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Cord-Cutting, Unplugged!

A debate is raging with an increasing number of consumers over whether or not they can cut the cable cord. The Washington Post cited a recent survey that found 53 percent of respondents would leave their cable providers if they felt they could, but, 70 percent fear their alternative viewing options are too limited. That fear is largely unjustified. Your favorite shows live outside of your cable box, you just need to know where to look. With a few simple steps, you’ll be ready to cut the cord.

Step 1: Choose a streaming service

Streaming services are a great way to catch popular programs at a fraction of the cost, and you’ll most likely discover some new ones. The only downside to most streaming options is that you may not be able to view things as they air live. But in an era of binge-watching with a TV-on-your-own-time mentality, does it really matter? There are three streaming powerhouses to check out:

Netflix is arguably the king of streaming services with more than 48 million subscribers. Its catalog of content features a myriad of TV shows, movies, and kid-friendly flicks with more being added each month. One of the biggest draws for cord-cutters is the Netflix original programming like the Emmy award-winning, ‘House of Cards,’ and the beloved ‘Orange is the New Black.’

Amazon Prime Instant Video is similar to Netflix but without the original, cable-worthy content. However, HBO rocked the streaming world after ink+ing a deal with Amazon that offered licensing rights to shows like ‘The Sopranos,’ Six Feet Under,’ and older seasons of ‘True Blood.’

Finally, Hulu Plus is ideal for those who cannot wait a few months for their shows to come out on Netflix or Amazon Prime. It focuses on current episodes and past seasons of television series which usually pop up a few days after its original air date.

It’s important to note that many content providers are starting to take notice of cord-cutters, and are offering their programs to non-cable subscribers in different ways. Take a look at Comedy Central’s new app, for example, that features next-day, full episodes of fan-favorites like ‘The Daily Show.’

Step 2: Choose hardware

These streaming services all require at least one piece of hardware, such as:

Apple TV: This set-top box allows you to access services like Netflix with a simple, clean interface. It also has the advantage of cataloging videos and music you’ve bought through iTunes.

Roku: This small box connects to your TV and wireless computer allowing you to watch Hulu, Netflix and other free or paid options.

Chromecast: One of the newest hardware players on the market, Chromecast is a streaming dongle that allows you to throw what you’re watching on your computer to your television in HD.

Amazon Fire TV: It’s another media streaming box that’s easy to navigate and responsive because of powerful hardware. It comes with apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and all things Amazon, of course.

Video Game Consoles: The last couple of versions of the Microsoft Xbox, Sony Playstation, and Nintendo consoles all offer access to one or more streaming services as well as online stores for renting or buying television shows and movies.

Step 3: Choose an over-the-air antenna

Over-the-air (OTA) television signals are available whether you live in a big city or in a quiet suburban town, and an HDTV antenna pulls in those signals, for free. Depending on your location you can typically receive anywhere from 15 to 50 channels including the big networks like ABC, NBC, CBS, Univision.

A recent study by Nielsen found that the average American household with a cable subscription only watches about 9 percent of the channels available to them. Additionally, if you look at Nielsen’s weekly top ten lists, the most-viewed shows are typically on local, broadcast channels (unless it’s basketball playoffs, of course). So, chances are that you watch a lot of broadcast TV, and an antenna will still bring in those programs like CSI, America’s Got Talent, NCIS and more.

Modern antennas do not resemble the bunny ear version you may remember from decades ago. Now, they are developed to match the flat-screen TV with a razor-thin design that can be placed on a window, wall, or even laid out on a table. It’s important to choose an antenna that receives VHF and UHF signals to maximize reception.

Step 4: Call your cable company

If you’re sold on cutting the cord then it’s time to take the final step: canceling your cable subscription. This may be the most pleasurable part of the process as you can finally sever ties with an exorbitant monthly bill putting that cash back into your pocket.

To put this in perspective, let’s crunch the numbers over two years. According to The NPD Group, the average cable bill is $86 a month. That’s $2,064. Now, let’s say you swapped that cable bill for cord-cutting alternatives like Netflix ($9/month), Hulu Plus ($8/month), Apple TV ($100), and a high-end antenna ($90). Your grand total is $598 which means you’ve saved $1,466 over two years. This number does not factor in Internet service which you will need for streaming services.

Grant Whipple is the consumer electronics product manager for Winegard.