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SideReel's Guide to Cord-Cutting

Hardware

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

Device Cellular Streaming Unlimited Storage Portable Nice User Interface Low(er) Price Channels & Apps Easy Setup
Apple TV      
Antenna            
Samsung Galaxy      
Laptop/Desktop        
iPhone/iPad    
PlayStation            
Roku          
Surface tablet            
Wii        
XBox 360      
Slingbox        
Chromecast      
Smart Stick          
Roamio        
PS4        
XBox One          

Apple TV

Apple's foray into the 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

Cons

  • Have to convert all your media to mp4 file format
  • Can sync with TimeCapsule/NAS and access entire video library, but to enable sharing you need another Mac that's on all the time
  • Must choose from channels that have partnered with Apple

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 capabilites

Cons

  • Programming completely dependent on availability of brodacast signal
  • Nothing is available on demand

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 phones and tablets are developed for Android

Generic Laptop/Desktop Computer

PC's powered by media center software such as XMBC, Windows Media Center, etc. are an amazing option for hard-core do-it-yourselfers that 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

iPhone/iPad

The OG mobile entertainment hardware, iOS devices have an intuitive interface that syncs seamlessly to all other Apple devices, and allow the purchase and download of music, shows, movies — and boasts an unparalleled number of media apps.

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

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
  • 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

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
  • Sony's Video Unlimited store offers an incredibly robust search capability

Cons

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

Surface Tablet

One of the newer arrivals on the scene, Microsoft has designed the Surface tablet 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.

Pros

  • Flash support (may need to whitelist)
  • HDMI output (via dongle)
  • Bluetooth/USB support
  • Standard: Hulu, Netflix apps available
  • App store has various multimedia players
  • Can either sideload, load, or stream content from a NAS

Cons

  • May just want to upgrade to the Surface Pro/get a full blown laptop with Windows 8
  • Pro/Win 8 models can be expensive if they are being dedicated to media
  • Finite amount of storage

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 (eg Netflix, Hulu+, Amazon), but doesn't offer the same level of content customization that comes with the more sophisticated PS3 and Xbox 360 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 360

Xbox's entertainment platform is one of the slickest out there. With multiple channels, Kinect add-ons, and Microsoft's media software, and a clean, sleek user interface, it's the best gaming console/entertainment center hybrid out there.

Pros

  • Integrative Microsoft platform works wirelessly with Windows computers
  • Beautiful user interface
  • Large channel selection
  • Multiple movie purchase/download options
  • Xbox Live social network
  • Expandable storage

Cons

  • It has a higher entry price point than other comparable platforms
  • Some Microsoft features require paid subscriptions
  • Kinect hardware is not included and must be purchased separately

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 Mad Men.

Pros

  • Watching content you're already paying for
  • No blackouts
  • Multi-device
  • No subscription fees
  • Easy to set up

Cons

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

Google Chromecast

It's the smallest, newest, & most buzzworthy entry 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 of choice to your television for HD display (with full audio).

Pros

  • Lowest price of any comparable service
  • Supports seamless streaming for YouTube, Netflix, Hulu+, and HBO Go.
  • HD screen mirroring on web pages
  • No HDMI cord required (though an extender is included, should you choose to use it to hide the dongle)

Cons

  • Requires a power source (unless your TV has a powered HDMI port)
  • May not be compatible with all web streaming services
  • No support for basic Hulu streaming

Sony's Bravia Smart Stick

Sony's Bravia Smart Stick is basically a (high-priced) white label Google TV dongle for those already in the Bravia ecosystem. It comes loaded with Google TV's software, 8GB of memory (if you want to store media on it), and all of the main streaming channels.

Pros

  • 8GB of memory included, making it one of the few streaming devices to allow storage
  • Works with Bravia's voice-activated remote
  • Integrates with cable/satellite provider, removing the need to switch inputs
  • With picture-in-picture, you can surf the web and watch TV on the same screen

Cons

  • At $150, it's one of the highest-priced single-use devices out there
  • Can only be used with newer Sony Bravia television sets
  • Despite the Google infrastructure, does not have the versatile functionality of Chromecast

TiVo Roamio

With its Roamio line, TiVo is trying to be the only device you need for all of your video entertainment needs — but that definitely comes at a price. It's $199 for the entry level box, plus an add-on to support Roamio's much-touted ability to stream to mobile devices. For built-in streaming support (which requires a digital cable connection), be prepared to shell out anywhere from $399-$599.

Pros

  • Combines the functionality of a DVR, Slingbox, and standalone streaming devices
  • No need to switch inputs when you want to stream a program
  • Recorded OR live programs can be streamed remotely over wi-fi

Cons

  • $15/month fee or $500 lifetime subscription
  • Streaming over wifi can be difficult and/or produce low quality video
  • Plus & Pro don't support HD antennae, only digital cable
  • Entry level box doesn't allow you to stream programs w/o the TiVo Stream add-on box.
  • Premium networks (e.g. HBO) can't be streamed over wifi

XBox One

The XBox One is probably the closest thing we currently have to the holy grail of an all-in-one entertainment console. It's a gaming system that puts television and streaming media front and center, one in which searching what once seemed like endless screens seem effortless. For non-gamers, it's far from our first 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 (eg Netflix, and Hulu+) come installed
  • Can interface with a cable box & provides its own listings guide
  • Unified media search across multiple streaming providers

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
  • No DVR functionality
  • Voice commands may be buggy if there is background noise

PlayStation 4

Unlike its main competitor, the XBox One, the PS4 is still primarily a gamer's entertainment console. It's not out to coopt 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 (eg Netflix, Hulu+) come installed and are available without a PS+ subscription
  • As a gaming/streaming console, cheaper than its main competitor, the XBox One

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

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