This post originally appeared on Techlicious.
Americans across the country—probably even some of your friends and family—have been cutting the cord to cable television (and other pay-TV providers). The why comes down to some pretty simple facts: cable television is pricey, packed with advertisements and, even with the help of TiVo and other DVRs, it’s sometimes still inconvenient to watch our favorite shows when we want to watch them.
However, as cord-cutters have found out, it’s possible to watch a lot of great television right in our living rooms or on the go without paying nearly as much as you might for traditional pay-TV services. All you need is some equipment—which you might have already!—and the know-how to find your favorite shows.
But is it time to cut the cord? Let’s talk over your options to help you come to the right decision for your household.
What Can (& Can’t) I Watch Without Having Cable?
You may be surprised at how much many of your favorite shows can easily be found online for free—or at least for less than you pay for cable. All of the broadcast networks—ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC, and PBS—offer online streaming of most of their shows, though typically shows are only put online the day after they’ve aired on television.
All you need to do in order to watch is fire up your browser, point it to the network’s webpage, and enjoy your favorite shows, whenever you’d like. New episodes are typically available only a few weeks after their original air date on the official sites.
Big live events, like the Oscars and the Super Bowl, can be hit or miss. The Super Bowl was streamed live this year, but the Oscars weren’t. So if you couldn’t hook up an antenna to pull in the over-the-air broadcast, you were out of luck.
A number of cable networks provide limited online access to their shows, without offering options to stream or buy new content. Most notable among these are premium networks like HBO and Showtime, neither of which offer shows in digital format until well after their original air date. But they’re hardly the only holdouts: family-favorite HGTV offers no online programming and the Discovery Channel only offers a mixed bag of programming online.
What About Sports?
If you—or anyone in your family—is a sports fan, getting away from cable television and its myriad sports networks may seem like a problem. But all of the major sporting leagues provide some kind of access to content online, though it may not be the kind of access you want—and, of course, it comes with a price tag.
NFL Game Access
Football fans are limited in that they can only get audio of live games through NFL Game Access, though they can watch games once they’re over in full HD. Prices vary depending on the package and whether or not it’s offseason.
Baseball fans have it made with MLB.TV Premium, which lets them watch all games in HD from your computer, tablet, smartphone or other connected device for $130 a year or $25 a month. The ordinary MLB.TV service only allows watching on computer and restricts the games you can watch, but costs only $110 a year or $20 a month.
NBA League Pass
For the basketball fan, NBA offers a number of League Pass options, which let you stream shows to your computer or mobile device. Though, to complicate matters, these are two separate subscriptions. The exact cost depends on whether you want to watch on your computer or your phone and how many teams you want to follow, but starts at $25 a month.
Hockey fans can get live broadcasts on their television, smartphone or tablet for a scant $50 per season through NHL Game Center.
If you’re interested in college or global sports, you’ll find a limited selection of games on Watch ESPN for free.
Bottom line is if you’re interested in college or minor league sports, well, your options aren’t good. Sorry, sports fans, but if none of the above options fills your viewing needs, staying tied to cable is going to be your best bet.
Is There Anything for the Kids?
For parents, there are some specifically kid-friendly options in the online arena—however, the options are a long way from being comprehensive. We think these are your best family-friendly bets online.
Netflix ($8 per month), the king of online streaming, has a huge catalog of family-friendly movies and children’s entertainment—including lots of options from Disney due to a recently inked deal—but it also has a special “Just for Kids” section that you can choose to enter when you launch Netflix. This section shows off only kid-friendly content without letting the little ones wander into anything that might be inappropriate. And we definitely love the way Netflix lets us watch shows without any kind of advertising.
If you’re not in the “Just for Kids” section—say, you have older children or teenagers—the service also offers parental controls that allow parents to block content over a certain rating, preventing it from being displayed in searches or recommendations, added to viewing queues or being watched. On the downside, however, the parental control settings apply to the entire account: so if Mom and Dad decide to watch an R-rated action movie after the kids have gone to bed, they have to change the parental control settings and then remember to change them back.
Unlike Netflix, Ameba TV ($4 a month) is designed just for kids. The online network offers thousands of shows for children aged 3 to 12, and you won’t find anything inappropriate here. Ameba can be easily watched online, but you can also get it in your living room if you have an LG Smart TV, Roku, or Google TV.
We’re sure that you and your kids love the educational shows on PBS—and fortunately, they’re all very easy to watch on the PBS website, free of charge. However, if you want to watch content on your television, it’s not so easy: some programming is available on Netflix (Sesame Street is notable), but it’s a mixed bag.
So before you cut the cord, do your homework: look into any show you can’t live without watching and then decide whether or not ditching cable is a good option for you.