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What Equipment Do I Need to Cut the Cord: Ditching Cable in 2021

With the number of people who are dropping cable TV in favor of streaming content on their own growing steadily over the past years, the cord-cutter market is growing as well. The sheer number of devices and services can be really overwhelming, especially for people new to ditching cable TV. They’re often left asking, “What equipment do I need to cut the cord?”

  • You need a screen, such as a TV or a computer
  • You’ll need an antenna and digital tuner to watch free local channels over the air
  • To stream content, you’ll need a streaming device
  • You’ll want a good router for stable internet access at home
  • Some cord cutters will want a good DVR to record live TV

Also, note that there are TVs that incorporate digital tuners or streaming devices, and sometimes both, so in those cases, you won’t need those separate pieces of equipment to get going.

There are various cord cutting solutions that are based on your goals and comfort level with technology, but everyone will need most of these basic pieces of equipment. If you’re not quite ready to take the full plunge into a cord cutter lifestyle, you can also try cord shaving for a bit to dip your toe into cord cutting and see if it’s right for you.

While an internet connection isn’t technically equipment, it’s one of the most important factors for many cord cutters these days. It’s also so common to be connected online that we normally just talk about ways to enhance or optimize your internet connection for a better streaming experience. You can still watch TV without an internet connection or cable, but most cord cutters do like to stream content online.

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Find the right cord cutter equipment setup for you

Once you’ve tried ditching cable and you know it’s right for you, there are loads of directions to go and tons of products to choose from. Until then, you really only need those few devices mentioned above.

I would recommend starting with the least amount of equipment as you can get away with. Once you know you miss something, add it in then. You may even realize that you don’t actually miss a service or a show that you thought you might. That was the case with our family.

If you want to keep up with news and watch some basic, current network shows, then you may only need a TV and an antenna. Our family went that route for years. However, if you know you love certain cable shows or you’re a hard core sports fan, you’ll need to stream some content.

You can always add and remove services and devices as needed, but I do recommend paring down as much as possible at the beginning.

Some devices do make life easier for cord-cutters. And if you’re not a techie by any stretch of the imagination, don’t make life harder on yourself than you need to. If a device solves a real problem or removes confusion, buy it. If you’re not sure whether or not you need it, don’t buy it until you know you need it.

So, what do you absolutely need to start?

The bare minimum equipment to ditch cable TV

If you think you might be just fine with your local news, shows, and live sports available on network TV, then you may only need the most basic TV setup. Even if you think you may need more, it’s an interesting experiment to see how well you get along with just an antenna and a digital tuner.

Back during the Digital Television Transition (over a decade ago now), my family ditched cable and got a digital converter box. The number of extra stations and alternate programming was pretty shocking. We learned a lot about what we needed and what we didn’t in terms of TV.

Even though we still go through different phases of programming in our house over the years, what we learned about ourselves by going on that “entertainment fast” was invaluable.

TVs and other screens for cord cutters

You need a screen

You need a TV. Well, if we’re being totally honest, you don’t even need that. A lot of people consume all of their entertainment on their computers and their phones. This is clearly not for everyone, but it is possible. Let’s just say that you need a screen of some sort. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call that screen a TV since that’s how most families still enjoy content these days.

There are a few decisions you need to make about your TV, but it’s generally not complicated. You can decide to just use your existing TV and move on from there. If you have a recent TV that is able to connect to the internet or has a way to connect a streaming device, you’re good to go. Usually, that means that your TV is either a smart TV or it has an HDMI input.

And if you’re going the route of simply connecting an antenna and a digital tuner, you might be fine with any TV as long as you can connect an antenna, which includes virtually every TV.

If you do want to stream content, though, and you don’t have either of those connection options with your current TV, it’s probably time to upgrade. Good quality TVs are really easy to get these days and are more affordable than ever. It’s always just a little shocking for me to see a 50 inch LED TV for under $400. I’m dating myself here, but I remember when a device smaller than that was thousands of dollars. And a 50 inch TV is bigger than some people actually need.

I would suggest looking for as high-quality of a TV as you can afford that also includes a digital tuner. TV size is another issue altogether.

TV Size

So, let’s talk about TV size for a second.

There are loads of special mathematical formulas online that will tell you exactly how large of a screen you need. However, in the end, it’s all about what feels comfortable for you and your family. There does seem to be some consensus on the “bigger is better” argument. You don’t often hear people complaining that they bought too big of a TV and they wish it was smaller. I’m sure it does happen, but I haven’t heard it.

At the same time, you shouldn’t be pressured into a bigger TV than you need or want for any reason whatsoever. This is all about your preferences. It’s your space. Make it your own.

I would suggest thinking carefully about the room that the TV will live in. How big is the space? How high on the wall will the TV be placed? Will it be sitting on a stand?

Once you’ve got a good idea of the right size TV for your room, buy the biggest TV that you think you might want that’s within your budget. Over-stretching and going into debt for a huge TV is a horrible feeling and can cause awkwardness during family fun movie nights. Besides, there are excellent deals to be had if you look.

TV screen quality

I would also suggest paying close attention to the quality of the picture when comparing TV models. Great quality pictures are really easy to find today as well. For instance, even UHD 4K LED TVs are very affordable these days.

The higher the quality of your picture, the closer you’re able to sit without noticing any pixelation. So, you can experience a bigger picture by sitting closer without losing any clarity. If you like to sit close to your TV, definitely get something with a very clear picture.

If you’d still like a little guidance on screen size and placement, here’s a video from Crutchfield that shows a bit about measuring for a new TV and your seating distance:

Digital tuners for cord cutters

My family had a blast switching to digital over the air channels back during the Digital Television Transition. We discovered new shows, old shows, and we were introduced to different sports that became favorites for the whole family.

In addition to the “regular” programming you’d expect, most major network channels also have alternate digital channels with extended programming. And a lot of the extended programming is more interesting than the “regular” stuff. If you’ve never seen what digital OTA programming has to offer, I highly recommend checking it out.

According to the FCC, “full-power television stations nationwide have been required to broadcast exclusively in a digital format” since June 13, 2009.

What this means is that even though the majority of people in the US get their TV from some cable service, the big stations still have to broadcast their signal for free, digitally. So, if you have a TV, a digital tuner, and an antenna to pick up the signal, you can watch TV for free.

If you have an older TV, or even a newer one without a digital tuner built in, you can pick up a digital converter box and connect it relatively easily to your set. Digital tuners are also relatively inexpensive and easy to find at your local big box store or online at places like Amazon.

Before you pick up a digital converter box, make sure you don’t already have one built in to your TV. My advice is to just Google your TV model and look at the specs for it. That’s always the easiest way to make sure. To ensure you’re checking the right TV, always grab the model number off of the back and plug that number into Google.

TV antennas for cord cutters

TV antennas have come a long way from your old-fashioned rabbit ears and ugly wires running all over your living room wall. They’ve also gotten a lot more powerful.

A good TV antenna is a crucial part of your cord cutter equipment list as it can determine which channels you get, and which ones you don’t.

There are three basic types of TV antennas to consider these days: indoor TV antennas, attic TV antennas, and outdoor (or roof) TV antennas. Your geographic location and proximity to a large urban center is the primary factor in determining which of these is the right choice for you.

If you live in a big city, an indoor TV antenna should be perfectly fine. However, if you live far out in the sticks, or on a lush tropical island like I do, you just might need something more powerful to pick up those TV signals. In those cases an attic or rooftop antenna is the way to go.

Streaming devices to get your content onto your screen

Moving beyond the basics of cord cutting, here are the next steps in terms of getting more content than your local over the air (OTA) stations.

So, similarly to the digital tuner situation, you may need a streaming device, such as a Roku, or you may not. If you have a smart TV, you won’t need this until you’re looking for a different experience than your TV provides. For instance, if you’ve purchased a Roku TV, and you want to try out Amazon’s Fire TV, you’ll need to pick up a Fire TV Stick. But you’ll know that when you get there.

If you’re wondering whether or not you need a Roku or Fire TV Stick with your Smart TV, we’ve answered that question too.

If you do have a smart TV, you’ll be able to simply connect it to your WiFi connection or even plug it directly into an Ethernet port on your router for a better, more stable, and secure connection. Roku TVs come with the Roku interface built-in, and Fire TV Edition televisions feature Amazon’s Fire TV interface.

If you don’t have a smart TV, you’ll need a streaming device. We’ve done a roundup on the best streaming devices as well. Whatever device you end up with, you’ll use their interface, just as with the smart TV, to access your streaming apps.

If you’re looking to purchase your first Amazon Fire TV Stick or upgrade an old one:
Check Amazon for the latest (Gen 3) Fire TV Stick
Check Amazon for the 4K version of the Fire TV Stick

Spend some time just playing and exploring with your new device. Get really comfortable with how to find things and how to install new apps and services. If you get stuck, Google will most certainly help you out.

You need all the content streaming apps and services!

Disclaimer: You definitely do NOT need ALL the apps.

In order to get content from the internet to your TV, you’ll need some kind of application that offers that content. This is where Netflix, Hulu, and even YouTube come in. This is also where a LOT of the confusion comes in. There are so many different options, that it’s very easy to become overwhelmed with choices.

We’ve looked at different streaming services here before, but here’s a very quick run down if you need a refresher.

Netflix

This is a great service if you’re looking for a lot of original content and like shows geared toward a younger audience. Lots of programming for the millennial in us all. Not a lot here if you want to see recent TV shows that air on national networks. Also, not much for sports.

Hulu

This is a good option if you DO want to watch recent shows from national networks. Also, Hulu has a good amount of original content and feature films too. Hulu seems to be pretty balanced in terms of content. I would recommend this one as a starting point if you don’t have any services yet.

Sling, YouTube TV, Philo, fubo, etc

These are all services that aim to replace cable TV in a more concrete way. You’ll find lots of cable channels streamed over these services. You’ll find more sports channels here as well. If you’re just looking for a way to get the cable experience without cable TV, this is the way to go.

There are so many other services to choose from. If you’re dipping your toe into the waters for the first time, I would recommend one or two of the above services to start. You can always cancel them and move on to try another, then rinse and repeat until you find the services that work best for you.

What about recording: DVRs for cord cutters

One important thing to remember about using streaming services is that you can access the content on demand, whenever you want. There are situations where this might not be true, such as in the case of services that make only the five most recent episodes of a show available to stream. But for the most part, content is very on demand with most streaming services.

With some services, you can even download content to a mobile device and watch while you’re on the road or away from a good internet connection.

Also, some streaming services will provide you with a certain amount of cloud storage for use as a DVR. This can be great for sports! Philo and fuboTV both feature this option, and both are good options for cord cutters looking for good sports options.

But what about folks who want to watch the whole season of their new favorite show a few times all the way through without worrying about episodes disappearing? Or what about people who don’t get their content from streaming services at all?

A hardware DVR, or digital video recorder, can sit in your home and record hundreds of hours of OTA (over the air) content that you get for free with your antenna and digital tuner. There are tons of options, and many are quite affordable.

A couple of nice features to look for are a USB port to expand the storage so you can record more content, and multiple tuners so you can record two shows at once or watch one channel and record another.

Your internet connection as a cord cutter

If you’re not getting your content from the cable company, you need a different source. As a cable TV cord-cutter, one of your primary sources will be the internet. Obviously, we’re not suggesting that you stream movies from Google, but you will use your internet connection to bring in entertainment from services like Netflix, Hulu, and even YouTube.

How fast of an internet connection you need all depends on a few factors. The most important thing to consider is how many different people will be streaming content in your house at the same time. If you have several people who will be accessing different services and types of internet content simultaneously, you’ll want a fast, robust, reliable WiFi connection. If you don’t, everyone will be watching movies that stutter, buffer, and are overall very frustrating.

Netflix has posted recommended speed settings, and they list 5 megabits / second as the lowest you want to go for HD video streaming. You can scale everything out from there to figure how much bandwidth you need. 25 megabits / second should be plenty for a family streaming HD video, watching YouTube videos, and emailing friends all at the same time. But…your mileage will most definitely vary.

If, for instance, you live in an area that is throttled or shares a limited bandwidth between several homes or a full block, you may notice some significant decreases in internet speeds and video quality during times when everyone is home in front of their TVs. After dinner seems to be the worst time to stream movies for folks who live in areas like this.

Cord cutter equipment list – Wrap up

And that’s it. Hopefully, that helps answer the question, “What Equipment Do I Need to Cut the Cord?” As I’ve pointed out, it does really depend on which direction you want to go: OTA content with an antenna and a digital tuner, or streaming services as well.

For the absolute basics, you simply need a screen, an antenna, and a digital tuner. You can watch as long as you like, all for free. For those of you who want to expand into streaming services, you just need your TV, a good internet connection, a streaming device, and some apps and services to watch.

Three or four simple items to dramatically change your life.

Let us know if you give this a shot and what worked, and what didn’t. You can always leave us a comment below if there’s anything specific you’re struggling with too. We’ll do our best to help you overcome the hurdles that are always there when you’re learning a new skill, technology, or new kind of entertainment.

Last update on 2021-09-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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