Roku 3
Roku 3 is my pick for the best streaming box.

My friend Stephen wrote to me asking recommendations for cutting cable. Based on his description of his family’s viewing habits, he seems to be the ideal candidate. You also might be an ideal candidate. Besides viewing habits, location, services and technology are also considerations when deciding to tell the cable company to take a hike before it gives you a hike.

Viewing habits, of course, are the ultimate factor. If you don’t watch a lot of television, only popular shows and the main networks, you could be a prime candidate to cut the cord. This is especially true if you live in an urban area and can easily receive HDTV signals over the air.

Content services

Hulu Plus ($7.99 a month), Amazon Instant Video (prices vary on ala carte purchases), Netflix (streaming plan is $7.99 a month) are essential. You will find the latest popular TV episodes on Hulu and Amazon. Netflix still have the largest on-demand library, including past seasons of popular shows like Breaking Bad. Spring for Amazon Prime ($79 a year) for access to that company’s instant movie and TV library. Pay attention, though, to the number of devices you can connect and simultaneously stream from each service.

Technology

Popular streaming options are AppleTV, Roku, Xbox, “smart” TVs, internet-connected blu-ray players and TiVo DVRs. Indy Gadgetguy has had them all. I currently favor Roku and AppleTV. The family just acquired a Samsung SmartTV that is impressive. Roku (under $100) has the largest selection of streaming services and a slick interface. I also like my AppleTV ($99) because of the slick interface, movie rentals, and integration with my iTunes media and Apple devices. It lacks Amazon services, though. Bonus: Current Macs can stream to the AppleTV using AirPlay. My top recommendation is Roku.

Recording

The majority of streamers do not have digital video recording capabilities. You will need a TiVo for that. Prices are inexpensive, but there is a $20 monthly fee. The entry Tivo Premier (about $150) can be hooked to an antennae to snag analog and over the air HD signals. It also has Amazon, Netflix and Hulu services built-in. If you want one box to help you cut the cable, this is my top recommendation.

But not for my family

Our own family situation isn’t ideal for cutting cable. My wife is fond of HGTV shows and I like documentaries on The Science Channel. Both have sparse online content offerings, so we subscribe to DirectTV. The monthly bill runs around $170 a month, but that’s a good value for what we get. We’re too far away from Indianapolis to receive HDTV over-the-air signals without a large tower. We also enjoy the superior HD picture quality on our media room’s 120-inch LCD projector screen.

I’ve been impressed with DirecTV’s DVR technology (we have two networked together so we can watch anywhere) and have access to many movie channels. The DirectTV iPad/iPhone apps are especially nice for viewing content at home away from a TV. The sat service’s online web portal is great for finding and scheduling content and additional information in the forums. Nomad – DirectTV’s little box which allows recorded content to be place-shifted – needs more work to make it practical, though.

Conclusion

Still, $170 a month could fund a lot of streaming subscriptions and online movie and TV rentals and purchases.

Published by Scott Davis

Former newspaper journalist, now government webmaster. Life-long geek.