Even if you’re not ready to cut the cable TV cord, there’s still a simple way to reduce your monthly TV bill.
The trick is to use your TV provider’s free streaming apps in place of traditional set-top boxes. That way, you can avoid the equipment rental fees that drive up your monthly costs. The more cable boxes you return, the more you stand to save.
Unfortunately, not all TV providers have seen the light on streaming apps, and in some cases you might lose out on key features, such as DVR access. Read on to find out which TV providers allow you to stream without a cable or satellite box, and how much you can save by not renting their equipment.
Comcast’s streaming apps
Comcast’s Xfinity Stream app is available on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Samsung TVs, LG TVs, and Xumo TVs. Apps for iOS and Android are also available with support for Chromecast.
With these apps, the experience will be similar to Comcast’s cable boxes, letting you watch live channels, on-demand video, and DVR. (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’re bundling internet and TV service. It doesn’t show up for TV-only sign-ups. Comcast says it’s looking into this issue.
The DVR situation’s a bit complicated, though. If you’re using a Spectrum cable box with on-device DVR storage, those recordings won’t be available in Spectrum’s apps.
The solution is to sign up for Spectrum’s cloud DVR service, which costs $10 per month across all your devices. After doing that, you can ditch all your cable boxes and switch to Spectrum’s streaming apps instead, provided you’re also a Spectrum internet subscriber.
One more note: Spectrum’s sign-up page says that choosing equipment is “required,” but you can just skip over the equipment rental section and continue 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 per month).
Potential savings: $11 per month, per box, plus $5 per month, per box in DVR fees.
Fire TV devices are cheap, though, and Dish’s app does give you the full capabilities of a set-top box, including live TV, on-demand video, and DVR. Just note that you’ll need an internet-connected Hopper with Sling or Hopper 3 box to access your recordings.
Potential savings: $7 per month for each additional TV. (One set-top box rental is required.)
DirecTV streaming apps
Jared Newman / Foundry
DirecTV’s apps are available on Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV/Google TV, Samsung TVs, iOS, and Android. But if you’re a satellite TV customer, you won’t 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’s apps, you’ll need either DirecTV Stream or the streaming version of DirecTV. Both use a cloud-based DVR that works across all your devices.
What’s the difference between DirecTV Stream and the streaming version of DirecTV? A quick breakdown:
DirecTV’s streaming version includes one “Gemini” set-top box, and you can either rent additional ones or use DirecTV’s free apps. The service starts at $65 per month, but has additional fees (including a $15-per-month fee for the first set-top box alone).
Potential savings: $7 per month per box for satellite customers (but no DVR), $10 per month per additional box for streaming customers (with DVR)
Verizon streaming apps
Verizon’s Fios TV Home apps are available on Apple TV, Fire TV, iOS, and Android. Like Verizon’s set-top boxes, they allow you to watch live TV, on-demand video, and DVR recordings.
There are some catches, though: Most notably, you’ll need a Verizon internet router to make full use of the company’s streaming TV apps. Otherwise, you’ll lose access to the DVR and some live channels. Verizon’s routers cost $15 per month to rent, or $300 to purchase outright.
Also, some cheaper Fios TV plans have a $20-per-month surcharge 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 required as well, but Verizon includes one in its TV packages at no extra charge.
Potential savings: Verizon charges $12 per month for up to two additional TV boxes, then $6 per month for each box after that. Actual savings depends on whether you already have a Verizon router.
AT&T U-Verse streaming apps
AT&T’s U-Verse apps are available for Fire TV, iOS, and Android, but they only support live TV and on-demand video. While you can set up DVR recordings through these apps, you’ll need an actual set-top box to access them. Still, the Fire TV option may be worth using on a guest room or kitchen TV where DVR access isn’t essential.
Potential savings: $10 per month, per box
Jared Newman / Foundry
Even if your TV provider doesn’t offer full-fledged streaming apps, there are other ways to access your pay TV programming without additional cable boxes.
Many cable channels, for instance, offer their own “TV Everywhere” apps on streaming devices. You won’t get DVR access 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 Channels DVR, 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. Check out our explainer on how this works.
Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.