April 21, 2015
I was on the phone with a financial advisor last week. He works for my boss, but I told him, laughing, "Ryan, seriously...I'm the one who needs the help!" He very graciously replied, "I will be offended if you don't let me help you...and no charge. I believe in karma, and I've made all the money I need." As we continued to talk money, he said, "There are also always more ways to save money..."
I said: "Hey, I AM in the process of actually cutting the cord!!" He said with a note of dread in his voice, "Oh, I see...so, you have children..." and he trailed off. I laughed..."Ryan!" I said, "I am cutting the cord with AT&T! I'm DONE!"
And so, I did.
For quite some time, I was happily paying AT&T what I thought was my regular monthly bill for, mind you, only subpar Internet and their U300 channel lineup with no cell phone and no home telephone line. Again, very happily paying what I thought was my total bill of $123.00 a month.
Then one day completely out of the blue, I happen to notice an email from AT&T that says something along the lines of, "Warning! Warning! Will Robinson! You are being assessed late fees and additional penalties for not paying the full amount of your bill. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200.00. Go straight to jail."
I say to myself…oh no. And, I tentatively log in to my online AT&T account and take a look.
$123.00? Not even close. My bill had shot up sky high. And, with no notice. I think it should be legislated that ISPs and cable providers must advise their customers in advance and multiple times of an increase in their monthly rate or a package expiring.
My new monthly flat rate was nowhere near $123.00. It was up $192.50 not including taxes and fees and government charges. With all the additional sub charges and fees and the ‘let's collect 3 more dollars for the infirm' charges, I was actually up to about $210.00 a month for, again, only subpar internet and a channel lineup out of which I only watched maybe a handful. My AT&T had ballooned into some kind of mortgage payment, or at the very least, a legitimate payment for a new car.Not only that, but all of a sudden of course, I was WAY past due with late charges and other penalties as well.
Let me also recount that AT&T has been gouging me financially for some time. When I would realize that my package and discounts had expired, I would call them and feign to disconnect and get them to reduce my bill, but it happened again and again. The most frustrating part was when I logged into my account to change my services online to try and downgrade to save money, and the site literally would not allow me to make changes unless I wanted to UPGRADE. Warning messages and windows would open and flash telling me that if I changed anything, it would ‘invalidate' any packages or specials…NONE of which I could even see I was still getting.
I had to do my research. I knew there must be a better way. I determined that, with a tiny bit of inconvenience mainly due to changing my habits and adjusting to not having a ‘Guide' and being able to just click on a show or use the remote, I could save money and likely get much more. The slight inconvenience of having to switch the input source on the TV to watch local channels, well, I realized that I could pay for all my upfront costs in about 6 weeks compared to what I am having to shell out to AT&T monthly.
I thought about what I like to watch -- local channels, one major news channel, HGTV and both major cooking channels. The only other two channels I enjoy are AMC and HBO, but I really only watch one show on HBO and 2 shows on AMC. And I can get both of those channels now on Sling.
I am going to share below what I am using for TV now. There are also other options, all of which are likely similar and just as good, but I will detail my decisions and the whys.
Before I get into specifics, I want to mention the importance of the remote control. Once you realize you no longer can turn on your TV and press "Guide" and just view the menu and select a show, you realize the importance of a good remote. You have to do a bit of navigating now. The remote has to find TV shows and movies. From the reviews I have read on all the remotes, only the Amazon Fire TV remote is a real time saver. The reason, in my opinion, is the Amazon Fire TV remote with its voice-activated feature surpasses all others, and it works.
Device options and subscription services:
Amazon Fire TV – being an Amazon Prime member gives you lots of benefits, and included with Prime and Fire TV, you will have access to many shows, movies, apps and games. The remote is awesome. When I just want music, I tell the remote, "Pandora" and it loads my favorite channel instantly. The Fire TV also has the processor and memory that you are looking for.
Apple TV – I have chosen this as the option for my 2nd TV because Apple offers a few additional channels such as Crunchyroll if you like Anime and the ability to download free apps onto any other Apple device, stream live shows from those apps (such as Cooking Channel through the app which is a very difficult channel to get through other subscription services), and stream movies from your Apple device, and then mirror it on your TV. Apple TV does not have a hugely powerful processor when compared to the Fire TV, and even less memory than the iPad sold today. Personally, I am still wondering what and how to watch anything on Apple TV. I installed it last weekend (easy setup), but I have yet to watch anything. It seems that everything has to be paid for separately on iTunes, and other than a few unknown movies and shows, it all costs additional money. I can watch the same shows offered on Prime that Apple asks me to pay for. I guess that by spending much more additional time downloading apps from the App Store and then figuring out how to view shows from those apps by mirroring devices (from my iPad or iPhone) might give me the same free access to shows that I will probably just watch on the Fire TV. Right now, I am not hugely happy with the Apple TV. And, if you decide to order HBO Now through Sling TV, you won't be able to use HBO Now on the Apple TV.
HBO Now – One of the biggest draws in subscription offerings is HBO's new streaming service called HBO Now which is a stand-alone streaming service for 14.99 a month (similar to Netflix). The HBO Now site says it is only available through Apple TV (with one other provider) but that is not true. HBO Now is also available through SlingTV. When you sign up for HBO Now, don't expect to get a lot of different HBO channels and programming. One HBO channel is all you get. I am one of those people who pays for services legitimately, so I signed up for HBO Now through SlingTV.
Special Tip and Scoop: Even though Apple TV and HBO Now claim to be in bed together inferring that you have to get the Apple TV to get HBO Now, you can also get HBO Now through Sling TV at the same price, which is what I did. I cannot find it advertised anywhere (including other news sources and publications) that HBO Now is also available through another source. But it is. And I have watched HBO the last 2 weeks on my Amazon Fire TV on Sling TV. This means I cannot watch it on the Apple TV, but I am fine with that. Even HBO Now does not mention Sling TV on their site but says it is going to expand availability and providers soon. So, Apple and Sling are pretty much the only places to get HBO Now.
Netflix – who doesn't know about Netflix vast offerings of movies, shows and original programming for only 7.99 a month with no contracts? I have not yet signed up for Netflix because Prime, Sling, HBO Now, and local channels are keeping me busy enough catching up on shows and movies I have missed. Again, I have not watched anything on Apple TV, and I don't need Netflix yet.
SlingTV – The newest offering for cord cutters that is the closest to getting a cable channel lineup all for about 20.00 a month. SlingTV's "Best of Live TV" package includes AMC, HGTV, TNT, TBS, Travel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, and many more channels. Additional channel add-on packages are available such as sports, kids/family and news for 5.00 a month. SlingTV also offers specials such as half off the Fire TV or a free Fire Stick, see their website for more information.
HuluPlus – Also very affordable at 7.99 a month and a good option for almost all the major channels that you get with cable or dish. Hulu is the best place to get A&E, FX, and all the Fox channels. Hulu has many other channels that are not so well known. I have not signed up for HuluPlus yet either.
My upfront/annual costs:
99.00 annual Amazon Prime – Note: if you are a student, you get Prime at half price.
99.00 Amazon Fire TV box (Offer from SlingTV: Order Sling and prepay for 3 months, you can get the Fire TV box for half price)
45.00 used modem (this saves the monthly fee with TWC to have my own equip)
75.00 wireless router
25.00 Mohu Leaf Metro HDTV passive antenna (or 75.00 for the amplified antenna) in order to get local channels. It is tiny and flat, black on one side and white on the other. It can fit inside a briefcase or large purse to take anywhere like a weekend beach getaway or tailgating party. It also includes a generous 10-foot coaxial cable to hook it up to a TV.
65.00 for internet through TWC that is currently providing 3x the bandwidth than AT&T with an additional expected rollout this summer to increase speeds at no extra cost to customer. In fact, I can even downgrade after the rollout and change my service to the next lower tier and save money while still getting better service than AT&T
14.99 HBO Now (available only on Sling TV or Apple TV)
Total: $100.00 a month with no contract, no unexpected increases, and the ability to cancel or try other services at any time. This is under half of what AT&T was charging me, and I have so many more options.
Additional streaming services worth the price:
I really like the Amazon Fire TV so far. The more I look at all the options and shows, the more I am liking this since there are so many good shows and movies that I have not been able to watch before and were not even available to me on U-verse. For example, with AT&T, I would search to see if I could watch a show such as ‘Sons of Anarchy' from Season One, but only recent seasons were available on U-verse. On Amazon Fire TV, I can scroll through many shows and movies, and add them to my Watch List. The voice-activated remote is completely worth it. It is small, simple, and it works. The tiny and unobtrusive Fire TV box was quick and easy to set up, and it is very intuitive. Even if my TV source is set to antenna, when I press the Fire TV remote, it knows to switch the TV source over to HDMI, and the menu displays instantly. If I want to just go into a Zen mood, the Fire TV has a screen saver that I actually love. It's kind of hypnotic watching those gorgeous images from across the world float across my screen in high res.
I know I am going to be really happy in the long run saving money and getting so much more to watch. I know that I have to adjust and transition, but the transition has not been difficult in the least.
And Ryan? He had a ton of questions. I spent about 20 minutes explaining to him the different options. He's a big Phillies fan and has to have his NFL. He was in a bit of a panic at the thought that he might not have easy access to his games. All of a sudden, a light bulb went off in his head. He realized it might just be as simple and cheap as a $25.00 one-time cost for the antenna, and that just might be all he needs…to cut the cord.
Reddit – Cord Cutter Subreddit
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Tom's Guide to Best TV Antennas