Cord-Cutting: Hardware

Whether you want a standalone, all-in-one box or are just looking to maximize the benefits of your existing platform(s), this is the place to start for a comprehensive cord-cutting solution!
Updated August 2016

Device Cellular Streaming Unlimited Storage Portable Nice User Interface Low(er) Price Channels & Apps Easy Setup
Amazon Fire Stick      
Amazon Fire TV        
Antenna            
Apple TV    
Computer        
Chromecast      
iPhone/iPad    
PS3            
PS4        
Roku        
Roku Stick      
Samsung Galaxy      
Slingbox        
Surface tablet            
Tablo OTA DVR            
TiVo Bolt      
TiVo Roamio OTA      
Wii        
XBox One          

Amazon Fire Stick

Compared to its bigger brother, this little guy is slightly underpowered, with a slower speed and smaller storage capacity. But it can still do everything the Fire TV can, and at $39.99, it's less than half the price.

Pros

  • Access to all of the major streaming portals (including Amazon’s competitors) like Netflix, Crackle, and HBO Now
  • Integrated voice search in addition to the traditional search option
  • Internal storage
  • Gaming functionality
  • Tiny form-factor

Cons

  • Interface lags compared to the Fire TV

Amazon Fire TV

Fire TV is Amazon’s entry into the streaming entertainment-box arms race, and it's pretty formidable. With 8GB of storage (for gaming, which the box also offers to a degree) and integrated voice search, it’s got some sleek bells and whistles. Is it enough to make you replace your Roku or Apple TV? Probably not yet, but at $99.99, it’s an excellent entry-level device for those who’ve held off.

Pros

  • Access to all of the major streaming portals (including Amazon’s competitors) like Netflix, Crackle, and HBO Now
  • Integrated voice search in addition to the traditional search option
  • Internal storage, plus a microSD card slot that supports up to 128GB
  • Gaming functionality

Cons

  • 8GB of internal storage may not be enough for a serious gamer, so microSD cards (sold separately) would be a must

Antenna with Digital Converter

This cord-cutting solution actually pre-dates cords! Yep, it's the original, time-tested solution, but it's also limited to over-the-air channels. It's the least comprehensive option on the list, but on the whole, it's a safe way to supplement your other platforms.

Pros

  • Access to all over-the-air channels within range
  • Most boxes offer electronic programming guides
  • Some boxes offer DVR-like capabilities

Cons

  • Programming completely dependent on availability of broadcast signal
  • Nothing is available on demand (don't let the box fool you)

Apple TV

Apple's foray into the streaming entertainment world fits with their aesthetic and provides a high-quality experience — assuming you want to stay within the Apple ecosystem.

Pros

  • Seamless syncing with all other Apple products through AirPlay
  • Entertainment downloaded for your iPhone can be viewed on Apple TV
  • Top-notch user interface
  • Siri voice search included via remote control
  • Access to the iTunes Store
  • Dedicated App Store has opened up the possibility for more third-party apps

Cons

  • Still no real app for Amazon Video
  • New to developers, the current selection of apps is limited

Generic Laptop/Desktop Computer

PCs powered by media center software such as XMBC, Windows Media Center, etc. are an amazing option for hardcore do-it-yourselfers who want more power and the ability to do more with their entertainment.

Pros

  • Capable of doing everything — watching, surfing, gaming, ripping, downloading, and much more
  • Virtually unlimited storage capacity
  • Virtually unlimited performance

Cons

  • Generally power on more slowly as they have to load far more software
  • A lot more setup time
  • More expensive than specialty boxes
  • Requires more advanced users to setup and operate
  • Not as travel-friendly as other options

Google Chromecast

It's one of the smallest and most buzzworthy entries into the streaming hardware field. An HDMI dongle from Google (almost certainly designed to wipe away the stinker that was Google TV), it comes with a few of the standard channels (like Netflix), but the really exciting part is the ability to throw what you're watching in your web browser to your television for HD display (with full audio).

Pros

  • Ridiculously affordable option
  • Supports seamless streaming for YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, and more
  • HD screen mirroring on web pages
  • No HDMI cord required

Cons

  • Requires a power source (unless your TV has a powered HDMI port)
  • May not be compatible with all web streaming services
  • You will need an existing smartphone, tablet, or laptop to use it

iPhone/iPad

The OG mobile entertainment hardware, iOS devices have an intuitive interface that syncs seamlessly to all other Apple devices and allows the purchase and download of music, shows, movies.

Pros

  • Seamless syncing with all other Apple products through AirPlay
  • Entertainment downloaded for your iPhone can be viewed on Apple TV
  • Top-notch user interface
  • Retina display
  • Largest number of apps available of any mobile device

Cons

  • Streaming video is dependent on data speeds available in your area
  • Proprietary charger
  • No expandable storage or removable battery

PlayStation 3

With a built-in media center, enabling streaming entertainment on the PS3 is fairly simple, but it does require some hacking to get the best possible experience. If you already have one, there's no need to invest in a companion box, but unless you're big on PlayStation games, there's no reason to choose it over other devices.

Pros

  • A sleek interface with a number of available channels (including Netflix)
  • Will upconvert SD frames to HD on DVDs (though not on downloaded or streaming movies)
  • The PlayStation store offers a large variety of movies and gaming content for purchase

Cons

  • Requires specific codecs to watch some downloaded entertainment (which must also be transferred to the device's hard drive or connected via USB)
  • Does not seamlessly integrate with mobile devices

PlayStation 4

Unlike its main competitor, the Xbox One, the PS4 is still primarily a gamer's console. It's not out to co-opt your entire entertainment experience, but to produce the best gaming experience possible. And while its entertainment portal no longer feels like the afterthought (or the exclusive province of those with hacking abilities) that the PS3's was, it actually supports less in the way of removable media than its predecessor.

Pros

  • Improved user interface
  • Standard streaming channels (e.g. Netflix, Hulu) come installed and are available without a PS+ subscription

Cons

  • Gaming is the main focus here, which, depending on your needs, can be a plus, but as far as streaming media is concerned, it doesn’t have anything that cheaper alternatives don’t also have
  • Cannot interface with your cable box
  • No voice command functionality

Roku

Versatile platform with available configurations ranging from entry-level to streamer extraordinaire. Probably the fastest, simplest setup of the non-Apple devices out there.

Pros

  • Choice of boxes at different price points
  • The top-of-the-line Roku 4 supports 4K Ultra HD
  • Channel customization
  • Fast, intuitive setup
  • A more flexible remote control app is also available via iTunes store
  • A robust, integrated search works across all official channels to find content

Cons

  • Limited ability to watch content from your computer
  • No functions other than streaming content (and occasional games)
  • Not all channels available for all models

Roku Stick

Roku is still our all-around favorite in terms of bang for your buck, and while the stick doesn't have every feature the set-top box models do, it has everything that you actually need for a full HD streaming smorgasbord.

Pros

  • Channel customization
  • Tiny form-factor
  • Fast, intuitive setup
  • A more flexible remote control app (which supports voice search) is also available for both iOS and Android devices
  • A robust, integrated search works across all official channels to find content

Cons

  • Remote has buttons for channels you may not actually want/use
  • Unlike with the Roku set-top boxes, there isn't a headphone jack in the remote

Samsung Galaxy Phone/Tablet

Galaxy might be the ultimate mobile media platform with its oversized, beautiful HD screens and its ability to connect wirelessly to televisions through DLNA. Running the Android platform means the majority of mobile streaming apps get developed for it (as with iOS), and additional content can be purchased via the Google Play Store.

Pros

  • Large, full 1080p HD screens
  • Standard micro-USB charger
  • Expandable storage
  • Removable battery
  • Huge variety of apps and entertainment for purchase/download

Cons

  • Streaming video is dependent on data speeds available in your area
  • Not all entertainment apps available for Apple devices are developed for Android

Slingbox

Watch YOUR TV from anywhere with an internet connection with the Slingbox and its SlingPlayer software. You never need to miss a live event — even if you're stuck on a train (or at a wedding!), and all those hours of content on your DVR are available at all times as well, which means you have no excuse not to catch up on Empire.

Pros

  • Watching content you're already paying for when and where you want (no geo-blocking)
  • Free mobile apps
  • No blackouts
  • Multi-device
  • No subscription fees
  • Easy to set up

Cons

  • Box location is dependent on having adequate internet upload speed
  • There is a navigation lag

Surface Tablet

Microsoft has designed the Surface to be adaptable as a tablet or main computer. With multiple configurations and price points available, Surface is one of the more customizable pieces of hardware in the field and the best-in-class Windows tablet.

Pros

  • Flash support (may need to whitelist)
  • Mini DisplayPort
  • Bluetooth/USB support
  • Standard apps (Hulu, Netflix) available
  • Windows Store has various multimedia players
  • Can either sideload, load, or stream content from a NAS

Cons

  • Pro models can be expensive if they are being dedicated to media
  • Finite amount of storage

Tablo OTA DVR

If you're ready to ditch the cable box for the antenna but can't bear to give up your multi-tuner DVR, Tablo can bridge the divide. On the other hand, to actually WATCH content, you need another set-top box (like a Roku or Apple TV), and to store your shows you need an external hard drive.

Pros

  • Connects directly to your digital antenna
  • Comes in 2-tuner and 4-tuner options
  • Watch recorded content from anywhere with the Tablo app for mobile devices

Cons

  • Can't be directly connected to your TV as it requires a separate set-top box with the Tablo app installed to watch recorded content
  • No internal storage; requires external hard drive
  • Extra monthly fee required to access TV guide data

TiVo Bolt

TiVo's sleekest DVR, this box is $299 with a year's subscription included and can handle both cable and OTA programming. A well-priced, easy-to-use option.

Pros

  • Commercials don't exist with SkipMode
  • Supports 4K video
  • QuickMode is the best way to binge-watch in a hurry
  • Powerful app with streaming features

Cons

  • Requires subscription after first year
  • Odd shape could prove annoying for stacking

TiVo Roamio OTA

When you plug an HD antenna directly into your TV, you can watch live TV. But you can’t pause, rewind, or record. What are you, an animal? HD antenna users deserve DVR action, too.

Pros

  • Two-week program guide
  • Searches TV and streaming content simultaneously
  • Includes apps for Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube, and more
  • Compatible with TiVo Mini for multi-room viewing
  • Record up to four shows at once
  • 1 TB of recording capacity equals 150 hours of HD programming
  • No monthly TiVo service fee required (this model comes with lifetime service instead of a subscription fee)

Cons

  • TiVo platform is missing some key streaming services, such as Sling TV and HBO Now
  • Requires the purchase of TiVo Stream to view on mobile devices

Wii

Wii's interface is generally intuitive, and it's a wonderful entry-level video game console-based media center. It has the standard channel offerings (e.g. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon), but doesn't offer the same level of content customization that comes with the more sophisticated PS3 and Xbox One platforms.

Pros

  • Clean interface
  • Standard channel offerings
  • Easy wi-fi set up
  • Minimalist design

Cons

  • Channel offerings not as robust as other platforms
  • More of a gaming center than a media center
  • Unless Wii games hold an appeal, it would be better to go with either a more sophisticated console or a cheaper streaming box (e.g. Roku)

XBox One

The Xbox One is probably the closest thing we have to the holy grail of an all-in-one entertainment console. It's a gaming system that puts TV and streaming media front and center, one in which searching what once seemed like endless screens seems effortless. For non-gamers, it's not the best choice, but for those who want it all, it's the one to get.

Pros

  • Unparalleled multitasking, including the ability to watch both live TV and streaming at the same time
  • Voice commands can be used to change channels, search for programs, etc. through the Kinect interface
  • Standard streaming channels (e.g. Netflix, and Hulu) come installed
  • Access to HBO Now, which PS4 lacks
  • Can interface with a cable box & provides its own listings guide
  • Unified media search across multiple streaming providers
  • Standard streaming channels (e.g. Netflix and Hulu) come installed

Cons

  • Access to standard streaming channels requires an XBox Gold subscription on top of the subscription fees of the channels themselves
  • The console itself is bulky
  • If hooked up to your cable box, the console must be on any time you want to watch TV, which may increase home power consumption
  • Microsoft is still testing its promised OTA DVR function
  • Voice commands may be buggy if there is background noise