Warning: This article may give you a headache — and if reading an article about the best way to cut the cable cord causes pain, imagine researching and writing it. The post-cable options are overwhelming, and no one solution does it all, although watching live sports without cable is no longer a problem. There are crazy contradictions to consider, such as how sometimes “triple-play” bundles (TV, Internet and phone) are actually cheaper than “double-play” options (Internet and phone) because of specials. But in all the confusion, one thing is clear: Cable TV is expensive. Americans spent an average of $103 a month — $1,236 a year — on cable television in 2016, according to Leichtman Research Group. So that’s the number to beat.
See whether you can do better by cutting the cord with these eight steps:
1. Buy an HDTV antenna. Since 2007, local TV stations have been broadcasting digital signals so crisp that the reception is better than that of cable TV. Plus, despite all the hype about shows on niche networks, 19 of the top 20 TV shows in 2016 aired on over-the-air broadcast networks. That’s why Step 1 is to buy an antenna. These are not your father’s antennas. No rabbit ears necessary. A modern digital TV antenna can be so sleek it will match your decor or so skinny you can mount it out of sight. When Consumer Reports tested antennas ranging in price from $8 to $80, it found the cheapest often performed just as well as the priciest. So try an inexpensive one first and upgrade only if necessary.
2. Get a decent Internet deal. Dennis Restauro, who runs the cord-cutting website and podcast Grounded Reason, says that to stream high-definition TV shows, you need a speed of at least 10 Mbps (megabits per second) per TV set. Restauro suggests you spend no more than $70 a month for your Internet service. Calls to Internet service providers in the Washington area revealed that it is possible to hit that goal, with regular prices at HughesNet and RCN and introductory prices at Verizon Fios. Also be on the lookout for fees that aren’t included in the base rate. The website BroadbandNow reveals most providers’ introductory prices, regular prices and added fees. Bonus tip: Many providers charge extra to rent you a router, but you may be able to buy your own.
3. Try an HDMI cord. The cheapest way to watch Internet shows on your TV is by connecting a laptop to your television set with an HDMI cord. Cost: as little as $3.50. It may sound complex, but it’s just like connecting an external monitor to your computer. You can then watch individual shows — and often entire seasons — that the television networks have posted on their websites. Channels such as CNN even offer live video feeds updated every few minutes.
4. Consult cord-cutting websites. Several free websites tell you where and how you can watch your favorite shows without a cable connection. Untangle.tv inquires about all of your viewing habits and then recommends the hardware and software you need. (Just keep in mind that it’s run by an antenna manufacturer that recommends its own antennas.) Fan.tv and JustWatch.com allow you to search for one show at a time and see all of the ways you can watch that program without cable. You can also try The Post’s own TV bundling tool here.
5. See if you have a smart TV. If you bought your television after 2009, there’s a good chance it can already stream television shows via the Internet. Many modern televisions are “Internet-ready” with apps such as Hulu and Netflix embedded in them. With all the buzz about streaming “boxes” and “sticks,” it’s easy to overlook the technology you already have.
6. Check your Blu-ray player and game console. If your television isn’t pre-loaded with Internet apps, you may have an external device that is. Many Blu-ray players can stream shows and cost as little as $50. Alternatively, recent editions of gaming systems such as PlayStation, Wii and Xbox ($250-plus) can also stream videos.
7. Consider buying a player. If you do need to buy an external device, use the websites in Step 4 to help you decide which one to buy, based on what shows you want to watch, because no one player offers access to everything.
• Amazon Fire ($40-$90) is a favorite of the editors at PC Magazine because it supports so many media services.
• Apple TV ($149-$199) integrates seamlessly with other Apple devices.
• Google Chromecast ($35-$70) allows you to watch YouTube videos (and more) on your TV.
• Roku ($29-$121) is easy to use and offers access to the biggest variety of apps.
• TiVo Bolt ($300-$400, plus $15 a month) is more expensive because it not only streams video but also skips commercials with a single click and does all of the other things that made TiVo into a verb.
8. Add streaming services. Your final step is to add the streaming services that actually provide the shows you like, based on what you learned in Step 4. These can be divided into three categories: mainstays, live and premium.
Mainstays: The key sources most cord-cutters turn to.
• Amazon Prime ($99 a year) offers hundreds of free shows, its own original programming, plus the ability to pay for shows and movies on demand.
• Hulu ($8 a month) offers ABC, Fox and NBC shows, in case you missed them live with your antenna, plus many cable networks, such as Comedy Central and Syfy.
• Netflix ($8-$12 a month) has the largest selection of television shows of any service and produces its own popular programs, such as “Orange Is the New Black” and “House of Cards.”
Live: Apps with a wide variety of live programming — including sports.
• DirecTV Now ($35 a month) provides 60 channels, including A&E and the Weather Channel, but is so new that users report bugs that need to be worked out.
• PlayStation Vue ($30-$65 a month) works with its own devices and others and includes base packages as well as add-ons you can tailor to your tastes.
• Sling TV ($20 a month) includes 30 or more channels, depending on your package, and with no contract, you can cancel anytime.
• YouTube TV ($35 a month) is YouTube’s new streaming service and is still adding metropolitan areas and channels.
Premium: Just like premium channels on cable.
• HBO Now ($15 a month) is available on nearly every device.
• Showtime ($11 a month) can be added to Amazon, Apple TV, Hulu, Roku and PlayStation Vue.
• Starz ($9 a month) is available via Amazon Prime and a dozen other venues.