Replacing costly cable service with Internet TV seems like an easy way to reduce the family budget. But as the choices for devices and content grow, so does confusion as to how to go about it. Before you cut the cord, put a basic plan in place to ensure you'll get the entertainment you want.
Here's what you'll need to make a virtually painless transition from cable to Internet TV.
What do I need for an Internet connection?
You must have a high-speed Internet connection to stream movies and TV. If your connection is slow, you'll notice that shows take a long time to load. If you're satisfied with the speed with which a video loads on your computer, you should have an equally satisfactory experience on your Internet-connected TV.
You'll also want to make sure that your home router is well-placed to send signals to your TV. A central location is usually best, away from exterior walls.
What equipment do I need?
Unless you already have a so-called smart TV with the ability to pick up Internet signals from your router, you'll need to add a device that acts as a TV receiver for Internet programming. Most Blu-ray players and gaming consoles have this capability. You can buy a streaming media player, such as a Roku, for around $50 or Apple TV for $100. Another option is the new Boxee TV for $100, which includes a built-in TV tuner to receive live TV (including in HD) over an antenna. (Boxee also has DVR capabilities available for $15 a month.)
Even with a Roku or Apple TV, you can still receive major-network live TV channels, including those that broadcast in HD, if you have an HDTV and add an antenna such as the $40 Mohu Leaf. The Leaf looks like a laminated piece of standard paper, but it is just as effective as larger and far more obtrusive antennas.
[READ MORE: Amplified HDTV Antenna Makes Cord Cutting Easier ]
What can I watch?
All media streaming devices, including smart TVs, come with apps or channels that provide access to movies, TV shows, sports programming and music. Netflix and Hulu Plus offer unlimited streaming for around $8 a month each. Amazon recently jumped into the game by offering its Prime subscription service for $8 a month, which includes unlimited streaming, free two-day shipping and other perks. All three of these services are available on most Internet-connected devices.
You'll also see on-demand entertainment apps on your device, such as Vudu and Amazon On Demand. They are the equivalent of renting a video; you'll pay a few bucks to stream a movie or TV episode. If you own an Apple TV , you'll have Netflix as well as access to on-demand content through iTunes.
It can be challenging to find a specific show or movie without searching each app. Roku has solved the problem by updating its system with a universal search feature .
What can't I watch?
If you cut the cord, you may have to adjust to living without Showtime and HBO. The latter has excluded online services from airing its shows, with a few exceptions. For instance, iTunes offers the first season of the series " Game of Thrones ," but for most HBO shows, you'll have to wait until your favorites are available on DVD. Only HBO cable subscribers can use the app HBO Go on Internet-connected devices.
Sports fans have also faced challenges without cable or satellite TV — there's no ESPN on the Internet. However, NFL games and the World Series are broadcast over the air, so an antenna will provide coverage. Further, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association offer subscriptions that are available via apps on most devices, but there are restrictions. For instance, MLB shows only away games to viewers. The NFL does not have an app for games. Before you pay up to $190 for a season pass, read the fine print — you may be better off bringing the beer and chips to a friend's place with cable at game time.