When we moved into our new apartment last year, my girlfriend and I made the decision to do away with a cable subscription. At our previous apartment, we were paying over $100 a month on our cable and internet bill. When we moved into our new apartment, we both agreed we could live without cable. We decided to forego a cable subscription and rely solely on the Internet and free network broadcasts to provide entertainment.
Our modest home entertainment system consists of a TV, a DVD player and an Apple TV. This, along with an Internet connection, provides more than enough entertainment for my family, which includes a 4 year old. We have dozens of DVDs but honestly, these rarely ever get taken out of their cases. They are a hassle. You take them out of their cases, (if they even get put back properly), it takes 5 minutes for the DVD player to start up and once you pop it in, you have to sit through 10 minutes of previews and advertisements. That is one of my biggest pet peeves nowadays. Movie studios force you to sit through ads and previews of their other movies when all you want to do is show your 4 year old the movie they requested to watch. Worst of all, trying to skip through them with your remote is disabled. Shame on movie studios. This is why we rarely use our DVD player.
The last piece of our entertainment setup is our Apple TV. The Apple TV is a way for you to rent or purchase movies and TV shows through Apple's iTunes Store. Pricing is anywhere from $3 for renting a single TV show episode to $20 for purchasing a movie that you own and can watch over and over. While this is one way to consume entertainment, the Apple TV also lets you stream content from different services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus. This is how we consume the majority of the shows we watch.
Netflix and Hulu are both similar in that they allow you to stream TV shows and movies. They both cost $7.99/month. They differ mainly in the content they carry. Hulu's library consists of current and back season shows from ABC, Comedy Central, The CW, FOX, NBC, MTV and Univision. Netflix offers shows and movies that are already on DVD as well as some original programming. While both services offer movies and TV shows, I've found through using both that Hulu is good for watching current TV series and Netflix is good for watching movies and old seasons of TV series. The combination of these two services allows us to keep up with current shows with Hulu Plus and enjoy old TV shows and movies with Netflix. We also receive the basic network channels and when we do remember the day and time of the shows we watch, we'll sit down and watch them as scheduled, but with the convenience of services like Hulu Plus, more often than not, we will choose to watch shows at our convenience.
If you're thinking about cutting cable, two things are necessary. Most important is a connection to the Internet. This one is obvious. The second piece is a some sort of media set top box capable of streaming video content from the Internet to your TV. What you choose is entirely up to you. People have used dedicated PCs hooked up to their TVs. While it works, it's not couch friendly. You still need a keyboard and/or mouse to control the computer. The major game consoles are capable of streaming. If you already own an Xbox 360, Playstation 3 or a Wii, you don't need to purchase anything else. These game consoles already have apps built in for accessing Netflix and Hulu. In my opinion, I would recommend media set top box meant to stream Internet video. I use the Apple TV but there are other products out there, the Roku box and Boxee box are the first two to come to mind.
There are a few downsides to cutting cable. One, not all shows are available on streaming services. Namely, CBS is the last of the major cable networks to embrace new technology and makes it very difficult to watch their shows outside of traditional cable or over the air. For example, if you watch How I Met Your Mother, you have to watch it at its regular showing. Also, if you're into sports, watching games live is the biggest hurdle in cutting cable. A lot of games are shown on ESPN or on TBS or TNT and you need a cable subscription to receive those channels.
I believe that the days of cable subscriptions packages are limited. If you find yourself only watching a handful of the hundreds of channels you pay for, and if you're tired of paying for channels you don't watch, canceling your cable subscription and saving hundreds of dollars a year is a great feeling.