Streaming TV

Many people are feeling the pain of the bills from TV content providers (such as Spectrum, AT&T, Xfinity, Comcast, and possibly others), and they find 'streaming' TV is a more affordable alternative.  I did this, myself, in 2022 and now others come to me for information and advice.  Rather then typing everything new, all over again, every time, I think having a easily-referenced web page will be better, so that's what this page is for.  If you read this and have questions, please feel free to write to me at the address at the bottom of the page.

The following text is from an email I wrote in February 2023.  I think it is generic enough to apply to almost anyone.

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Hi _______,

From your questions, it seems you have the same level of knowledge about 'the big switch' as I did when I started feeling my way along this path. But no worries, I'll help you as much as I can.

First off, alternatives to Cable TV from Spectrum are either (1) cable TV from another service provider, or (2) 'streaming' TV service. What's the difference?

  1. Cable TV from another service provider. Here in Palm Coast, we have two TV service providers: Spectrum and AT&T.  (Other big-name providers include Xfinity and Comcast - but we don't have them here.)  These services are characterized by they provide you with a cable box (which may also have a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) built into it).  If you are old enough, you remember having your TV receive TV signals from rabbit ears or a roof-top antenna, and you changed stations on the TV (from 2-13 plus more in the UHF band).  With a cable box, the video signal from the box to an older TV is always broadcast on a specific channel (such as Channel 3 or Channel 4).  You leave the channel set to that channel and change stations with the cable box.  On newer TVs, you set the TV input to 'Cable" (or some other, similar setting) and still change stations with the cable box.
  2. 'Streaming' TV service.  In this model, you get your TV content from the internet, just like going to different websites to 'surf' the internet.  Ironically, here in Palm Coast, your internet providers are also Spectrum and AT&T, but instead of getting both TV and Internet from them, you only have to get the internet.  But what you DO have to have is a 'smart' TV.  Most folks do, nowadays, but with cable TV, most folks don't use the 'smart' function of their TV, so they may not be sure if their TV is 'smart' or not.  Basically, a 'smart' TV has the cable box built-in to it, so now, in a twist of fate, you are back to changing channels in the TV, rather than with an external cable box.

A quick way to know if your TV is 'smart' or not is to look at the remote.  All brands are different, of course, but if your remote has dedicated buttons on it for recognizable TV content providers (such as Prime and/or Netflix and/or Hulu and/or others), you have a smart TV.  If your TV remote does not have any buttons as I described, it is not likely you have a smart TV.  I'm not saying you definitely don't have a smart TV; It is just likely you don't.  You can always ask a friend or neighbor (who has the knowledge) to check into it further if you are unsure.

Now, with a smart TV in your home, you need to get the internet to it.  That is done in one of two ways:

  1. A network 'patch' cable directly from your modem or router to the TV.  If your router is not physically close to your TV, that would mean an ugly wire will be strung from room-to room, likely making for a negative emotional start to this journey.
  2. Use a wireless connection from your home wireless router to your smart TV (assuming you already have a wireless network in your home).  If you have no experience dealing with wireless networking, I can tell you this is not difficult, per se: All you need is your wireless network name and password - your 'smart' TV will lead you through the steps.  However, if your cable modem and home router are in the back of the house (as mine is in a bedroom/office), and the TV is in the front of the house (with additional TVs in other rooms), the wireless signal may be too weak for an excellent streaming experience, so it would be appropriate to install a wireless 'extender' in your home.  It is like a second router (in a better location for streaming TV), but it is not a second wireless network in your home: It is just extending the existing wireless network.  Finally, if you do not have a wireless network in your home, you would need to first buy a wireless router and set it up, and then go for the streaming TV experience.

    One final thought to your home router.  If you have an older wireless system, your router may not be fast enough for a good streaming TV experience.  (Older, less capable routers will work, but the video will start and stop because the TV can process the video signal faster than the router can provide it.  Think of the 'rubber band' effect of traffic going through a construction zone. When multiple lanes narrow to just one or two, traffic forms a 'bottleneck.'  The forward morion is much slower and each vehicle advances at different times and speeds, so each vehicle ends up moving forward, then stopping, then moving forward, etc.  Not many people know what their home router specs are, but I need to put a stake in the ground, so to speak, so I think the minimum recommended router speed is 300MBps and most routers purchased since 2018 or 2019 are rated for that speed (or higher), so if yours is less than 4 years old you are probably good to go.  IMPORTANT: In writing this, I don't know your knowledge of wireless networking, and I don't know the capabilities of your equipment, so if I am 'plowing new ground' with you, take it slow so you understand new things as you experience them.  Also, if you do want to go this route, but it's all (or partly) new to you, I'll be glad to help.

Finally, we get to TV content and providers.  Here is where you really have choices.  What you have to do (after you have achieved a streaming TV environment) is subscribe to one or more TV content providers.  I think the most common provider for 'general' TV viewing is YouTube TV.  They have all the networks and most of what you are used to from cable TV (Discovery, Animal Planet, AMC, TBS, PBS, dozens and dozens of channels).  There are other providers with 'general' channels, but I am a YouTube TV subscriber and don't know anything about the others.

Beyond the 'general' content, there is specialized content.  There's Amazon Prime (yes, free shipping on purchases PLUS streaming video content), HBO, Cinemax, Paramount, Showtime, and on and on and on...  Your options are limited only by what you are willing to spend.  As I told you earlier, I'm up to (about) $150/month with basic cable (from Spectrum) and general TV (from YouTube TV), plus we are Amazon Prime subscribers (which is not included in the previously quoted $150/month).  That's plenty for me, but my wife is a TV junkie, so she has some premium channels such as Netflix and HBO+ and I think one more.  Although I pay those bills too, and they're listed on the monthly credit card bill, they're fairly small charges so I don't really take notice of the amount.  (Shame on me?)  Of note: Often you can subscribe to some premium channels for free for one month, so what my wife does is rotate through them for a month at a time and it costs nothing. However, be sure to keep track of things on a calendar, or else you'll end up subscribing automatically because you didn't cancel in time.

OK, that's enough for now.  You may have questions, so ask whatever you want: As Frazier Crane so famously said: "I'm listening."


This page was developed by Herb Klug       Updated February 8, 2023
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