How to cut cable with Amazon Fire TV
by Randy Gingeleski
8 minutes to read
After helping my parents cut Spectrum cable, here's a guide how to do it. Centered around Amazon Fire TV.
Recently my parents got fed up with cable. The TV portion of their package cost them $120/month. I helped them replace that with Amazon Fire TV and a number of streaming services.
“Cord cutting” or “cable cutting” seems to be a hot topic. I wrote this guide to help you do it with the services we used.
This is a long post so only read if you want to drop cable or satellite for cheaper streaming services and more content.
The streaming stack
To get this out right off the bat, here are the streaming subscriptions we have.
- Netflix (HD package)
- Hulu (no commercials, no live TV)
- Amazon Prime Video
- DirecTV Now (cheapest package)
In order of the list that’s $11.99/mo + $10.99/mo + $10.00/mo + $34.99/mo where Prime is the $120 a year amortized out.
Total monthly cost = $68 roughly
Spectrum for 2 TVs - one DVR, one basic box - used to run my parents $120/month.
And really, Prime Video could count as free because we get the yearly value out of free Amazon shipping alone. Making this even greater savings for more content.
What about a smart TV?
This whole post assumes you do not have a smart TV. The content services I recommend will still be relevant.
The actual Fire smart TV probably matches closely to my box recommendation. It might add features like a guide for local antenna.
Just keep this in mind.
Is it the Fire Stick or Fire TV box?
The device I’d recommend for “cord cutters” or “cable cutters” is the Fire TV box.
For heavy usage, I trust the more powerful hardware in the bigger Fire TV unit over the Fire Stick.
And why Fire TV versus other options like Roku? Let’s get into that.
Introducing Amazon Fire TV
My parents used to have a Roku 2 box for Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. This was pre-DirecTV Now.
However, I was on a business trip last Amazon Prime Day. A co-worker got to telling me Fire TV blew Roku away. On sale I got the Fire TV box for $45.
The first thing you notice about Fire TV is how fast it is. The boot-up time, the snappy responses to what you’re pressing.
All the Netflix and Hulu apps are much sleeker than those on Roku. Granted, my parents’ Roku was an older model.
Something else to like is Alexa capabilities that aren’t creepy. What do I mean by that? You press a button on the Fire TV remote then talk to Alexa. It’s not listening all the time like the normal units. I would never buy a traditonal Alexa device because of this.
Here you get the helpful upside of Alexa without the potential for spying. Admittedly I haven’t used it extensively outside of “Alexa play Bosch” or “Alexa show me movies with Ryan Gosling” type stuff.
It’s not all positives, rainbows, and unicorns. What’s both a pro and a con is how tightly Amazon Prime content - video or otherwise - is integrated. You get used to going into a channel like Netflix or Hulu to find that content.
To find Amazon content, you tab over in the main user interface area then search. The search can turn up apps or other types of things if running a general query. This has confused my mom sometimes.
This is also a pro, however, because Amazon does have the vastest library of content. You can find virtually any movie or TV show. It just might be paid.
The product page for this device has demo videos you can check out.
However, before you go to buy Fire TV, make sure you read my ninja Amazon cashback post.
Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video
These three are all conventional streaming services so let’s discuss them together. Or specifically - why do you need Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video?
You might not want all three. Each has good original content and a slew of licensed content.
If I could only recommend one, it’d be Prime Video. This is partly because it couples so well with our Fire TV device. But I personally use Prime Video more than Netflix or Hulu.
It has the best app across all platforms - mobile, online, and of course Fire. The original content is great. I loved Bosch and The Big Sick. Maybe not as strong an offering overall as Netflix’s. But the licensed content beats the competition in quantity and quality. This is the only provider now with The Wire or The Sopranos.
My next strongest recommendation is Netflix. They indeed have the best original content. I’m a big fan of Daredevil. Their movies like The Babysitter are entertaining. They’re the original streaming service.
Lastly we have Hulu. I go long periods of time without watching this. But my family gets the monthly fee’s worth. Shut Eye was a great original show, people rave about The Handmaid’s Tale, and I adore The Matrix movie trilogy.
Local TV channels
As we will explore later, there are now many live TV streaming options to get “cable” channels. However your local stations will always be a challenge for these. Most - if not all - those services give you ABC, NBC, and CBS on-demand content only.
The logistics of getting your particular local stations’ news and advertising content is a nightmare. Almost impossible. I don’t see it having enough of a return-on-investment for them to care.
So the recommendation here is getting an antenna.
They got theirs at Target and now have almost 30 local channels. Really, an antenna can get you content you’d never have with cable.
An example is Syracuse’s channel 9. 9-1 is the local ABC, with that news and what-not. 9-2 is weather all day I think. Then 9-3 is old content and TV shows. Things elderly people might watch. But I find that refreshing, entertaining.
You can flip through your local channels and find things you never might’ve seen otherwise. We ended up watching Renaissance Man with Danny Devito one day.
One thing about the local antenna is - unless you have a “smart TV” - you likely will not get a guide. As alluded to earlier, I find the old-fashioned “channel flipping” kind of fun. You probably will have an “info” button on your remote.
All this will vary with TV and your local channel broadcasters. You might need an outdoor antenna for good reception where you live.
Streaming TV / “cable” options
We’re not without options here. My initial list was as follows…
- YouTube Live TV
- Playstation Vue
- DirecTV Now
- Hulu Live TV
However we’ll eliminate YouTube because there’s not a native app for Fire TV. You can watch YouTube on it, but through Firefox. That’s fine for shorter stuff. I didn’t trust it to smoothly handle the brunt of TV watching.
After comparing channel lists, I chose the lowest DirecTV Now program - $35/mo - for my parents. It had all the channels they like from cable. Even ESPN and ESPN2 for Dad. Plus on-demand content from “local” ones like ABC, NBC, etc. to supplement the antenna.
From comparing the channel lists, DirecTV had AMC where Hulu didn’t. SlingTV’s packages were confusing and their channel list wasn’t alphabetized. DirecTV’s smallest pack has at least as many channels as their largest (Orange + Blue) pack.
The DirecTV Now app
I found the DirecTV Now app for Fire TV to be acceptable. It looks nice. The user interface is probably as good as you’ll get mapping this kind of thing to the Fire remote’s few buttons. I miss the dedicated “Guide” button of a Spectrum remote.
The app has a few bugs here and there but no showstoppers (pun intended). Like sometimes the play status bar - the one with the time into the program - gets stuck on-screen. I push up then down as an impatient fix. Usually it hides itself after a few seconds when behaving normally.
All recommendations + special offers
There’s a combo you’ll see that includes a digital HD antenna too.
You can get typically get 2 free weeks of Netflix here.
Finally, check RetailMeNot before ordering DirecTV Now. That’s a direct link. You’ll find a promo to get 3 months at $10 instead of $35.
Then take that promo code to DirecTV Now here..
Cable TV is going the way of the dodo bird, but hiking prices on their way out. My parents cut their monthly cost from $120 to $68 with more content than ever.
You can do the same with these recommendations.