THE ADVANCES, AVAILABILITY, AND LOW COST OF STREAMING devices have forever changed the way we consume video. Cord-cutters swear by streaming technology, and an increasing number of consumers are starting to look at the technology as a viable option for watching movies and sporting events. If you have yet to be anointed into the streaming club, there’s still plenty of time to join before you get pegged as the old-timer of your group. Here are some good options to get started on your cord-cutting journey.
One of the most popular ways to stream video is via a smart TV. In one package you get all you’d expect from a great TV, with streaming as an appealing perk. But as was the case with other “combo systems,” such as TV/VCRs and TV/DVD players, if one part of the system failed, the entire viewing experience suffered. Furthermore, control over the two technologies from one remote was often clumsy. Keep this in mind, too: Sony, LG, Samsung, and other smart TV manufacturers must follow contractual commitments with their streaming-video service providers. All have slightly different offerings, and some are missing the most popular services entirely. If you want to take advantage of a smart TV’s streaming capabilities, understand the limitations and look for a brand and solution that meets your needs.
Another option is a streaming stick, such as the Roku Stick, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, and Google’s Chromecast. Each brand of stick is small enough to be plugged directly into an HDMI port on your TV or surround-sound receiver. The big difference between these three devices is the scope of content available. Roku is the obvious winner when it comes to content, as it has the most available, including favorites like VUDU, Netflix, and most popular subscription cable channel offerings. Amazon’s Fire TV Stick is a unique newcomer that can stream popular video, plus games and special, more targeted channels, like cooking shows. Google’s Chromecast runs content directly from your tablet, phone, or laptop, which means it cannot render content on its own–the tablet, phone, or PC must be on and running.
Lastly, you can stream video via a set-top box like Apple TV. While Apple TV has remained one of the most popular streaming set-top boxes available, Apple likesto keep the ball in its court, so you won’t find VUDU and Amazon Instant Video on this device. Having said this, when it comes to streaming content from the Internet, Roku has held fast as the king of offerings. It supports all of the most popular streaming movie and TV options, as well as content catered to specific audiences. Amazon Fire TG is another great option for movie buffs. Like Roku, it offers most of the popular streaming services and is easy to use and navigate. The biggest difference between Roku and Amazon Fire TV is their movie offerings. While Roku offers VUDU, the long-standing king of movies, Fire TV offers the new kid on the: block, Amazon Instant Video. So when it comes to these two, the decision will be all about personal taste.
And keep your eyes peeled for streaming devices that support 4K video content. Both Roku and Amazon (plus others) offer 4K set-top boxes. If you have recently invested in a 4K display, be sure to explore these options, but keep in mind that some 4K set-top boxes aren’t intended to be integrated easily with distribution systems that enable 4K content to be shared among multiple TVs. As of press time, Roku seems to be the friendliest when it comes to delivering its 4K content housewide.
When looking for a streaming device, keep in mind there are plenty of other brands out there like Netgear, but if you want the best user experience, stick with the big three: Apple, Amazon, and Roku. All are sure to please. Just keep in mind, it is not so much the box you choose, it’s the services they provide and how they cater to your own viewing habits. But if you’re like me you’ll get all three.
Joe Whitaker has 20 years of experience in home systems design and installation, and is an award-winning product designer. He is currently principal of the home systems integration company thethoughtfulhome.com.