Streaming or Cable? Last thoughts

As part of my evaluation of streaming to replace cable (see my previous three posts), I purchased a Roku stick and remote kit ($40) and signed up for a month of YouTube TV for $50. The Roku was easy to set up – I just plugged it into a vacant HDMI port on the back of my ten-year old Pioneer HDTV and connected its power cable to an AC outlet. Instructions then appeared on the screen and took me thru a simple setup to connect to my WiFi network and set the remote to work with my TV.

Roku is plugged into Input 3 and my cable/TiVo is connected to Input 1. By switching between the two inputs, I’ve been comparing the two services. Not surprisingly there’s no difference among the major channels: the same program at the same time with the same clarity. Occasionally, the commercials differ.

With each system I’m able to pause live TV and record programs for viewing later.  The cable service, of course, requires using my TiVo for that. With YouTube TV it’s in the cloud. On YouTube TV I can also view many live programs starting from the beginning, even though the program may have begun some time earlier. With TiVo that only works on the channel you’re set to.

The other big difference is the remote control. Roku’s is very basic and much less versatile than my TiVo remote. Four of its buttons are dedicated to four services, three of which I’ll never use, apparently paid for by the streaming providers. And with streaming forget the idea of channel numbers. They no longer exist.

Another difference is how you select the shows to record and then access the list of those you’ve recorded for viewing later. TiVo (and most DVRs) makes it easy to just scan a list of your programs. But YouTube TV requires you to look at an array of thumbnails of programs that are are not in the order recorded, and then click into each to select an episode.

One reader asked about access to sports programming on streaming services and whether there are local blackouts. YouTube TV says there may be blackouts based on where you live, based on the arrangements made with local networks. In other words, it’s hard to get a definite answer, but you can subscribe to sports channels just as you do with your cable. One of the advantages of streaming over cable is you can search for the channels, sign up and cancel on your own. No need to figure out the packages offered by the cable companies.

So is it cable or streaming? Keep your cable or go with a streaming service using a Roku and YouTube TV (or their equivalent) for watching live TV?

I’ve reached the conclusion that there’s no best answer for everyone.   If you consume mostly movies, classic TV shows, and are willing to forgo live TV or are satisfied with subscribing to just one national channel, such as CBS, then go with streaming. It’s a lot cheaper, especially if you avoid subscribing to a full complement of live broadcasts.

The other reason you may want to select streaming is you can share your live TV subscription with a friend or relative and cut your $50 monthly subscription cost in half. Or trade your Netflix password for their YouTube TV or Hulu TV. Most of these services let you watch simultaneously on three screens. Each user can also configure their personal preferences.

For those that spend a large part of the year in a second home or do a lot of traveling, then streaming offers two advantages: it’s easy to take your service to another location or turn off the service when you are away from home for more than a few months.

As I explored the new streaming services, one thing has become clear: Streaming is the future and cable is past. Eventually we’ll all be streaming. Streaming eliminates the DVRs, the physical hookups, the cable cards and all the associated overhead and in-home service. Streaming is as simple as connecting to the Internet and does most things in the cloud or using software. With streaming, content is easier to access wherever you have an Internet connection on most any device: TVs, computers, iPads and phones. You do need sufficient bandwidth to prevent buffering, a problem I’ve not encountered. But it’s worth testing to be sure your WiFi can handle it.

So, if you’re starting from scratch, go with streaming. If you’re tired of dealing with your cable company, or think you’re paying too much, try streaming. There are no long term contracts and you can explore new services from an app on your TV. But if you now have cable, are content with your service, and watch a lot of live TV, there’s no compelling urgency to change.

But even if you don’t change, I suggest using the threat of changing to negotiate better rates with your cable company. There’s a good chance you can get a monthly reduction of $10 or $20 just for asking, as I did. As to what I’m going to do, I can save about $30-$50 per month by going to streaming, and I’ll probably move over, but feel no urgency to do it.


by Phil Baker