You've probably heard a lot about Netflix and Hulu; Roku and Chromecast; cable cutting or using the Internet to get your TV, but are you really using these solutions to their fullest extent? Do you actually save any money in the long term? Is it feasible for you? I use Netflix to stream archived movies and episodic television shows, Hulu to stream day-old content, and Plex to stream local content, and web content that is otherwise unavailable (e.g. How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory). Once it's all set up, the process is actually pretty simple: I pull the app up on Roku or smartphone and get ready to stream my local content or binge watch my favorite Netflix show. But that doesn't really help you find out what works for you, does it?
Why you should ditch the dish, and the cable
Assuming your cable costs are average ($60/mo), then a pay-off date for your cable-cutting system will be fairly easy to figure out. The graph below outlines two types of cable cutters, your Basic Cable Cutters which will be served by Option One below, and your Advanced Cable Cutters which are served by Option Two below. We'll get into what the options mean in the next section, but for now take a look at the graph.
Operating Costs (Running Totals)
As you can see, the red line (Cable) costs grow by $60 every month, whereas the Cable Cutter options only grow by $16 every month (Hulu and Netflix), but start $300 or $700 higher than Cable due to the cost of buying your own equipment. You can also see that your Basic Cable Cutter breaks even after 8 months of ditching cable and over the course of the next eight months saves $372; the Advanced Cable Cutter doesn't break even until after sixteen months and then will start saving as much money per month as the Basic Cable Cutter.
This graph will vary depending on certain features of your cable deal (e.g. bundle discounts for internet) and how much money you spend on your cable cutting rig, or if you buy extra services like Amazon Prime, VUDU, or HBO Go.
The shopping list
The first step on the shopping list is to purchase the components to build your home server, or Network Accessible Storage. You can buy these premade so that they just "work," but these solutions are seldom reliable. So, instead, you have one of two options: Build a home server, or attach a large network drive to your home router.
Option one: The Dongle
This option has a simple elegance to it; you simply attach the large external hard drive to your router through a USB connection on your router, configure a few minimal security settings, and go.
It does not, however, have any backup or redundancy, its security features are relatively minimal, it serves only one single purpose, and it relies pretty heavily on your router's performance. So, you had better invest in a high end router (you probably should, anyways), and you'll need two hard drives (one live and one backup).
Option two: The server
The more expensive, and labor intensive, option is to build a home server. In order to do this, you'll need three 3TB Hard drives, a 1TB cache drive (more on that later), a computer capable of housing 4 SATA drives, and a thumb drive.
The good news is that none of these things need to be brand new, and if you're a computer enthusiast, you can use some old material to make this server. Your graphics card can be several years old, so long as it works long enough to do the initial setup, and you don't need more than a few gigs of older RAM.
Assuming you do have to buy all of the products individually, you'll likely end up spending about $300 for Option One for 5TB of data, and $600 for Option Two for about 5TB of data. There are definitely benefits to each different option and the one you pick ultimately comes down to how much work you're willing to put into the project, what your goals for the project are, and how important certain features are to you.
In the end, for what we're doing, both options will work just as well as the other, so if you're only looking to cut the cable bill and move into a completely digital age of music, movies, and television, then go with Option One.
If you need help deciding this particular aspect of the process, or in picking/installing high quality products, then I offer an online (Skype, Hangout, or over the phone) consultation that will help guide you through the process.
In addition to one of the two options listed above, you'll also need a "top box." This can range from a Playstation 4 or Xbox One to a Roku or Chromecast. Deciding which top box is better is a subject that is hotly debated among enthusiasts in each camp, but for the purposes of moving your TV watching to the Internet, the Roku is the undefeated champion for reliability and affordability, followed closely by the Playstation 4 or Xbox One, if you have an interest in console games.
It's also worth mentioning that Smart TVs are pretty much ubiquitous at this point, and if you're into extreme minimalism (e.g. you have a smart TV mounted and abhor cables and extra remotes), then you should pay closer attention to the Roku Stick, or Chromecast, and purchase a Harmony Remote system that will give you the ability to control your entire system with your smart phone. This setup can be amplified in the future (maybe the next Christmas, anniversary, or birthday?) with the purchase of a SONOS Playbar that would create a fantastic wireless surround sound system that also connects with your music streaming services like Pandora and Google Play, as well as a media server (like the one you're setting up if you selected Option Two above).
Once you've selected your top box and your storage solution, the only thing left is to configure your new stuff.