We have so many different options for watching TV and movies these days. You can watch a movie on your Blu-Ray player, watch a live show on satellite TV, or watch a recording on your DVR, just to name a few. But options for streaming TV and movies are growing at an incredibly fast rate, and even I get a bit confused by it all!
So today I’ll be sharing some basics about streaming video, so that we can all have a better understanding of what it is and how to do it. I’ll break down the difference between streaming services and streaming devices, and I’ll talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of some of the more popular streaming options. Video streaming is here to stay, so we might as well know what the heck it’s all about! :-)
Video streaming services give you access to a collection of TV shows and movies that you can watch online. Some of the more popular streaming services right now include Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Sling, Crackle, and more. Streaming services are available on a subscription basis, which is usually (but not always) charged to you on a monthly basis.
Each streaming service has it’s own unique collection of TV shows and movies to watch. And many streaming services now offer exclusive content too, meaning you can’t get that content on any other service. (For example, Netflix has produced dozens of its own series like Master of None, Marvel’s Luke Cage, and Stranger Things.) If you simply must have access to certain TV shows or movies, it’s worth finding out what the different services offer before subscribing to one.
Prices for streaming services vary, but you can count on paying more for commercial-free options. Hulu offers a monthly membership for $8 per month, but if you want a commercial-free experience, you can upgrade for an additional $4 per month. Netflix starts at $10 per month for their standard HD service.
You can stream content from all the major streaming services on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. But if you want to stream to your TV, you may need a dedicated streaming device. (However, there are certain situations where you may not need a separate streaming device, and I’ll talk about those below.) Some of the popular options for streaming devices are Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, and Amazon Fire TV. Each device has different additional features, like voice search, screen-mirroring, 4K video support, and more.
Apple TV is a great option for iPhone, iPad, or Mac users. It comes with plenty of built-in apps for streaming, including Netflix, Hulu, Sling, and even YouTube. Using your Apple ID, you can rent or buy movies from iTunes on your Apple TV. You can also play music from Apple Music, or sync up your iCloud Photo Library to look at family photos.
We have an Apple TV box at our studio, and we primarily use the Airplay function for our meetings. With Airplay we can “mirror” one of our computer screen’s onto our big TV screen. It’s great for showing slideshows, presentations, and other work-related stuff. Apple TV is one of the pricier options for streaming devices, but it can be worth it if you plan to utilize its additional features.
Google offers two different streaming devices, Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra. These devices plug into one of your TV’s HDMI inputs, and offer many of the same apps as Apple TV. One of the main differences between Chromecast and Apple TV is that Apple TV comes with its own specific remote to control it. You control Chromecast using your smartphone.
This might sound a little complex, so bear with me, but Chromecast doesn’t have a home screen that displays apps to choose from. Instead, you open the app on your smartphone that you want to watch (say, Netflix for instance). Then you select the show or movie you want to watch, and push the Cast button to make it appear on your TV via Chromecast. Chromecast has a bit of a learning curve, but it is pretty reasonably priced compared to other streaming devices. (The standard device costs $35, while Chromecast Ultra costs $69.)
For a streaming device that’s less feature-heavy (and probably less complicated) than Apple TV or Chromecast, look no further than Roku. Roku offers a variety of different streaming devices ranging in cost from $30 to $110, and each device includes its own remote.
Roku devices come equipped with all the streaming apps you could want, like Netflix and Hulu. You also have access to several apps that allow you to download or rent movies or TV shows, like Google Play and FandangoNOW. If you’re looking for a straightforward streaming device for a good price, Roku devices are a good option to look at!
Amazon Fire TV
The last streaming device I want to mention is Amazon Fire TV. The Fire TV box is $90, and has a voice remote equipped with Alexa. Fire TV is especially great for people who are already using Amazon Prime Video, which is included with an Amazon Prime Membership. (Get more details about Amazon Prime below.)
Fire TV allows you to access all of Amazon’s exclusive video content (it’s a small but growing collection of shows) and all of the standard streaming apps too. There’s also a cheaper option, the Fire TV Stick, that’s only $40. And since it’s a stick and not a box, it’s totally portable. You can take it with you anywhere, plug it in, and start streaming instantly.
Other Streaming Options
I mentioned at the beginning of the post that there are certain situations where you don’t need a streaming device to stream videos to your TV.
If you own a SmartTV, you already have a lot of the same features of a streaming device built right into your TV. Smart TVs generally come equipped with streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu, and more, and apps for renting or buying movies and TV shows.
Another situation where you wouldn’t need a separate streaming device is if you already own certain high-end game consoles. Both the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One consoles offer many of the standard streaming apps. (The apps aren’t pre-loaded – but they are usually free and easy to download.) These game consoles are really pricey, so I wouldn’t consider one if you’re just looking to stream shows to your TV. But if you already happen to have one in the house, you can start streaming without buying additional equipment!