Consumer Reports’ Shop Smart: Save money on your TV

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Does opening your bill for cable or satellite TV make your blood boil? You're not alone.

Monthly pay-TV bills averaged around $86 in 2011 (the most recent data available), according to research firm NPD — and that doesn't include Internet or phone service, which can easily push the tab for a triple-play package to $150 or more. If you just can't take those bills anymore, here are a few options:

• Look, up in the sky. With a UHF-VHF antenna, you can enjoy free — that's right, free — over-the-air HD broadcasts from local stations such as ABC, CBS, NBC and others. You may pull in a few dozen channels with news, movies and foreign-language programs.

• Downsize. A bare-bones package might not suit you, but perhaps you don't need everything you're paying for. Consumer Reports suggests evaluating how many channels you actually watch. You might find that a lower, cheaper tier of service would satisfy you, especially if you supplement it with a streaming service.

 Negotiate. If you don't want to change your current TV package, see whether a promotion will save you money. Ask for the disconnect or cancellation department. You'll speak to a customer retention specialist whose job is to keep you as a subscriber.

• Switch. You may conclude that it's time to switch to another provider, which might give you a better deal as a new subscriber. Compare satellite, Verizon FiOS and Comcast.

• Streamline. Think about cutting equipment. Is it worth paying for DVR service or a set-top box for all of the TVs you have connected? Consider keeping cable on your main TV and use an antenna for a bedroom TV used mostly to watch news or talk shows. You'll save $6 to $10 per month on box rental.

• Not free, but cheap. If the antenna offerings aren't enough, you can round out your viewing preferences with an online service such as Netflix.

Streaming video services are the big bang behind your exploding viewing options. Those online services offer thousands of movies and TV programs, old and new, that you can enjoy on your own schedule. To stream video you need a broadband Internet connection (Consumer Reports' experts recommend 5 mbps or higher, provided by most cable services) and either a TV with built-in Internet capability or a device that you connect to the set — a media player, an Internet-enabled Blu-ray player or a game console.

Most services charge either a subscription fee, usually $10 or less per month, or several dollars for each movie or TV episode you stream.


Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org).

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