Thanks to the internet and smartphone apps, watching television will never be the same. So-called streaming TV is far cheaper than traditional cable and satellite television, which is driving its soaring popularity.
Evolving technology. With cable and satellite, viewers are watching live feeds from the various channels. Using a DVR, viewers can record shows they want to watch later. With online streaming TV, you’ll watch the same shows but they arrive via an app on your smartphone, tablet or laptop, and usually for a fraction of the cost. You’ll need a subscription to an online content provider and a transmitter to send that content from your phone or tablet to your television. Recording isn’t possible.
Content providers. Two types of content service providers exist. Sling TV and Playstation VUE provide live streaming of the mainstream channels. Though Sling offers fewer channels than basic cable, it does so for about one third of cable’s cost. Playstation VUE provides more channels via three package levels. Prices start a few dollars higher than Sling and top out in the same range as cable.
Most of the remaining content providers, such as HULU Plus, Amazon and Crackle, provide movies and television programs on demand that have already aired plus some of their own original shows. They do not live stream.
Transmitting to TV. Once you decide on a content provider, you will need to get the content from your phone or tablet app to your television. Two things are required: a strong high speed internet connection (A minimum of 10 megabits per second is required, but 25 mbps or more is best.) and a streaming device attached to your TV. The major players are:
- Google Chromecast. The Chromecast device is a “dongle,” a plug-in about the size of your thumb that goes in one of the HDMI ports on the back of your TV. Chromecast will transmit many types of streaming content, including Netflix, Spotify and YouTube, as well as live content providers such as Sling.
- Apple TV. Apple TV fulfills both roles of content provider and streaming transmitter. If you have an iPhone or tablet with an Apple store account then you can operate an Apple TV device. The opaque black cube attaches to your TV via an HDMI cord. Apple TV becomes a one-stop hub for movies, TV shows, news, sports and more. The device is operated by a small remote and the ever-present Siri is available for voice commands. Apple TV does not offer Amazon or Google Play content.
- Roku. Another popular streaming device is the Roku, which is the most versatile of the media-streaming transmitters. It is compatible with most content, with the exception of Apple-based content.
- Amazon Fire TV. Amazon has its own massive library of movies and television content plus its own transmitting device, so it plays a dual role much like Apple TV. The Fire TV device and the smaller Fire Stick, a dongle similar to Chromecast, will stream almost all content except those that are Google- and Apple-based.