Even if you’re not ready to cut the cable TV cord, there’s still an easy way to reduce your monthly TV bill.
The trick is to use your TV provider’s free streaming apps instead of traditional set-top boxes. This way, you can avoid equipment rental fees that drive up your monthly costs. The more decoders you return, the more you save.
Unfortunately, not all TV providers have seen the light of day streaming apps, and in some cases you may be missing out on key features, like DVR access. Read on to find out which TV providers let you stream without a cable or satellite box, and how much you can save by not renting their equipment.
Comcast’s streaming apps
With these apps, the experience will be similar to Comcast’s cable boxes, letting you watch live channels, video-on-demand, and DVRs. (Comcast uses a cloud-based DVR, so you’ll have access to the same recordings made on the company’s X1 cable boxes.)
Note that for new customers, the option to avoid renting at least one X1 box only appears if you are bundling Internet and TV service. Does not appear for TV-only subscriptions. Comcast says it is looking into this issue.
Potential Savings: $10 a month, for cable boxes
Spectrum’s streaming apps
The DVR situation is a bit tricky, though. If you’re using a Spectrum cable box with DVR storage on the device, those recordings won’t be available in Spectrum apps.
The solution is to sign up for Spectrum’s cloud DVR service, which costs $10 a month across all your devices. Once you’ve done that, you can ditch all your cable boxes and switch to Spectrum’s streaming apps instead, provided you’re also a Spectrum Internet subscriber.
Another note: Spectrum’s signup page says that your choice of equipment is “required,” but you can simply skip the equipment rental section and continue through the checkout process without any hardware. Alternatively, the company will sell you an Apple TV that you can pay off in 18 monthly installments (currently at $5 a month).
Potential Savings: $11 per month, per box, plus $5 per month, per box in DVR fees.
Dish Network streaming app
Fire TV devices are inexpensive, however, and Dish’s app gives you all the features of a set-top box, including live TV, video-on-demand, and a DVR. Please note that you will need a Hopper box with Sling or Hopper 3 connected to the internet to access your recordings.
Potential Savings: $7 per month for each additional TV. (Rental of a set-top box is required.)
DirecTV streaming app
Jared Newman / Foundry
DirecTV apps are available at Year, TV fire, AppleTV, Android TV/Google TVsamsung televisions, iOSAND Android. But if you are a satellite TV customer, you will not be able to access your DVR through these apps. Instead, you’ll be limited to live and on-demand video.
To use the DVR on DirecTV apps, you’ll need both DirecTV stream or the streaming version of DirecTV. Both use a cloud-based DVR that works across all your devices.
What is the difference between DirecTV Stream and the streaming version of DirecTV? A quick breakdown:
DirecTV Stream starts at $75/month and is meant to be used with your own streaming devices. Read our recent DirecTV Stream review. The streaming version of DirecTV includes a “Gemini” set-top box, and you can rent more or use DirecTV’s free apps. The service starts at $65 a month, but comes with additional costs (including a $15-a-month fee for just the first set-top box).
Potential Savings: $7/month per box for satellite customers (but no DVR), $10/month per additional box for streaming customers (with DVR)
Verizon streaming app
There are a few problems, however: Most notably, you’ll need a Verizon Internet router to take full advantage of the company’s streaming TV apps. Otherwise, you will lose access to the DVR and some live channels. Verizon’s routers cost $15 a month to rent or $300 to buy outright.
Additionally, some cheaper Fios TV plans have an extra $20 a month just to use the company’s streaming TV apps, but most of its packages don’t carry this fee. At least one Fios TV box is also required, but Verizon includes one in its TV packages at no extra cost.
Potential Savings: Verizon charges $12 a month for up to two additional TV boxes, then $6 a month for each subsequent box. The actual savings depend on whether you already have a Verizon router.
AT&T U-Verse streaming app
AT&T’s U-Verse apps are available for TV fire, iOSAND Android, but they only support live TV and video on demand. While you can set up DVR recordings through these apps, you’ll need an actual set-top box to access them. However, it might be worth using the Fire TV option on a guest bedroom or kitchen TV where DVR access isn’t essential.
Potential Savings: $10 a month, per box
Jared Newman / Foundry
Even if your TV provider doesn’t offer full streaming apps, there are other ways to access your paid TV programming without additional set-top boxes.
Many cable channels, for example, offer their own “TV Everywhere” apps on streaming devices. You won’t have access to the DVR or the same menu system as your cable box, but at least you’ll be able to watch live and on-demand video. Use this site to see which TV Everywhere apps are available with your cable or satellite provider.
For a more advanced option, consider DVR channels, a self-hosted DVR solution that can run on a desktop computer or NAS box. It can record TV Everywhere streams and offers an alternative interface that you can access on Fire TV, Android TV and Apple TV devices. Watch our explainer on how it works.
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