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Taming your cable viewing costs

Americans have long had a love affair with TV — me included. But that cable bill that comes every month? Not so much. That's why a few months ago, I decided to cut cable out of my life. It took a little research — and a few weeks convincing my boyfriend we could do it — but it wasn't that hard. Between the Internet, services like Netflix and Hulu and a tiny box called the Roku, we now watch what we want, when we want, for the price we want. And our Bright House bill is now $50 a month as opposed to about $120. Here's a guide to ditching your cable TV — or at least reducing the bill.

Decide if it's really worth it

The best thing about cable is the convenience of always having something — anything — to watch. Getting rid of it makes sense if you watch only a few channels regularly (like me).

But if you're not ready to jump just yet, there's hope. Even though the big cable companies love pushing their bundles, many do offer limited, basic cable service. Bright House, for example, offers very basic service for less than $25, as does Knology. Verizon's DirectTV also offers tiered service that starts pretty low. Beware, however, that some companies will want you to sign a two-year agreement.

Cut the cord

The easiest part. Call your cable company, make arrangements to drop your service and turn in any equipment. Keep your Internet service, or add it if you don't already have it. The $50 I now pay to Bright House is for Internet only.

Get your programming elsewhere

Gone are the days where no cable equals no TV (or just a few channels). You have options — lots of them, actually.

For simplicity's sake, here are the three main avenues to watching your favorite TV shows sans cable. You could probably get by with just one of these methods, but I found that a combination effort works best for my household.

Renting: Both Blockbuster and Netflix offer home delivery of DVDs, starting at $7.99 and $9.99 a month, respectively. My latest obsession has been RedBox — those giant movie-vending-machines that have popped up at supermarkets, convenience stores and gas stations. (Movies for only $1!)

Streaming: With this method, you can stream TV shows, video clips and movies over the Internet to your computer or TV. Netflix and Hulu offer unlimited streaming for $7.99 a month. That's all you'll have to pay if you plan to watch via a computer or tablet. But if you want to watch on your TV, you'll also need either a game console (like Xbox360, PlayStation or Wii), a set-top box (Roku, Apple TV, Boxee, or another device like a Blu-ray player or TiVo.

Websites: Most of the major networks have full episodes of their newest and most popular shows available. And if you're only looking for clips or funny videos, there's always YouTube.

Here's how I did it

Even before I ditched cable, I had already signed up for Netflix and Hulu accounts. My boyfriend also already owned an Xbox360, so we sometimes streamed movies and TV shows through that.

But I didn't want to rely on his game console every time I wanted to watch TV, especially if he was busy playing it. So I started researching set-top boxes. My first instinct was to go for the Apple TV ($99), but I wanted something that would also work on the tube TV we have in the spare bedroom. That led me to the Roku, which comes in three models ($59, $79 and $99) and works on both HD and standard TVs. It also has the bonus of offering hundreds of "channels" and supporting everything from Netflix to Pandora to Flickr. I opted for the $99 model, which came with a nifty remote and some extra connectivity features.

Of course, there are some drawbacks to getting rid of cable. I can't go home after work and turn on the Food Network, because live TV is out. And I may not catch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report when they air late at night, but I can stream them the next morning while getting ready for work because they are on Hulu by then.

Surprisingly enough, this method of watching TV and movies didn't completely eliminate the "surprise" factor you get when just flicking through cable channels. Among the services I've described, there is plenty of content to keep you entertained. And it's updated and expanding constantly.

Put it this way: I haven't gotten bored yet.

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Taming your cable viewing costs 07/29/11 [Last modified: Monday, August 1, 2011 1:21pm]
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