It wasn’t so long ago that TV meant settling for whatever you got. One schedule, one package and one price were the name of the game for many. Today, the features and options available are far greater. If you’re unhappy with your cable or satellite package, negotiating your service might be one way to get what you want. However, for an increasing number of people, “cutting the cord” and replacing their service with streaming online video is the most attractive option. Internet-based video services can offer the advantages of on-demand content, contract-free terms, wireless and mobile viewing, varied device options, attractive pricing, and access to content not available elsewhere. If you’re ready to take your TV viewing into the 21st century, here’s what you need to get started.
More than likely, you already have the minimum setup necessary to replace your TV service with streaming video: high-speed Internet, a TV or device with streaming video apps and perhaps an HDTV antenna. For the best performance and ease of use, however, you may need to make the following upgrades or purchases.
Your current Internet service may be sufficient for your present needs, but diving into the deep end of the streaming video world may be more than your present plan can handle. Internet service plans measure their bandwidth or “speed” in Mbps. Generally, you’ll need 5 Mbps for each device simultaneously streaming HD video and 25 Mbps for each one streaming 4k video. Contact your Internet service provider to ensure that an appropriate plan is available to you, and upgrade if necessary.
With the dominance of wired and satellite TV, it’s easy to forget that several channels may be available at no cost over the air. If you live in an urban area, a good HDTV antenna is likely to provide you with all four major networks (FOX, ABC, NBC and CBS), as well as 10-15 other selections (PBS, CW, etc.) in full HD for free. Ask your antenna-equipped neighbors what channels and reception they receive, or use the free tool at AntennaWeb.org to see the coverage in your area. HDTV antennas are available at electronics stores and online for as little as $13.
If streaming is to be your primary source of video content, you’ll probably want the most user-friendly way to enjoy it. Laptops and tablets may be acceptable for certain occasions, but for big screen viewing, you’ll be best served by an upgrade over the clunky built-in options in your TV or Blu-ray player.
Four of the most-used streaming devices are listed below. All of them can stream content from popular services like Netflix and Hulu, have HDMI and WiFi connectivity and support HD-quality video or better. These devices vary by price, how they are controlled, support for “Ultra HD” 4K video, support for Ethernet (wired network connection) and other features.
|Roku||$30-130||Included remote or mobile device app||Some models||Some models|
|Chromecast||$35-69||Mobile device or computer app||$69 model||With $15 adaptor|
|Apple TV||$149-199||Included remote or mobile device app||No||Yes|
|Amazon Fire TV||$40-130||Included remote with voice support or mobile device app||Some models||Some models|
The household name in online video entertainment, Netflix offers an $8-12/month streaming service. Its sprawling library includes only a modest selection of big-name titles, but their award-winning in-house productions are steadily becoming the main attraction. The company’s spin-off DVD rental service at DVD.com offers access to a much larger catalogue for $5-12/month.
Though no longer offering the free option that launched it to top popularity, Hulu still distinguishes itself by offering a large selection of current season TV episodes the day after they air. The service also includes many past seasons of TV series as well as a catalogue of movies. Hulu is $6/month with commercials and $12/month without.
Like a streaming version of cable, Sling TV provides live TV channels in three standard packages. The basic $20/month package offers access to 25+ channels, including ESPN (1-3), CNN, Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, TBS, HGTV, Travel and more. Add-on packages provide niche channels such as sports and foreign language.
Amazon Prime Video
Available for $9/month or included in Amazon’s $99/year Prime service, Prime Video offers a library of thousands of streaming movies and shows. This includes a modest selection of top-shelf movies and TV shows as well as Amazon’s own self-produced content. Content not included in their free catalogue is often available to rent or purchase through Amazon.
Long a standout as a premium add-on to cable and satellite packages, HBO recently became available as a stand-alone $15/month Web subscription. HBO Now grants you streaming HD access to the network’s full catalogue of celebrated content as well as a strong selection of blockbuster movies.
À la carte
If you have a specific movie or TV season or episode in mind, sometimes the best way to view it is simply by purchasing or renting it à la carte to stream. Numerous services provide this option, including Google Play Movies & TV, YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Video and Vudu. Searching for your title of choice via your streaming device or Google should yield your available à la carte options.
By mixing and matching the options above to suit your viewing needs, you should be able to bid farewell to your current service and enjoy the benefits of streaming. The online video marketplace is a dynamic one, with new technologies and products emerging regularly, so be sure to keep an eye out for new ways you can get even more out of your viewing experience. Happy streaming!