It's getting easier to cut the cable cord and free yourself from sky-high bills and bundles of lame channels you never watch. Before you start acting like a kid in a candy store and grabbing all the sugary treats in sight, you should take a deep breath and really think about what you want to pay for.
The latest goody to temp cord cutters was announced Tuesday by Hulu. In July, Hulu streaming subscribers will be able to watch Showtime on a variety of devices for $9 a month. That's $2 less than Showtime costs on Roku and Apple TV. Of course, the Showtime fee is in addition to the $8 a month you pay to subscribe to Hulu, and that brings the actual cost to $17 a month, or $204 a year.
That's a good deal, and it underlines Hulu's goal to become a stronger alternative to conventional cable and satellite TV services. The problem with all these new, à la cart streaming offerings is that they can add up quickly and become every bit as expensive as Comcast or DIRECTV.
Earlier in the year, I pointed readers to an online calculator from Slate.com that makes it easy to see how much money you can save (or lose) by using streaming services in place of pay TV. And don't forget to include the cost of Internet service in your calculations.
Here's a look at some of today's best streaming services:
Netflix: For $9 a month, Netflix gives you a good selection of shows, with original programs developed for Netflix, including "Orange is the New Black" and "House of Cards." Movie selection, though, is limited and is not at all comparable to what Netflix offers via DVD in the mail.
SlingTV: For $20 a month, SlingTV users can stream 20 live cable channels, including ESPN, AMC, TBS, Food Network, IFC, CNN, Cartoon Network and Disney Channel. Another $15 a month gets you HBO, but be forewarned: the service has commercials.
Amazon Prime Instant Video: Amazon's streaming service costs $99 a year, and you can't pay monthly. That price includes free Prime shipping, which can be valuable if you order even a few items a year from the online retailer. Amazon Prime offers a large selection of movies and older TV programs, as well as programming for children, but it lacks a lot of newer TV programs. A free, 30-day trial of the service is currently available.
Hulu Plus: For $8 a month you get a big selection of movies and TV programs, including broadcast TV shows. However, Hulu doesn't have a very good filter, so it can be hard to find what you're looking for unless you know the exact title. And there are a lot of commercials. Hulu currently offers a free, one-week trial.
If you want to subscribe to all of these options, it'll cost you almost $70 a month. That's likely less than you pay for cable, but are these streaming offerings enough to make you cut the cord completely? For now, many streaming customers will continue to pay for cable because streaming options don't offer everything they want, and that means they'll actually be paying more each month than they did in the past.