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Apple TV on a Budget

Apple TV on a Budget

published by Chand Bellur
March 21, 2017 at 2:50 p.m. PST

Cutting the cord and moving to Apple TV could save you a lot of money. This article covers how to save money with Apple TV.

Apple TV Is Cheaper and Better Than Cable

Let’s face it, cable is expensive. Once you get past the introductory deals, you may be paying over $100 a month for cable or satellite service. To make matters worse, you must often sign a multi-year contract to get those low introductory rates. When you add it up, you’re spending over $1200 a year for cable.

Have you really looked at what’s on cable TV? It’s mostly garbage. There’s a plethora of low-budget food and reality shows. I found myself spending an eternity sifting through hundreds of channels of trash TV. It’s almost as if I was spending $100 a month to have someone dump a bag of garbage in my living room.

Fire TV Stick 4K at Amazon

The other problem with cable or satellite service is that it doesn’t always work. I’ve never had reliable cable service. When it doesn’t work, we’re forced to stay home from work, waiting for the almost mythical cable guy to show up. They fix your cable, but it breaks a few weeks later. Poor weather conditions can impact satellite TV reception. That’s unfortunate, because most people want to watch TV when it’s too stormy to go outside.

After having serious and repetitive failures with cable, I got fed up and decided to cut the cord. I bought a second generation Apple TV and never looked back.

Cutting the Cord in 2011 with My First Apple TV

I purchased my first Apple TV in the summer of 2011. It really didn’t have much to offer, but even then, it was enough to cancel cable. The only decent native apps were YouTube, Netflix and iTunes. Netflix provided a lot of entertainment, but AirPlay really saved the day. AirPlay is Apple’s technology for beaming content to Apple TV and other receivers. The combination of Apple TV, AirPlay and an iPhone more than made up for the lack of cable TV. In fact, I saved so much money, I bought an iPad and still came out ahead.

Flash forward to 2017 — opportunities for cord cutters have greatly improved. Apple introduced a new Apple TV running the tvOS operating system. It also features an App Store for Apple TV. We no longer have to wait for Apple to work with content providers, deploying a few “channels” on occasion. New tvOS apps are added to the App Store every day. Virtually every network, streaming service and major sports league offers a tvOS app.

TV Providers Are Resisting Cord Cutters

There is a dark side to the innovative promise of Apple TV. Cable and satellite companies are massive industries, often operating as monopolies in many areas. Devices like Apple TV are a huge threat to their business. Unable to innovate, these industries have colluded and negotiated to block access to their content on TV devices, such as Apple TV. One of the most frustrating aspects of Apple TV is the need for a TV provider (cable, satellite) subscription to activate most network apps. For most people, this made cutting the cord impractical.

Over the past few years, new services have emerged that provide a cable-like experience over the Internet. Providers like Sling TV, Sony PlayStation Vue, DIRECTV NOW and others offer cable services without the cable. The prices are reasonable and there are usually no strings attached. The only downside is that major players are blocking access to content on these services. Virtually every service is missing a few key channels such as Comedy Central or CBS. The new industry has opened the window to renegotiate fees. Viacom expects exorbitant compensation for their content. If you buy an Apple TV, they still want you to subscribe to cable. Realistically, cord-cutters need to understand that they can’t get it all.

Value and utility are paramount when it comes to cutting the cord. Sure, you might not be able to get every channel you had on cable. But is that channel really worth $100 a month? Keep in mind, virtually every show and movie is available on iTunes. I often buy seasons of shows like Better Call Saul or The Walking Dead on iTunes. While they cost upwards of $40 per season, I would have to subscribe to cable for several months to watch these shows. The iTunes fees pale in comparison. I can also get most of these shows by subscribing to a channel bundle service, such as Sling TV or PlayStation Vue. If you’re patient, Netflix gets a lot of these shows a year after they originally air.

Sports are another potential problem for cord cutters. Although there’s a plethora of sports apps for Apple TV, they almost all have blackout restrictions. This means that if the game is broadcast locally, you can’t watch it on Apple TV. This is unreasonable, but there is a simple workaround — just use an antenna. With today’s digital broadcast television, you can watch sports on local TV in high-definition. If you follow out-of-market games, the sports apps on Apple TV offer far more capabilities than any cable box. The MLB and NHL apps offer 60 frames-per-second video and the ability to watch two games at the same time. Users can also drill down into stats and player information. You just can’t do that on your cable box. Subscriptions for these apps often cost around $100 a year. It may seem like a lot, but have you looked at your cable bill lately?

We’ve explored the benefits and pitfalls of cutting the cord. It isn’t for everyone, but most people can do it. I have found that I watch less TV, but better TV. Between Netflix and HBO NOW, I actually had more quality TV than I could watch. These days, I only subscribe to one service at a time. My TV budget averages about $20 a month, which covers Netflix or HBO NOW and the occasional iTunes purchase. I tried all of the channel bundles, and they are very much like cable. Unfortunately, they reminded me of the hours I wasted channel surfing and watching mediocre television. They’re just not for me, but they’re a good option for some. Services like Sling TV start at just $20 per month.

The pessimistic view of Apple TV is that it doesn’t offer as much content as cable. While this is true to some extent, your cable box probably doesn’t have video games and apps. Despite the effort to thwart TV devices, tvOS developers have transcended television. Apple TV is really a specialized entertainment platform. It is far more capable than your cable box. In fact, games like Asphalt 8 and Riptide GP: Renegade are actually better on Apple TV than on dedicated gaming consoles. Unfortunately, tvOS and the App Store are relatively new, so there’s not an abundance of great games yet. New apps are added to the App Store every day. Apple TVs hardware and core operating system offer impressive performance for apps and games.

Cable TV and Satellite still have their place in many households. If you have a large family, Apple TV could prove to be more like a content vending machine. All of the subscriptions and services can add up and cost more than cable. For others, Apple TV can save $1000 or more a year. Let’s take a look at how to get the most out of Apple TV on a budget.

Buy the 32GB Apple TV

Apple TV 4 comes equipped with either 32GB or 64GB of storage space. I bought the 64GB model shortly after it was released, thinking I would need the space. It was also the only model available at Costco. After a few months, reality set in. It would take a long time to fill up Apple TV. Most apps are only a few megabytes. Apple TV streams content and there really aren’t any options for downloading and using the device offline. At most, a few high-end video games may take up 2GB or more of space. There aren’t a lot of these games. You can also remove apps and reinstall them later. You own the app (and any in-app purchases), whether it is installed or not. Just download it again from the App Store. I doubt most people will be able to fill up the 32GB model.

Buy Apple TV at a Discount

Die hard Apple fans are probably dedicated to buying everything from the Apple Store. If you need a lot of hand holding and support, it may be the way to go. The problem is that the Apple Store sells virtually everything at list price. If you shop around, you can find better deals. For example, Radio Shack sold the 32GB model for only $99. The offer only lasted for a few weeks, but that’s an exceptional value, especially considering the Siri Remote alone costs $79 to replace.

There are also some great deals if you are willing to sign up for certain services. DIRECTV NOW will give you a free 32GB Apple TV if you sign on for three months of service. At $35 a month, that comes to $105 for an Apple TV. That’s a great deal on its own, but you also get three months of DIRECTV NOW. If you don’t like DIRECTV NOW, just cancel the service and keep the Apple TV.

Whatever deal you go for, if you’re on a budget, it’s best to avoid the Apple Store. Do a quick search on Google Shopping and you will easily find the best deal. You can even buy a used or refurbished model.

Watch Free TV Shows and Movies on Apple TV

Apple TV doesn’t have to be a content vending machine. There are plenty of services offering free TV shows and movies. Providers like Crackle, TubiTV and even YouTube offer thousands of hours of quality entertainment for free. While there are advertisements, it’s a small price to pay for free entertainment. These TV shows and movies are usually not edited for TV. They are the original, unedited version. After all, they don’t have to cater to the FCC or fit their programs in time slots. Apple TV is superior to cable in this respect.

Buy a TV Antenna

Depending on where you live, you may have access to numerous channels over-the-air. This is especially great for sports fans, as it can supplement the blacked out local games on Apple TV. There are also many new advances in TV antenna technology. Newer TV antennas often feature amplifiers which can boost reception. With the new digital broadcasting format, these channels offer a crisp, clear high-definition picture.

Before you cancel cable and buy an Apple TV and antenna, you can actually check which channels are available over-the-air. The FCC offers a website with information about DTV signal availability in your area. Simply enter your area code, pinpoint your location on the map, and you can see what’s available to you for free. Channels are grouped by signal strength. You’ll probably be amazed at what you can get for free. If you buy an amplified antenna, you may be able to access even more channels.

Not everyone will need a TV antenna. I don’t use one anymore. I have more than enough to watch on Apple TV.

Buy a Case and Strap for the Siri Remote

The Siri Remote is probably the best TV remote I have ever used. It has many of the same components found in smartphones. With its Touch surface, Bluetooth connectivity, accelerometer and two microphones, the remote is definitely not cheap. Your Apple TV comes with a Siri Remote, but it’s fragile. Since the face of the remote is constructed out of glass, dropping it can cause it to shatter. This could render the remote unusable. Buying a replacement remote costs $79.

2nd Gen AirPods at Amazon

When I first learned of the remote’s fragility, I was furious. Apple must be running some kind of scam. Perhaps they are profiting from replacing remotes? The fact is, the Touch surface has to be constructed of glass. Just like the trackpad on a MacBook or the screen on an iPhone, the Siri Remote’s glass Touch surface is a necessity. It provides smooth and accurate tracking of finger movements.

Several vendors offer cases and straps for the Siri Remote. If you are accident prone or have small children, I highly recommend protecting your remote. The fact that the remote is an excellent game controller, especially for racing games, puts the remote at even more risk for damage. A strap can prevent you from dropping the remote while playing an action-packed game. If you do drop it, the case may protect it from shattering.

I personally don’t use a case or strap for my Siri Remote. The remote fits very well in my hand, which prevents me from dropping it. I’m also not very accident-prone. I make sure to never place it on the edge of a table or in any position where it is vulnerable to falls. I stand on a rug when I play video games. That way, if I drop the remote, it will fall on a soft surface.

Simply being aware of the remote’s fragility may be enough. I used to drop my old aluminum Apple TV remote all the time. I treat my Siri Remote like an iPhone, which seems to be enough for me. I’ve never dropped and shattered an iPhone, and so far, after almost 18 months, my Siri Remote is in mint condition.

Go for Free Trial Offers

Just about every service on Apple TV offers a free trial. Some of them are quite generous. You can get three months of Apple Music for free. HBO NOW, Netflix, Hulu and others offer free trials. All of the cable-over-the-Internet services offer free trials. In fact, you can cancel your paid subscriptions while you are bingeing on free trials, during your Apple TV “honeymoon”. Not only is it free content, but it’s a great opportunity to test which services are right for you. Just make sure to cancel the trial before the billing date, if you don’t plan on using the service.

99 Cent iTunes Rentals

At $5.99 for most rentals, iTunes tends to be expensive. They do, however, offer some loss leaders. iTunes Movies offers a 99 cent movie of the week. They also have a collection of “Movies You May Have Missed”. These are often popular, critically acclaimed movies that can be rented for 99 cents. Compared to cable pay-per-view, a 99 cent rental is real bargain. You can rent movies directly on Apple TV with just a few clicks.

Rent or Buy Movies and TV Shows from Google Play

A lot of Apple customers tend to stick with Apple products and services, regardless of price or quality. Sometimes this is due to irrational fan boy tendencies. It’s often just easier to go with Apple services and content, as they are integrated into their products. For example, it’s so easy to rent an iTunes movie on Apple TV. It just takes a few clicks.

If you want to save a few bucks, you can try renting or buying movies and TV shows on Google Play. It’s not as convenient as iTunes, but sometimes Google Play is cheaper. They also give you 48 hours to watch a movie after you start playback. You’ll need to make the purchase on the Google Play website. Once purchased, your videos are available directly within the Apple TV YouTube app. You won’t need to use AirPlay to beam them to Apple TV. For more information, please read “Watch Google Play Movies and TV Shows on Apple TV”.

Watch Free TV Episodes on iTunes and Google Play

Both iTunes and Google Play offer free TV episodes. While you can’t watch or follow an entire series for free, it can help you decide whether a show is worth the investment. It’s also free entertainment.

A few years ago, iTunes offered entire seasons of shows for free. I was able to download a whole season of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods for free. It’s one of the few food shows that I enjoy. I haven’t seen any offers like this lately, but it’s worth further investigation.

Restrict Apple TV Purchases

Apple TV makes it easy to purchase TV shows, movies and apps. With just a few clicks, you can end up spending a lot of money. If you have small children or irresponsible roommates, this can be a disaster. Fortunately, Apple TV has configurable restrictions that can prevent unauthorized purchases. You can also prevent children from watching mature content. For more information, please read “Apple TV 4: Restrictions and Parental Controls”.

Play Free Games

Apple TV transcends mere television. The device is more of an entertainment system than a cable substitute. The App Store features some pretty amazing games, many of which are free. I find that I play a lot more games now that I have an Apple TV. Racing games, in particular, are a joy to play. Using the responsive Siri remote to steer, Apple TV’s detailed graphics and smooth motion make for an immersive experience.

There are many free games in the tvOS App Store. The free ones are actually some of the best games. Their developers hope you will pay for in-app purchases, but it’s not mandatory. I’ve actually gotten quite a lot of enjoyment from free games without paying a cent.

Asphalt 8 is one of the best free games in the tvOS App Store. It’s a very forgiving racing game, without complicated controls. Players steer, boost and apply the break using the Siri Remote. The remote’s accelerometer allows players to steer simply by tilting the controller. It’s remarkably smooth and responsive — just like driving a car. As you gain experience and race, you earn more credits, which can be used to upgrade your car. You never need to spend money on this game, however, I ended up making a few in-app purchases. If you’re on a budget, this isn’t necessary.

Air Wings is another amazing free game. It’s an aerial combat game, but with paper airplanes and other “cute” aircraft. If you’re concerned about video game violence, AirWings is quite tame. At worst, you can destroy someone’s paper airplane with some spit wads or pencil missiles. The actual game play is truly amazing. It features stunning graphics, responsive controls and buttery-smooth animation. The free game gives you unlimited game play with one paper airplane. You can purchase additional planes, or the whole collection for only $5.99. I actually went for the whole collection, because I love this game! Just make sure to practice a lot before you play online opponents.

You can really get a lot of enjoyment from these games for free. There’s many more free games in the App Store. Just browse the free games category in the Apple TV App Store, and you’ll find hours free entertainment. You may even forget about watching TV.

Apple TV Can Save You Money

Overall, my experience is that Apple TV has saved me a lot of money. I’ve saved about $5000 since I cancelled cable almost six years ago. This includes the price of the device, services and a la cart rentals and purchases. I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything. In fact, when I visit friends and family with cable, I feel sorry for them. They have to use this clunky, obsolete remote with dozens of buttons. The cable box user interface is ugly and over-complicated. They can’t play video games. I find that I’m more up-to-date on the latest shows than they are, but I actually watch less TV.

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