1. There isn't one perfect alternative.
One of the biggest problems with traditional cable subscriptions is bundling -- you have no choice but to pay for dozens of channels you never watch just to get the few you want. The ideal alternative would allow you to pick and choose just the channels you want.
The reality is that cutting cable does not eliminate bundling. Whether you switch to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sling TV or any other option, you'll still pay for shows that go unwatched.
If you're lucky, you'll be able to find one streaming service that covers all the shows and networks you watch. But most people will end up subscribing to a few different bundles to cover all their needs. And don't be surprised if one of your favorite shows has different seasons distributed on different streaming channels.
2. ...So it might not be cheaper than cable.
$10-per-month for Netflix here, a $50-per-month PlayStation Vue subscription there, and suddenly you're not saving so much by cutting the cord.
Our own David Katzmaier cut the cord a few years ago only to find out that he was saving $35/month. After a la carte iTunes purchases, an add-on DVR, and various streaming subscriptions, cutting the cord just wasn't worth it.
That doesn't mean it's not an option. Before you cut the cord to save money, do the math. Depending on your needs, you could end up spending just as much -- or more -- going a la carte.
3. You'll need a strategy for live events -- especially sports.
If you're a hardcore fantasy sports player who needs to see every game in every market live or recorded, cutting the cord could be a huge headache.
For instance, SlingTV and Playstation Vue, the two live TV alternatives to cable, don't include a lot of the major sports networks. As outlined in this piece, ESPN (and its sibling networks) are only on Sling right now, while MLB TV, NBA TV, NFL Network, NFL Red Zone, MSG,* SNY,* and most other regional sports networks aren't available through either service.
If you like teams outside of your area, you'll get a lot of value from signing up for apps like MLB TV (baseball), NHL Center Ice (hockey), NBA League Pass (basketball) and other such services which offer live out-of-area games. But to watch nearly any local team, you'll need either an antenna (for NFL football) -- or a friend who's still paying for cable.
In this case, outline your sports needs and determine whether or not a single streaming service (or combination of services) will meet your needs.
4. Let's talk about DVR.
For on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, you obviously don't need a DVR. Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, which stream live TV, include some DVR-like features. But if you're using an antenna, you might want a way to record fleeting shows and events.
You have options. ChannelMaster, Tablo, and Tivo Roamio are among the more popular products, letting you record and store shows through an antenna. The Tivo Roamio, for example, also acts as a streaming hub, giving you access to a content guide and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.
But without one of these DVRs, your over-the-air antenna will be limited to live TV only.
5. You'll need a strong (and generous) Internet connection.
Once you ditch cable, your Internet connection will become the lifeblood of your media consumption, so you'll need a very reliable Internet connection.
For starters, make sure your ISP supports super-high-speed bandwidth necessary for streaming high-def (and super high-def) video. In some cases, you might need to upgrade your subscription (read: pay more) to get a high bandwidth. And finally, your ISP should be unmetered -- without cable, you'll be using more data than ever before.
6. How many concurrent streams do you need?
Cable subscriptions make multiroom viewing easy (albeit expensive), but your mileage will vary with streaming options. If you have a household with varying viewing interests, things could get dicey.
For instance, Netflix's pricing tiers are partially based on multistreaming allowances. While $7.99 per month gets you a single stream, the $8.99-per-month option allows you to stream to two screens at once.
Sling TV, on the other hand, will stop the current stream if it detects that another one has started. This may change in the future, but for now, Sling and other streaming options have limitations.
7. You might be taking 'background TV' for granted.
How often do you come home and immediately switch on the TV? Maybe you like background TV when you're cooking, working from home or having friends over. Yes, it's doable without cable, but it's not nearly as easy.
Achieving that same ambience will require you to turn on your streaming box, select a source (like Amazon or Netflix), search for a show and, finally, play it. Doable? Yes. Streamlined? Not quite.