3/29/2022 | By Kari Smith

TV watching has changed since rabbit ears and the national anthem marking midnight sign-off. While options extend far beyond three networks and public television, the choice comes at a cost – in money and simplicity. We provide a primer on today’s TV technology, including on HD antenna and streaming accessories, with information for seniors cutting the cord on their monthly cable or satellite TV bill.

“I was my dad’s remote control when he needed to change the channel or adjust the bunny ears,” quipped one senior. Clumsy bunny ears eventually gave way cable and satellite TV, which bundled lots of stations – including local networks – into one service. You can still choose cable or satellite TV, but you can also cut the cord. You’ll need internet services and usually a WiFi connection, but with new smart TVs and streaming services, you’ll have all the options you could possibly want, likely at a lower cost.

Speaking of cost, as cable prices soar, many consumers have grown tired of paying exorbitant prices for hundreds of channels they never watch. Most people tend to watch the same cable networks each time they turn on the TV, so wouldn’t it be nice to just pay for those channels? Thanks to today’s smart TVs and streaming services, you can. Here are the basics you need to know to get started.

Hardware for seniors cutting the cord

Today’s options for seniors cutting the cord range from the latest smart TV, to basic TVs hooked up with streaming TV technology, to basic TVs using an HD antenna. We’ll start with the most basic.

HD antenna

If your daily lineup includes the local news, your fav soaps, and a nightly game show or two, you probably do not need cable. These shows are available OTA – “over the air,” like the good ol’ days.(Bonus: these days, arm cramps are no longer a prerequisite for using an antenna!) There are many small, attractive antenna options, like the Antop Antenna HD Smart Panel, which allows you to watch local channels as well as connect to an FM radio or a second TV. Whereas streaming services require internet connection, these do not.

During a recent extended internet outage, I pulled out an older Antop antenna someone had given me for use in an RV, and I was able to watch local channels even without internet.

Whether you have an older model of TV or a smart TV, you may still need an HD antenna (or a cable subscription) to watch local TV 24/7. However, many local stations offer live streaming of local news on their websites, which can be accessed from your computer, tablet, mobile phone – or a TV connected to the web.

Related: Best TV shows for people over 50

Streaming TV technology: sticks and boxes

couple drinking wine and watching television. photo by Monkey Business Images Dreamstime

Seniors cutting the cord on cable or satellite can plug in instead. By plugging a streaming device into your TV’s HDMI port, you can access a wide array of shows, movies, apps, and games.

The Amazon Fire TV Stick is a small device shaped like a thumb drive that plugs into the HDMI port on your TV. This gives you access to TV shows, shows, movies, and more. There is no monthly fee for using the Fire Stick, but if you are using subscription services like Netflix, Hulu, or Disney Plus, you will pay the monthly cost for these. This can still be a significant savings over the price of cable. The Fire Stick does not require a Smart TV, but it does require an open HDMI port.

Bonus: you can take your plug-in with you! If you go on vacation, you can simply unplug your Fire Stick and take it with you for use in any compatible TV.

Other plug-in options, each with its own pluses and minuses, include the Apple TV box, Google Chromecast, and Roku.

If you fear the prospect of having to set up yet another technology device, rest assured that most of these are relatively simple. Besides paper instruction manuals with “quick setup” pages, the internet has videos and detailed explanations for most any available model of technology. Or get a little help – then sit back and be entertained with your new television viewing options.

Smart TVs

Contemporary smart TVs don’t just look sleek and modern, this TV technology integrate with internet streaming video shows and music as well as web browsing – without the need for an additional plug-in. But if you’ve already accepted the plug-in experience, you can probably get away without investing in one.

Software and Apps

multigenerational African American family watching sports together on television. photo by Monkey Business Images Dreamstime

Plug-ins and smart TVs come with a wide variety of shows as well as optional apps, free and paid, allowing you to choose what you want to watch and what is worth spending money on. Streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, etc. have their own content, including original shows and movies.

If you have a specific series that you typically watch on cable TV, check to see which services stream your favorite shows, so that when you cut the cable cord, you can continue to watch without interruption. Better yet, you can even view past episodes. If you have a network that you typically watch exclusively – such as Discovery Channel, History Channel, etc., you can pay to stream only those shows.

Bonus: binge watch your favorite series without stopping for commercial breaks or waiting until the next week after a cliffhanger ending!

Related: When ‘This Is Us’ hits close to home

Some of my favorite Netflix shows to watch are period pieces, such as Call the Midwife – a BBC drama based in London in the 1950s and 60s; or the historical drama Reign, which follows the story of Mary, Queen of Scots and her rise to power.

But regardless of your interests, there’s a streaming service for that! If you enjoy home renovation shows, download the HGTV app for all the home makeover shows you can stand. If you enjoy true crime, try ID Go (Investigation Discovery) to watch your favorite crime shows. If sports are your thing, pick the app that features the sport you watch the most of for unlimited access (Hulu now includes an ESPN+ add-on). If you’re a movie buff, try the Starz, HBO, Cinemax, or Showtime apps.

Most of these subscription services cost a low monthly fee, but you can try them out for a month or so to see if these include the shows you want to watch.

So go ahead – unplug that cable or satellite, and only watch the channels you want to, while pocketing that extra monthly cable money for something else. Perhaps a bigger TV?

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith