Is it Finally Time to Cut the Cord?

Let’s face it, you often tell yourself this will be the month you really buckle down and do the research, ask your Millenial friends and finally decide to make the jump and cut cable TV out of your life. And why shouldn’t you? according to Leichtman Research Group the average amount American families paid for cable TV was $103 per month in 2016. That is a lot of money, cable TV is expensive. But if you are will to do the homework, invest in a few gadgets and tolerate a few extra cords running through your home, you can cut you monthly bill down to reasonable monthly fee. Below I have listed what I see the steps to walk through be to help with your decision making. But we warned, this might make your head spin a bit.

Step 1: Do Review your TV Watching Habits

Do an audit of your TV watching habits and decide what programming you need to have. Chances are you’re paying for a cable bundle that has 100 channels you don’t watch. There is a handy tool on Untangle.tv that will walk you through that process.

Step 2: Buy an HDTV antenna. In 2006 the FCC required that broadcasters start sending out their signals over the ince 2007, local TV stations have been broadcasting digital signals so crisp that the reception is better than that of cable TV. Plus, despite all the hype about shows on niche networks, 19 of the top 20 TV shows in 2016 aired on over-the-air broadcast networks. That’s why Step 1 is to buy an antenna. These are not like the old rabbit ears from you cabin in the woods or your grandfather’s house. These modern looking digital TV antennas can be small and unobtrusive, and some are even designed to blend in with your home’s décor. The selection at Amazon is pretty good, and you can get a good one for around $30.

Step 3: Get a decent Internet deal. A decent web service package that can support a standard cord-cutting set-up requires a speed of at least 10 Mbps for each TV. Fortunately, you can get these speeds from most providers like Spectrum (TWC), Charter, Comcast, Fios (Verizon). But call your local suppliers and see what kind of promotional deals they are running. They all know about the cord-cutting trend and are hedging with services packages to accommodate cord-cutters. Also be on the lookout for fees that aren’t included in the base rate. The website BroadbandNow reveals most service providers’ introductory plans and prices, and any additional fees. Also, service providers will want to lease you a router, but it likely will make more sense for you to buy one of your own.

Step 4: Connect with an HDMI cord. A cheap and easy way to watch Internet shows on your TV is by connecting your laptop to your television set with an HDMI cord. You are essentially using your TV as a giant computer screen, but HDMI allows for quality images, so you should not lose much detail for programming you stream. You can buy these cables at MonoPrice.com for under $6.

Step 5: Consult cord-cutting websites. There are many websites that will take your TV watching habits and recommend a set-up for you based on the information you give them, including your ZIP code. Untangle.tv one of them, but they also sell antennaes, so that is ther angle. Some other tools can be found at JustWatch.com and Fan.tv .

Step 6: Check if you have a Smart TV. If you bought your television after 2009, there’s a good chance it can already stream television shows via the Internet. Most modern TVs are equipped with “Internet-ready” technology and apps like Hulu and Netflix included in the hardware. With all of the talk about streaming “boxes” and “sticks,” it’s easy to overlook the technology you already have.

Step 7: Check your Blu-ray player and game console. If your television isn’t pre-loaded with Internet apps, you may have an external device that is. Many Blu-ray players can stream shows and cost as little as $50. Alternatively, recent editions of gaming systems such as PlayStation, Wii and Xbox ($250-plus) can also stream videos.

Step 8: Consider buying a player. If you do need to buy an external device, use the websites in Step 4 to help you decide which one to buy, based on what shows you want to watch, because no one player offers access to everything.

• Amazon Fire ($40-$90) Supports many media services.

• Apple TV ($199) integrates with other Apple devices.

• Google Chromecast ($70) Watch YouTube videos and more on your TV.

• Roku ($30-$110) Easy to use and offers lots of apps.

• TiVo Bolt ($400, plus $15 a month) For those who cannot live without it

8. Add streaming services. Your final step is to add the streaming services that actually provide the shows you like, based on what you learned in Step 4. These can be divided into three categories: mainstays, live and premium.

Other Providers: The key sources for programming that most cord-cutters turn to.

Amazon Prime ($99 a year) Free shows, original programming, on demand.

Hulu ($8 a month) offers ABC, Fox, NBC, Comedy Central & Syfy

Netflix ($8-$12 a month) Stream movies and original programming

Sling TV ($20 a month) includes 30 plus , no contract

YouTube TV ($35 a month) Stream programming

Premium: Just like premium channels on cable.

HBO Now ($15 a month) is available on nearly every device.

Showtime ($11 a month) is available on most devices.

 

 

 

The App Guide: Best Photo Apps

Many of today’s smartphones feature photo functions, and some are good enough to warrant leaving your old point-and-shoot at home.

That’s not to say you should expect the same crispness or resolution you’d get from a traditional camera. (For instance, the iPhone 4 camera features just 5 megapixels, while the average point-and-shoot today offers 10 to 14 megapixels.) But smartphones bring something valuable to the table: photo apps. “It’s amazing how handy it is to take a photo, quickly enhance it with an app, and email it or post it -- all with a few clicks,” says San Francisco-based photographer Angela Lang.

The iPhone leads the pack in photo apps, with several hundred available for download. Android and BlackBerry offer fewer apps, but their selection is growing. Here are some of the coolest apps -- you won’t believe all the creative things they let you do with that tiny little camera!

Photo App No. 1: Camera+

Lets you … Transform your camera
Camera+ amps up the iPhone’s camera functions. It lets you take photos from within the app and then apply effects, such as “HDR” to make colors pop, or “So Emo” to give your pics an air of drama. The image stabilizer diminishes blur, and you can even turn your phone’s flash into a continuous light when you’re snapping a photo in a low-light setting. The app also lets you crop, adjust exposure, add borders and instantly share your photos on Facebook, Flickr and Twitter.

Available on: iPhone (for Android, check out Vignette -- it offers tons of filters and effects for Android’s 8.1-megapixel camera)

Photo App No. 2: Picplz
Lets you … Get social

Picplz (pronounced “pic, please”) also offers lots of filters and effects, but it features a stronger social networking aspect. You can upload your edited photos to the picplz site, view others’ photos, vote on the most interesting photos and leave comments. Browse photos by city and you can even see what everybody is snapping in Houston today.
Available on: iPhone and Android

Photo App No. 3: ColorSplash

Lets you … Add a pop of color
ColorSpash does just one thing, but it’s pretty nifty: It converts your photos to black and white and then selectively adds color back in. Imagine a photo of a circus entirely in black and white, but with a bright pop of color on a red balloon … or a black and white image of your child with her eyes crystal clear in color.

Available on: iPhone, iPad and Android

Photo App No. 4: PostalPix

Lets you … Order prints
Here’s the problem: You have a huge library of photos on your smartphone, but Grandma still wants prints. Instead of downloading the photos on your computer, uploading them on a photo-printing site and ordering prints, get the free PostalPix app and order prints right on your phone. The app lets you crop and scale each photo, print a variety of sizes -- and even print a photo onto a mousepad.

Available on: iPhone (coming soon to Android)

Photo App No. 5: FlickStackr

Lets you … Connect with Flickr
Flickr is one of the world’s most popular photo-sharing sites. It has millions of users (pros and amateurs), and approximately 5,000 photos are uploaded every minute. FlickStackr is a third-party companion app that brings much of Flickr’s functionality to your smartphone or tablet, with a notable addition: It lets you take photos within the app and upload them directly to Flickr. You can then interact with other users, share photos with friends, edit, join groups based on interest, organize and tag photos and learn about photography.

Available on: iPhone and iPad (for Android, check out Flickr Companion)

The App Guide: 5 Must-have Shopping Apps

Mobile apps have changed shopping forever -- and for the better. With just a few apps on your smart phone, you can save money and time, and get goods in your hands faster.

Today’s shopping apps not only let you compare prices and find discounts, they also use social trends, like social networking and geolocations, to enhance your shopping experience. “More and more people are trying to bring the whole shopping experience that you get online and make it something you do in person too,” says Mia Kim, editor in chief of Popgadget, a tech blog for women.

On that note, here are six must-have apps that will make shopping more fun and efficient.

Shopping App No. 1: Shopkick
Shopkick
  is all about offline shopping. Just let the app recognize your location, and it will offer you deals in all the participating stores nearby. Scan certain products with your phone’s camera and earn kickbucks to use for gift cards, movie tickets, merchandise or charity donations. The app works in cities across the U.S.

For: iPhone and Android

Shopping App No. 2: Amazon App
Amazon App is more than just a smart-phone-sized version of Amazon’s website. With your phone’s camera, you can scan any barcode to find and buy the item on Amazon in a matter of moments. You can also add products to your shopping cart and complete your transaction later on the spot. “Everything is there,” says Kim. “Because most people have Amazon accounts with payments set up, it really takes five seconds to buy something.”

For: iPhone , BlackBerry and Android. A separate app, Windowshop, is available for the iPad.

Shopping App No. 3: FastMall
If you have a love/hate relationship with malls and saving time is just as important to you as saving money, FastMall is the app for you. FastMall provides interactive maps for thousands of shopping malls around the world. Looking for the nearest restroom? Shake your iPhone and find it without getting lost in the mall. Or use the app’s turn-by-turn navigation instructions to make your way from the food court to the bookstore.

For: iPhone and Android

Shopping App No. 4: GoodGuide
With GoodGuide , you can shop sustainably and eco-consciously. Browse, search or scan a barcode to learn how a product scores in such categories as health, environment and social impact. You can create lists of products you love and those you want to avoid and share your lists in social networks.

For: iPhone

Shopping App No. 5: CardStar
How many reward cards do you have dangling from your keychain or stuffed into your wallet? CardStar saves all your reward cards’ barcodes to your phone, so the checker can scan your screen instead of the little plastic card (which you can never find anyway).

For: iPhone, BlackBerry and Windows phones

The Wide World of Web Widgets

When Kyle Ford set out to create a customized iGoogle homepage, the 30-year-old Los Angeles native decided he wanted it to show information he needs every day -- such as current weather conditions and a calendar. Lucky for him, adding these features was easy thanks to a technology called "widgets." 

In technical terms, a widget is a chunk of programming code that delivers a small amount of content to a web page. At its core, a widget is a mini software application that you can incorporate into your own web page. This is do-it-yourself programming.

Also known as gadgets, badges, flake and snippets, widgets can help to enhance your personal web site or online profiles with video, music, photos and games. So with widgets, you don't need to hire a programmer or web designer to add content to your web site or MySpace profile, explains Pam Webber, vice president of product development and marketing for Widgetbox, a widget directory.

Ford, a product development manager at Ning, a technology company that also creates social networks and widgets, adds that: "Widgets take information you want and push it to you."

If you're ready to get started using widgets, here are the basics you need to know:

What are widgets?
Widgets have become so popular on the web these days, that you might not realize that you're already using them. For example, you may have a friend who has a profile on Facebook and she may have used the site's widget library to add special features to her profile such as iLike (a list of music she likes), the Traveler IQ Challenge (an interactive quiz), or the Virtual Bookshelf (a list of favorite books). If you've seen these features, then you have witnessed a widget in action.

On Ford's own family web site, House of Kyle, he creates widgets with family snapshots and home video so that others can copy and paste them on their own blogs, web sites or social network profiles.

These snippets of code can be found at many web sites on the Internet, including Widgets Lab, which offers widgets for a variety of functions. There is one that enables you to put your photos in a slideshow. Another one helps you to create your own comic strips. You can even add the New York Times' crossword puzzle to your personal web page. Many widgets are free, while some come with a nominal cost.

Why do you need widgets?
The easy answer: because they make your web pages more entertaining and a lot more fun. Adding widgets to your social networking profile or blog is tantamount to accessorizing. You wouldn't leave the house without your lucky watch or your favorite purse, would you? So why would you leave your Facebook page without a widget?

You can also find widgets that are useful for business (such as tracking the flights of colleagues who are traveling) and finance (like signing up for news feeds about the stock market), or family life (instead of emailing family and friends the latest video of your kids, let them copy a widget from your web site and paste it on their own.) Widgets can help you save time. For example, if you already have a blog, you can use an RSS (really simple syndication) widget to import your latest musings into your Facebook profile. Same goes for your Flickr photos -- you can use a widget to display your photo albums on your Facebook profile or personal web site.

How do I install widgets?
Widgets are getting easier to install every day. On some social networking sites, it's as simple as clicking one button. Other widget providers require that you download an installer. 

If you're a more sophisticated web user, you can install widgets the traditional way -- by copying the underlying code and manually pasting it into your web site's basic code. The web site usually needs to support either Flash or JavaScript. "One-click works beautifully," says Gina Bianchini, the co-founder and CEO of Ning. But the copy and paste method allows users "a lot more freedom and flexibility," she says.

To delete a widget -- either manually or with an installer -- you would delete the code that you inserted. On MySpace, for example, go to profile edit page, locate the section where your widget is displayed and delete the code. On Facebook, it's as simple as hitting the delete key next to where the widget lives on your profile.

Do widgets pose any downsides?
The popularity and ease of use of widgets has meant that more people are developing their own games, video and other types of widgets. Many web sites that feature easily downloadable widgets warn users that they are about to install something that could possibly include malicious code and result in damage to their computer. So how do you know whether a widget is safe? One way is to review user feedback. Sites like Yahoo! and Facebook, for example, show the number of times a widget has been downloaded and include reviews from actual users. This feedback can alert you to possible dangers. So even though most sites warn that you download widgets at your own risk, your best bet is to get them from companies you trust.