The internet is like a massive well, brimming with video entertainment, but can it provide enough quality programming to replace your current cable provider?

Many have already cut the cord with their telephone company, opting instead for an internet based service that has put a few extra dollars in their pocket every month. With the average cable bill at around $75 per month, the prospect of doing the same with your cable company has the potential of even greater monthly savings. Online video services, such as Hulu and Netflix, are currently offering free and low cost, legal alternatives for viewing some of the most popular cable and network shows begging the question, “Why am I still paying for Cable?”

The Ultimate TV Watching Experience:
For most, watching TV and movies is about lying out on a sofa or kicking back in a lazy Boy in front of a huge TV and surrounded by a very powerful audio system. Cutting the cable TV cord only to be tied to an office chair in front of a computer monitor is not an option. Cable offers so many viewing options in a unified user interface, controlled by a relatively simple to use remote control. Some plans include a DVR for time shifting shows and On-Demand services that put so much of what you want to watch on your schedule. HD programming is also available, with dolby digital audio, providing the best picture and sound experience you can get on your TV, excluding Blu-Ray. For those taking advantage of all these features, online alternatives probably will not measure up to the Ultimate TV watching experience no matter the savings. Oh, and we must not forget to mention live sports, premium channels and movies, in most cases, cable is the only ticket for this exclusive content.

Yeah but, did I hear the word FREE?
That’s right. There is so much video content available online for FREE and in many cases, this free online content offers a more friendly viewing experience than cable does. With that said, FREE may sound great at first, but after equipment costs, additional content and extra features, your out-of-pocket may be double or even triple your original intended budget.

Disclaimers:
All solutions will require a newer TV with DVI or HDMI video input connections, as well as, digital audio inputs. These TVs can cost between $200 – $12,000, depending on how much or little you want to squint.

All solutions also require high-speed internet service, from $24 – $75 a month, depending on area and desired speed.

Solution #1.

Monthly Cost: FREE
Setup Cost: $300 – $1000
Equipment Required: Mac Mini or other small computer with digital video/audio outputs matching your TV’s video/audio inputs.

Many small computers come with HDMI outputs, which easily connect to your large flatscreen TV providing access to all the free television and movie content available on the web. Additional devices and software can be incorporated with the home entertainment computer to make browsing the web a lot more like surfing channels. This is a great solution for someone who is computer savvy and isn’t afraid to tinker and tweak. For those less savvy, you may want to ask your kids or close family member to help.

Boxee offers free software to transform any computer into a cable-like set-top box. They are just one of many companies developing products that bridge the gap between the internet and the living room.

Cons:
Navigating to your favorite shows will not be as easy as clicking a few numbers.
Dealing with a keyboard and mouse instead of a remote.
Computer maintenance, software updates and inconsistent user interfaces means a less immersive experience.
Very little live content.
Very little HD content
Very little surround sound content
No premium channels
Very few recent Movies
Limited Sports
Limited Channels
Limited Shows
No integrated TV listing
No DVR
Lots of Buffering

Solution #2.

Monthly Cost: about $16 – $40
Setup Cost: $99 – 1000
Equipment required: If your TV or Blu-ray players does not already have access to Hulu Plus and Netflix, pick a device from the list below.

xBox 360*
Apple TV**
Play Station 3
Roku Streaming Player
TiVo DVR***
WDTV
Boxee Box
Google TV

Subscription services such as Hulu Plus ($7.99/mo) and Netflix ($7.99/mo) combined will allow you to receive many of the TV shows and movies you currently receive through your cable company at a very low monthly cost. Netflix has a large library of movies, as well as, many out of season TV shows. Hulu is the place to watch all your favorite TV shows, 12-24 hours after they air on network and cable channels.

Considerations:
Some channels, such as CBS, AMC and the WB are not available on Hulu.
Hulu is free on the computer, but to watch on your TV using anything other than a computer, requires a subscription of $7.99/mo. This subscription also unlocks exclusive content not available to non-Hulu Plus subscribers.

For the best traditional home viewing experience, a video streaming device, game console or internet enabled TV is the way to go. These specialized devices may not give you the freedom of the open web as a computer would, but the consistent interface and low maintenance makes these devices a great supplement or even replacement for cable.

Cons:
Very little live content
Little surround sound content
No premium channels
No New Release Movies†
Limited TV shows
Limited Channels
Limited Sports
No DVR††
Buffering

*Some Features of xBox Live requires an xBox Live Gold membership at $5 per month, offers ESPN programming as well.
**Apple TV does offer some live sports (subscription required), but does not support Hulu Plus.
***TiVo service cost about $19/month.

†Video streaming devices, as well as game consoles that support services such as iTunes, Amazon and Blockbuster On-Demand offer new release content available to purchase or rent for additional fees.

††Except for TiVo (has DVR for cable or over-the-air content).

Adding an Over-the-Air Antenna:
Setup Cost: $60 – $200
Equipment required: Over-the-Air or HD antenna
Over-the-Air or HD receiver, TiVo or Boxee Live TV Stick

Add an over-the-air antenna to your home and get many live network shows and sporting events in High Definition at no additional monthly cost. Best reception is found closer to a large cities.

TiVo and Boxee seem to offer solutions that are more like what you get from your cable company, although they both come from different directions in their approach to delivering content and features.

TiVo DVR boxes cost $99 – $499 and require a monthly subscription of $20. TiVo combined with Netflix and Hulu Plus will cost around $40 a month, which is almost half of the average cable bill. Combined with an HD antenna,

Boxee offers a great package of software and/or hardware to give you the best of what the web has to offer in an experience similar to cable. There is no monthly charge to use Boxee.

Cons:
Some or all over-the-air channels may not be available in your area.
Most antennas are directional limiting channel reception.

Mentions:
Many of the solutions discussed also include access to Block Buster On-Demand and Amazon video services. These are great supplements for purchasing cable-like On-Demand shows or Pay-Per-View movies.

Apple TV is basically an ala-cart device, many current shows and movies are available through the iTunes store, but they also support Netflix and some live sports streams from the NBA, MLB and NHL (additional subscriptions required).

The xBox 360 has been beefing up their entertainment services lately, offering ESPN programming and many other features that make them a one-stop shop for entertainment; their recent announcement of Verizon Fios and HBO Go offerings may be a sign that they are planning to incorporate cable into the xBox instead of trying to replace it.

Google TV is like the happy medium between a home entertainment computer and a game console. Besides internet video streaming, it offers a web browser, as well as, online games.

Premium Channels:
Sadly, if you want Premium Channels, you will have to remain with your cable company for a while longer. Even HBO Go, which is offered on some streaming devices and game consoles, requires a cable subscription to view shows and movies.

If you have already cut the cord, tell us your solution. If you are still thinking about cutting the cord, but can’t bring yourself to pull out the scissors, let us know what’s keeping you tied to your cable company.

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