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How To Cut The Cable Cord (in 2021)

Cut the cable cord

If you’re looking to learn how to cut the cord in 2021, then you’ve come to the right place.

Cutting the cable (or satellite dish) is much easier than most of us think and it can be set up with just a few pieces of equipment and can be active in less than half a day and watch many of your favorite shows and even watch sports.

A few years ago my family and I decided to cut the cable and are now saving almost $84 a month ($1,005 a year) by going with over the air / streaming instead and honestly… we really haven’t missed much.

In this post I’ll walk you through all the steps you need to set up. For your convenience I’ll link to the equipment on Amazon when possible but most of what you need is available in electronics stores like Best Buy or in department stores like Walmart or Target.


What Equipment Do I Need To Cut The Cord?

The typical cable cutter’s setup consists of the following items…


How Do I Watch Local Channels Without Cable?

To watch local channels after cutting the cord you need an HD antenna. An HD antenna works like a “rabbit ears” antenna, but looks like a sheet of paper with a cord attached to it. To use it, simply place the antenna in or near a window and set your TV input to “antenna” or “Over The Air (OTA)” mode and set it to scan for local channels.

As long as you’re within range of your local television station’s broadcast signal, and have no tall buildings or mountains to block the signal, you should receive crystal clear signal for many local stations. Many times the over the air signal comes in even clearer than it did with cable because the signal is uncompressed.

What type of antenna do I need?

To receive local channels over the air (OTA) you’ll need either an indoor or outdoor digital antenna. If you use an outdoor antenna you may be able to use your existing cable line to send signal throughout your home but you’ll need to be able to install it, probably on your roof. If you hate ladders like I do you’ll need an indoor antenna for each TV.

Indoor Antennas

A typical indoor digital antennas is roughly the size of a sheet of paper and costs between 17 and $100 (roughly) depending on how powerful you need it to be. If you live close to your local station’s broadcast towers then you can get away with a less expensive version but the further away you live the more powerful antenna you’ll need.

Mohu Leaf
The Mohu Leaf Indoor Antenna

There are a few models you could choose from but I’ve tested the Mohu Leaf and the AmazonBasics HDTV antennas and they both worked great (note: we live within 25 miles of a medium sized city so your antenna may vary based on where you are).

One of the better brands of antenna is the Mohu Leaf digital antenna which features models that range from 25 miles to 60 miles and cost between $38 and $150. AmazonBasics also makes a nice antenna with models that range from 25 miles to 60 miles and range in price from $18 to $105 depending on which model you choose. We live close to a medium sized city so we went with the 25 mile AmazonBasics model and it works great.

To use the antenna all you need to do is screw the coaxial cable from the antenna in to the back of your TV, switch your TV’s input to antenna and scan for your local channels.

I would recommend testing out your antenna before cutting the cable to make sure you can get your local channels. If you’re having trouble picking up channels you may need to move the antenna around for best results. Placement near an unobstructed window is your best bet. Some houses made of brick and/or metal may have issues, so be sure to test in a few locations around the house to see which works best.

Outdoor Antennas

Winegard 7694
The Winegard 7694

If you do have trouble receiving channels with an indoor antenna you can also try an outdoor antenna. I haven’t been able to test any outdoor models yet but the Winegard HD7694P model has been recommended by someone I spoke with who lived 45 miles away from their local stations and they were very happy with it.

Overall we were really surprised at how clear the broadcast picture was – it’s actually clearer than most cable carrier’s signals because they compress it – and I’m sure you’ll be impressed too.


Streaming TV, Movies and Other Content

To stream your television you have a few different options to choose from.

Since we’re talking about cutting the cable I’ll focus on watching on your television but please note that most services will let you stream content on your phone, tablet or computer.

To get started with streaming you’ll need…

  • an internet connection
  • a streaming media player
  • a subscription to a streaming content service

What Kind Of Internet Connection Do I Need?

By now most of us have internet in our homes (or at least available) but not all internet connections are created equally so you want to make sure you have a decent connection since the quality of the device you choose will only be as good as the quality of your internet connection.

Wireless Router

When we tested out the services and devices below we used a 20mbps connection (which is about average) to test all of these, but more is always better. If you’re not sure how much you need, 5 mbps for every streaming TV is a good rule of thumb so if you’re planning on streaming 4 TVs at the same time you’ll want a 20mbps connection. Always test your internet first to make sure it works though because any number of factors can affect your signal quality.

Most internet service providers will give (or most likely lease) you a modem and/or wireless router so you can use theirs or buy your own. The advantage to buying your own is that you can save the monthly lease fee, but we’ll discuss that in a separate post. For now just be aware that most modems and/or routers will work just fine.

Note: We’ll get in to the streaming devices in a minute but if you’re planning on using any of the streaming sticks (Roku stick, Fire TV stick or Chromecast) then you’ll need to make sure you have a WiFi connection available since these devices can not be connected via ethernet cable. Roku 3, Fire TV box and Apple TV can all be connected via cable.


What Streaming Media Player Should I Buy?

There are a number of streaming media players available on the market today, plus there are “Smart TV’s” and some gaming systems can be used to stream content, but most cord cutters will want a device specifically for streaming content so that’s what we’ll cover here.

All of these players do essentially the same thing, with a few minor differences and which one is “best” depends on what you’re looking to do with it, so we’ll go over them briefly so you can make that decision for yourself.

Please note: you’ll want to make sure that your TV has at least one HDMI input to use these players. Don’t worry, most TV’s made in the last 10 years have at least one.

Roku

Roku logo

Roku is one of the original streaming media devices, and also one of the most universally accepted among streaming services. Roku features thousands of available channels (some requiring a subscription) including all of the popular options like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Sling TV. If you’re new to streaming and aren’t sure which box to buy this is a good one to start with.

There are a few versions of the Roku player but the most recent are the Roku Ultra Streaming Media Player and the Roku Streaming Stick which plugs neatly in to the back of the TV. The Roku 3 is a faster and more powerful device than the stick version, which can be a tad slow at times. If you don’t mind having a box visible I’d recommend the Roku 3, but both work well so it’s really a matter of preference.

Apple TV

Apple TV Logo

Like all devices Apple makes, the Apple TV features a very pretty and user friendly interface and gives you access to many popular channels like Netflix and Hulu and if you’re looking to use your iPhone/iPad to stream content, pictures or videos to your TV or if you have iTunes content you want to watch then this is a good bet. At the moment the Apple TV will cost you around $100.

There are a few services conspicuously absent from the list including Sling TV (coming soon) and Amazon Prime (not likely coming soon). The Apple TV hardware has also not been updated in a while so it may be outdated sooner than later if they release a new version. There is also no streaming stick version available for Apple TV at this time.

Amazon Fire TV

Fire TV logo

Like Roku the Fire TV comes in both the Fire Cube (set top) and Fire TV Stick. The Fire TV is a very fast device that works very well, but it steers users toward the Amazon Prime Instant Video services while tucking most other services off in to the apps section.

That said, almost all popular streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Sling TV (see our comprehensive Sling TV review) are available and work well with the device. If you’re an Amazon power user then this is a great device for you, but it also works well for most other services.

Google Chromecast

Chromecast logo

If you’re looking to stream content from your phone, tablet or computer then the Google Chromecast is a good option for you. Besides the low price ($25-50) Chromecast is a relatively simple plug and play stick that is easy to install and use, but if you’re planning on being a full time streamer it’s a little light weight.


How Do I Connect My Player To My TV?

Connecting your media player is a really easy process. All of them connect your device to your TV via a HDMI cable or in the HDMI port itself if you’re using a stick. Once you’re connected just plug it in to the wall and connect it to the internet either via cable or WiFi connection and you’re done. The process varies slightly by device but all of them can be set up within a matter of minutes even if you’re not the tech savvy type.

Please note that some devices don’t come with an HDMI cable, so you’ll want to make sure you have one handy unless you’re using a stick device. HDMI cables are all basically the same and are fairly cheap. They can be purchased at Amazon or at nearly any electronics store or department store.

What Streaming Services Can I Use?

Now that you’ve chosen a streaming media player, it’s time to give yourself something to watch. As I mentioned there are literally thousands of options to choose from – some free and some paid – but we’ll focus on the most popular services for now.

Netflix

Netflix logo

When it comes to streaming video Netflix is usually the first name that comes to mind, and with good reason. With a huge selection of movies and TV shows – including their own House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black, Netflix is the standard bearer among streaming services. The service runs for $8.99 a month (with additional options for premium channels and/or DVD delivery) for unlimited streaming of everything in their catalog. If you want to test out their service you can get a free 30 day trial.

Amazon Prime Instant Video

Amazon Prime Instant Video logo

Amazon offers their own Netflix-like service as well in Amazon Prime Instant Video which includes not only their own catalog of movies and shows, but it also includes free two day shipping for all qualified Amazon purchases. Amazon charges $119 per year for their service, which works out to $9.92 a month – right in line with Netflix. If you want to test it out Amazon will give you a free 30 day trial.

Hulu Plus

Hulu logo

While Netflix and Amazon offer streaming movies and TV shows around their DVD release date, Hulu Plus offers many current TV shows as soon as one day after original air date. They have a wide variety of popular TV shows including many on Fox, ABC, NBC and FX, among others. Hulu Plus currently costs $7.99 a month. (Please note that Hulu does not offer all network shows on their service so I would recommend testing it out before cutting the cable cord.) You can test out Hulu Plus for 7 days.

Sling TV

Sling TV logo

The Dish Network backed newcomer Sling TV is taking the streaming industry by storm, by offering a limited selection of live streaming cable channels like ESPN, ESPN2, HGTV, Food Network, ABC Family, Disney Channel and a few others for just $20 a month with no contract with a free 7 day trial period.

We’ve been testing Sling since it’s public release and I have to say it’s worked very well and while there have been a couple of very minor hiccups and it’s worked extremely well overall. Be sure to check out our full Sling TV review for a more comprehensive review.

Philo TV

If Sling TV or similar competitors are too expensive, Philo TV may be more your speed. Philo offers many of the most popular TV channels for a mere $20 a month. In our testing we found Philo to be very smooth – even better than many of its competitors at twice the price – and offered a lot of channels for the price. The downside is that Philo doesn’t offer sports channels, but if that doesn’t apply to you then they’re probably the best deal in streaming. For more information on our testing be sure to check out our full Philo TV review.

MLB.tv

a baseball game

If you’re a baseball fan who loves to watch games for every major league team on your TV, phone, tablet or computer then MLB.tv is a service for you. You can watch streaming MLB games in HD and even pause and rewind. I’ve used the service for years and like it a lot.

The service runs around $130 per season, which is about $40 less than most cable companies charge. Instead of a free trial period MLB.tv offers a free game of the day on most days throughout the season so feel free to pop in and check it out for yourself.

The only issue is teams in your local broadcast area are blacked out. If you’re a fan of a team from another area like I am it’s not an issue but if you are it might not be an ideal fit.

Other Streaming Options – There are literally thousands of choices for streaming content so we can’t list them all, but other popular options include:

Kids programming – PBS Kids, Sesame Street Go

Movies and TV – HBO Go (coming soon), Vudu, Crackle, RedBox

Sports – NBA League Pass, NHL GameCenter Live, WWE Network

Connecting Your Player With Your Device

Once you’ve signed up for a service you’ll need to connect it with your streaming media player to get the content on your TV. Most of the media players already have an app for the popular services, but if you don’t see it follow your device’s instructions to add it in. Be sure your player and service are compatible to avoid any issues (ie… Amazon Prime and Apple TV are not compatible).

When you log in to a service for the first time on your player, you may be asked to log in via one of two methods – with your username/password on screen or sync via a website.

If you need to sync via a website your device will ask you to visit their login website and enter a code specific to your advice (which will be displayed on screen). When you enter the code your device should refresh and you’ll have full access to their content library. Fortunately you should only need to do this once per device unless you reset the device.

How Do I DVR My Shows?

One of the biggest concerns most people have about cutting the cable cord is about DVR’ing their favorite shows. Depending on which shows you watch you may not need to DVR since services like Hulu Plus offer shows on demand, but there are a few options to DVR over the air programming. Please note that I haven’t tested these services yet as we elected to go without DVR so if you have any feedback on them please leave it in the comments!

TiVo Roamio

TiVo logo

TiVo is the biggest name in DVR and fortunately for cable cutters the Roamio device offers over the air (OTA) recording for $15 a month. This gives you access to TiVo’s on screen guide, and the ability to schedule shows to record.

There are two Roamio devices you can use for OTA DVR. The standard Roamio box runs around $180 and lets you record 4 shows at once up to 75 hours of programming. This box also lets you record through regular cable/dish services as well. TiVo also recently released a $50 OTA only version of their device for cord cutters that lets you record 75 hours of shows.

The drawback to the Roamio is that it is only available on the one box unless you buy a TiVo Mini to extend it to other rooms. You will also need to pay an additional fee on top of the $15 a month to do this. Otherwise I’ve heard nothing but great things about the service.

Tablo DVR

Tablo DVR logo

Another option for over the air DVR is the Tablo TV DVR service. The Tablo has a lower monthly fee than the Roamio at just $5 a month but it requires more up front expense as the unit runs for around $200 for the 2-Tuner device or $300 for the 4-Tuner device plus you need to supply your own external hard drive for the device. If you don’t want to pay for their $5 guide you can use the device without it, but it will function like the old VCR’s did where you record from a start time to end time and that’s it.

If you aren’t sure whether or not you’ll need a DVR service I would recommend making a list of shows that you watch and then look in to how many of those shows are available on demand from a service like Hulu Plus, or if you don’t mind waiting a year or so on a service like Netflix or Amazon Prime. We elected to go without a DVR for now, but we may choose to add one in the future.


The Best Is Yet To Come

Although streaming entertainment is still in it’s infancy, it’s clearly the wave of the future. The number of cable cutters are growing every day and the cable/dish providers know it which is why they’re fighting it so hard. Fortunately for us the number of available a la carte TV option is growing every day with services like HBO Go on the way in the very near future. So if you’re sick of spending $100-200 every month for cable you barely watch why not cut the cable and use that money for something better?

21 thoughts on “How To Cut The Cable Cord (in 2021)”

  1. My husband and I are so very grateful for instructions on how to cut cable. This decision, to cut cable, feels so right. The instructions are clear and very understandable, which is rare, in my opinion, for tech installations. Kudos to the writer. These instructions answer and anticipate almost any questions you might have. Thanks so much. Let the cable and satellite companies be very scared!

    1. Thank you for the nice words Brenda! We’ve been rid of cable for about 4 months now and there hasn’t been a single time where we missed having it (especially the bill!) If you have any questions about it feel free to post them here and we’re happy to help!

  2. i want to cut cable so bad, but my cable company has the best internet service. My phone is also tied up in the bundle. What internet service do you use?

    1. You should be able to split the bundle out separately. We have Time Warner in our area so we just pay for the internet (roughly $50 a month). We just use our cell phones instead of a phone service and stream the rest. They’ll try to get you to stay with the bundle but you definitely should be able to break it apart.

  3. thank you for this invaluable information; I have been thinking for a long time about cutting the cable and you have just given me new inspiration; I did notice in your article that you had to purchase several streaming packages in order to get the content you wanted (for example MLBtv @ $130 season)
    how much did you spend on cable in the past and how much do you spend now without using cable?
    if you don’t mind my asking

    Thank You !!

    1. We used to pay $161 a month… just the basic package plus boxes/remotes and all the other nickel and dime stuff they charge for. Now we just have Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video (which is included with the Prime shipping membership). The total of those three are around $25 so we’re saving around $136 a month.

      As far as the baseball it saves money as well because we used to pay $200 for the season so I could watch my Pirates but MLB.tv only costs around $130 a season.

  4. I’ve recently cut the cord and am saving about $1k per year. I have Amazon Prime, Amazon Firestick, Netflix and Hulu+. I’ve had Amazon Prime for a long time so I don’t even think of that as one of my TV expenses. I don’t have an antennae yet, so the thing I miss is having a TV on in the background unless I intentionally put something on as background noise….usually Pandora. I have found, if I can’t watch it, I don’t miss it. I’ve just recently purchased an additional Firestick for my bedroom tv.

    1. Sounds exactly like us, we had Prime for the longest time and didn’t even realize it had a TV component. The reason we cut the cable originally was we realized if it wasn’t shows for the kids we just had it on as background noise (usually HGTV for us) but Pandora is a great idea. Antennas are really cheap and as long as you live within a reasonable range of a TV station it comes in amazingly.

  5. Hi Jeff,

    You’re right this is very easy guide to do. It can lessen the expenses and sometimes there are channels in cable that you don’t usually watch or for me not necessary. I only watch 3 to 4 channels and using antenna can cover the reception with those channels. So this is really cool!

  6. 🔌🔌😀

    Cutting the Cable Cord?

    We accomplished this a few years ago. We were spending roughly $300 per month on cable when they moved to a more on demand television. The “free” movies were a total joke. I tried the HD Antenna route but it just didn’t reach far enough to get any real channels. So what was I to do?

    I decided to just take a leap. First I cancelled cable but still had to keep the internet at $50 per month. Only internet in our area was from the cable company, blah. I then slowly tested streaming services to find the best. Live TV was a bit of a challenge but we settled on a $39 per month Hulu subscription with the addition of a Roku Box which is a one time $80 cost. (No Monthly fee) Roku coupled with a Hulu sunscription gives you access to on demand news, sports, tv, and much more in the apps they offer as part of the one time fee. I then added a $8 per month Netflix subscription. These two services gave me the live TV and more recorded shows than I can ever watch.

    What I was missing was new release movies like I use to rent on on demand. That is where Amazon came in. I already had a yearly subscription with Prime at $180 roughly per year (again no monthly fee) for free shipping and access to prime pantry. Amazon Prime Video offers free movies, TV, and all the On Demand Movie Rentals and Purchases you could ever want. So all in $180 per month saved me $120 per month and I believe I have access to a ton more than I ever had with Comcast. You have to just go for it. You can always go back and get your cable service back if you absolutely hate it. It takes a little getting used to but now it is normalized for my household. We Cut The Cord and are loving it. You can too. And we saved hundreds per month doing it. Best of luck cord cutters.

  7. Boy, now I am totally confused. My local cable company with a few certain channels and internet is costing me approximately $130 a month. Of course I’m on Social Security to fixed income and I just cannot afford that any longer. I have two smart TVs one of them shows Roku and Netflix and YouTube and all the different stations are channels. So what I want is I would like to be able to watch the local channels 4 local news, the only cable for say channels I watch our HGTV oh, Food Channel, Annie TLC. I I do like the Wi-Fi and internet for my computer and also I go on Facebook and look at videos and things of that nature on Facebook. I do not watch sports per say, I don’t watch a lot of movies. So please if you can let me know what I need to get thank you

    1. Hi Helen! It definitely can be confusing at first, but we’ll help you get it straightened out. Fortunately you have a smart TV with Roku so you shouldn’t need much more equipment.

      You’ll definitely want to keep your internet subscription with your cable provider because none of the streaming services will work without it.

      The first thing I would recommend is looking in to a live TV streaming service to get your channels. Here are a few good options…

      YouTube TV ($65 / mo)
      Hulu with Live TV ($55 / mo)
      Sling TV (between $30-45 / mo)
      Philo TV ($20/mo)

      All of these services work well, so it really comes down to which channels you’re looking for. YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV include local channels, but the other two don’t. You can still get local channels with an antenna though (more on that in a minute).

      All four services have free trials so it may be a good idea to give them a try before canceling your cable, just to make sure you like them.

      Philo TV is one option that might work really well for you. It’s much cheaper than the others because it has a smaller number of channels, BUT all of the channels you listed in your comment are included so it may be a great fit. It doesn’t have local channels like I mentioned but an antenna will fix that.

      If you wanted to give them a try you can get a 7 day free trial here – https://stayingfrugal.com/philo-trial (just don’t forget to cancel before the trial is up if you don’t like it).

      Using an HD Antenna for local channels (skip this step if you choose YouTube TV or Hulu)

      Local channels are actually still free over the air in most areas. You just need an HD antenna instead of “rabbit ears” now. They cost around $20 usually, and any brand will do… we just use a cheap Amazon branded one at my house. You can find a bunch here – https://amzn.to/39CwZ8T

      If you wanted to try this all you need to do is get an HD antenna and screw it in to the coaxial port on your TV (where the cable used to connect) and place the antenna in, or near a window. Then just set your TV input to “antenna” with your remote. The first time you do it, you may need to do a “channel scan” so the TV knows which channels are available to you, but you should only have to do that once.

      (A quick note — If you happen to live far away from your local TV stations, or you have a lot of buildings or mountains that could cause interference, an antenna may not work)

      Hopefully this helps, if it doesn’t feel free to ask, I’m happy to lend a hand!

  8. concern i have to ask about is this. I supposedly have high speed internet thru Att which honestly doesnt seem too high speed at all. I will be on the computer with the TVs on when i cut the cord———-will streaming TV via the player thru my internet slow down my internet speed working on the computer even more ( ie reduce bandwith) cause i couldnt have that?

    1. Hi Barry,

      Streaming your TV will definitely slow down your bandwidth on your computer, especially if they are both wifi. What I would recommend is using a speed test tool such as Fast.com to see what your speeds are (there are others but Fast is run by Netflix so it’s a good gauge of your streaming speed). A good rule of thumb is around 5mbps per streaming device, but faster is always better.

      Another thing to remember is Wifi speeds can vary dramatically depending on how far your devices are from the router, if there are any walls or interference between them, etc. When possible plug in your devices with an ethernet cable for maximum speed.

      Hopefully this helps!

  9. Thank you for this article Mr. Williamson. I am an older adult but I am willing to give this a try. Keeping my fingers crossed that I get it right. Hopefully I will have you to answer the questions that do come up. I appreciate your help and ideas.

    1. You’re very welcome Maryellen, I’m glad to help! If you have questions I’m happy to try to help with them, or at least point you to someone who can.

      If I can make a suggestion – try setting things up before canceling your cable so you can be sure it’s working before you shut things off. That’s what we did in our house and it helped me feel much more confident in our decision.

  10. Hello,
    Thank you for the instructions. I’m going to cut the cord as I’m paying almost $200 per month for cable. I have a Fire TV that I purchased last year and love it. I can receive several streaming services through the Apps on the TV. My question: Do I need to do anything else other than subscribe to the streaming platforms? I already have Amazon Prime, Netflix and a few other streaming platforms through Amazon TV.

    1. Hi Shana,

      Fire TV is a great device, especially if you like Amazon Prime’s content. Aside from an internet connection you don’t need anything else necessarily. With Netflix and Prime you’ll get on demand content, but not live cable channels though. You can get local channels over the air with an HD antenna (in most areas), but if you needed to watch any cable channels live you’ll need a service like YouTube TV or Sling. My family went years without live cable and didn’t really miss it. If we need to watch anything we just subscribe for the month and cancel when it’s done.

      I would also recommend testing anything you think you might need before you cancel your cable just to be safe, but it sounds like you’re in great shape with it already.

      Hope this helps!

      Jeff

  11. You should charge for your services! This is the best article I have read on the subject. I do have a question if you don’t mind. Since there are some channels we do want to keep (news, HGTV, History, etc.), I am leaning towards Sling. We also have smart tvs. Do we then also need a Roku type device? That is where I am getting confused. On top of a ridiculous cable bill, we subscribe to Netflix, Prime, Hulu, Starz, PBS, Disney and MLB. We watch all of these just on on our smart tvs (and occasionally on our ipads/chromebook, etc). I stay up on local news by reading via their apps, but may get them from Sling since I am near a large city right? Superbowl may or may not be important but if you have thoughts on that too, I’d be grateful. Main question is, do I need a Roku stick with Sling and Smart TVs? THANK YOU!

    1. Hi Marly, thank you for the kind words! We’re glad you found it helpful.

      If you already have a smart TV you most likely won’t need a Roku (or any other smart device) since most of the apps you need should already be built in. I say “most likely” though because the available apps on smart TVs can differ from brand to brand. That said, most Smart TV’s have the popular services (Netflix, Amazon, Sling, Disney, etc) already built in.

      Just to be on the safe side I would recommend testing things out before cutting the cable. If you’re missing any services on your TV you also have the option of using a Roku or another device if you want to, it’s just not required.

      Hopefully this is helpful, if you have any other questions please feel free to ask… happy to help!

      Jeff

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