The above selection of Plex channels best approximates cable TV, in my opinion.
Many more are available, but they tend to be more special interest in nature.
These are not live feeds from the cable channels, but collections of their content that you must drill down to and select. Some channels are more up-to-date and complete than others.
All are free. You can sign up at Plex.tv. Once you select your preferred channels, you can watch them on your computer, or add the Plex Channel on Roku, or get the apps for your tablet or phone. The various apps cost about $5, but everything you do on your computer is free.
[As mentioned in previous posts (see 007 Channel on Plex), Plex is also a great way to use your own local content. With MakeMKV software installed, stick a DVD into your computer and rip it into streamable MKV files that Plex Media Server can serve to your various apps in a nice menu. You can also convert shows recorded on Windows Media Center into Plex-streamable files with MCEBuddy (or free Handbrake) software (see U.N.C.L.E. and Superman on PC DVR).]
The Plex channels are a fine idea, but are they adequate substitutes for cable TV? Only you can answer that question for yourself.
Here is my perspective.
When I worked at American Airlines/Sabre in Realtime Coverage, members of our group created PC software to automate the routine monitoring of reservation and flight systems that we had previously done entirely by manual command line entries. The automation allowed us to glance at several passive displays, take in a lot of information, and often spot incipient problems.
At one time, an outside group was charged with developing new automation. What they created did not work for us. The reason: their software presented little passive information. To view any aspect of the systems, we had to actively drill down to it. But typically, you would only do that if you already suspected that particular subsystem to be in trouble, so it was little use as early warning. In the realtime environment, we didn’t always have much time to respond.
Cable (or satellite) channel surfing is a bit like system monitoring, though without the urgency. It’s easy to bring up the program guide and flip channels, not knowing upfront what will capture your attention. That is a mode my wife particularly likes (and I like it too). For her, it pertains mainly to casual background TV viewing on weekends.
With Plex channels, Roku channels, etc, that mode is not available. You must actively drill down to the specific content. It’s harder work and takes more time to be exploratory.
I don’t believe there is an easy alternative to the content provided by cable and satellite, and I haven’t been able to replicate the full channel surfing experience, though there is an XBMC (later: renamed “Kodi”) software project called PseudoTVLive.
Cut the TV cord completely? It comes down to how much you like casual surfing, easy access to broad content, and live TV, beyond what you have with free broadcast TV. Is it worth the cost?
We haven’t cut it yet. But we have whittled it down quite a bit (see previous post, Tears for tiers).