as your only Internet connection.

Many people already do this of course – I’m referring to those gamers, pirates, streamers, and social media butterflies who couldn’t imagine life without a high-speed Internet plan at home.

7. Nvidia Shield TV 4k (Nvidia.com)

nvidia-shield-4k

Whether you have a smart TV or not, the Nvidia Shield TV 4K is a purchase to definitely consider. Originally marketed as an Android alternative to gaming consoles, Shield TV has evolved into a media server and streaming platform that remains popular among hardcore Android fans.

Shield TV is so popular, Amazon is releasing a gaming edition of its popular Fire TV platform to compete. The Shield controller and remote are great quality and work with the Shield Portable and K2 Tablet as well.

Streaming in 4K, Google voice search, and even smarthome integration aim to make Shield the ultimate home entertainment hub in the upcoming years. Spring for the $299 500 GB version for the most utility, though the $199 version still holds 16 GB.

8. Roku Ultra 4k (Roku.com)

Roku Ultra 4k HDR

If you don’t need all the power of Nvidia’s streaming machine, Roku offers a smaller and still impressive 4K streaming player in the Roku Ultra. Priced at a much more affordable $129, you’ll get all the streaming quality and the remote but without the Android interface.

I’m the type to always want way more power than I need, and this Roku still offers that. Both Roku and Shield can accommodate a Kodi server, although the Roku takes a little jailbreaking (just like the Fire stick). You can also connect it to your Plex account for more streaming options.

Until Amazon integrates the Alexa platform on the Echo Dot and Fire TV to create the type of integrated smarthome hub Nvidia is aiming for, Roku will remain the best non-Android streaming option.

9. Netgear Nighthawk X10 Smart WiFi Router (Netgear.com)

Netgear Nighthawk Gaming Router

When you have both gamers and UHD video streamers in your home, traffic can quickly get congested. People constantly lie to me about having the fastest Internet speeds available until I play an online game and see they’re clearly paying for the cheapest plan. It’s infuriating to lose a game because of lag and connection issues.

I contacted Netgear to find out what solutions the networking giant has under its sleeves to be sent the Nighthawk X10 quadstream smart router, which includes remote access through OpenVPN, a 1.7GHz dual-core processor, both upstream and downstream QoS, and a built-in Plex Media Server. MU-MIMO supports simultaneous streaming while 160 MHz doubles WiFi speeds to mobile devices.

This is the granddaddy of gaming routers and will ensure you have the speed necessary to pwn noobs in every game you choose. At $500, however, it’s not exactly cheap.

10. Synology Diskstation DS416Play (Synology.com)

Synology DS416Play

And of course the best way to reduce Internet congestion, lag, buffering, and other issues is to simply store everything locally on your own home cloud. The Synology DS416Play is more than just network-attached storage – this NAS can also transcode 4K video on the spot, allowing you to stream to any Internet-connected device easily.

With a VPN installed (such as that on the Nighthawk), you can even securely access your content from anywhere you can access the Internet.

Synology’s DS416 is a great way to store everything you need to download a file once to access multiple times. Downloaded files don’t need an Internet connection and therefore won’t lag, buffer, or skip the way they do online. If you’re having issues watching movies, this may be the answer, though keep in mind, you’ll need to buy hard drives for it because it’s diskless.

11. Netgear Orbi AC3000 Tri-Band WiFi System (Netgear.com)

Orbi Netgear Mesh Router

Another Netgear WiFi solution for a different reason, Orbi is the perfect system for people living in a large space where walls and other obstructions block the WiFi signal in certain areas. For $400 ($380 on Amazon Prime), you get a base router and satellite system to plug in and boost the signal.

When gaming or watching videos on a secondary computer, you’ll often be prioritized last and get lag. It’s even more difficult when you’re out of range, which is why Orbi was designed to compete with Ubiquiti’s Amplifi and Luma’s home mesh networks.

Between Orbi and the Nighthawk, you’re obviously better off with the Nighthawk. It has an impressive range itself and I had no coverage issues in the house or yard. The antennas aren’t as big on Orbi, but it still has six of them with three bands (that’s right, a third band is dedicated to the mesh network system) and packs quite a punch.

Versability

Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer.

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