Have you been feeling like everyone else around you has figured out this “streaming movies and TV shows” thing, and you are standing on the fringes thinking you’ll eventually figure it out? But so far you haven’t really done anything about it. So let’s get into some of the products that can help you. Let’s figure out how to get you a media streaming device.
On February 17, I started a series for “cord cutters”, with a Blog entitled 6 Steps to Cutting the Cord of Cable. In that, I presented a summary of what would need to be done in order to dump cable or satellite TV in favor of using a combination of Over The Air (OTA) for local stations and Streaming content from the Internet. In yesterday’s blog, I elaborated on Step 3: Get an Optional Digital Video Recorder.
In today’s blog, I elaborate on Step 4: Get a Media Streaming Device.
You can get streaming services built into the TV, BluRay player or game system. You can also buy a separate box such as a Roku or AppleTV, or a dongle in ChromeCast.
a) Built into the TV – additional $100
If you read Step 1 of this series, you considered a new TV. Some are marketed as “Network Ready”. This generally means you have a set of built-in applications that can get you Netflix, YouTube, hulu+, and perhaps a few other oddball services. This is great if you only plan to use one or two of these and don’t want to stream through a home theater system. Otherwise, you’ll want a separate device, and all of the following fit that category.
b) Built into a BluRay player or Game System – $100 to $400
Panasonic, LG, Samsung, Sony and other BluRay players have a Network feature that, when connected to an ethernet or WiFi local area network (LAN) in your home, will access the internet to using many of the apps listed above. Game systems, such as Xbox and PlayStation 3 (and the new 4) have the same type of functionality. The benefit of this method is that you will probably be using your BluRay/DVD player or game system anyway, and it’s one less connection to your home theater. The down side of this is that a component failure kills off two of your functions at the same time. It may also make upgrades harder to afford.
c) Roku 3 (CNet Review) – $50 to $100
This small black box provides access to the most streaming services of any device known. The interface has also gotten very good reviews from new users, meaning it should not be too difficult to learn. With up to 1080p, HDMI, WiFi, 100Mbps Ethernet and a simple remote, this unit will let you watch shows on demand. The “3” model has the faster processor and will help alleviate frustration when loading apps and shows since many of the previous models were underpowered and most of us have a low tolerance for sluggish technology.
d) Apple TV (CNet Review) – $100
Mac users have known about Apple TV for years, and have continuously thought that the next generation will fix their issues. But each time the next generation comes out, the product has only been improved marginally and Roku has moved ahead yet again. It’s like the guy who coughs around the office for weeks but won’t take a couple of days off to actually get well. Apple has never committed itself to a “get well” program that would make this product completely outstanding, which is really disappointing to people like myself who see the potential, already enjoying the iTunes, video and audio support that is there. The silver bullet would be a source-neutral interface that lets you find, let’s call them, “viewables” that are in any of the services to which you have access through login credentials. For example, imagine that you could search for “CSI: Miami” and you don’t have to know which service it came from. That would be completely amazing, considering how many stream options there are out there. Lastly, the included AirPlay functionality helps with integration to other devices that support it.
e) Google ChromeCast (CNet Review) – $35
The ChromeCast is a “dongle”, a small device with no cable that plugs into your HDMI slot. Well, that’s not entirely true since it requires power, so you’ve got to connect a wire to the nearest USB slot, or to a AC converter. ChromeCast is very good with Google products, such as Play music and video. Android smart phone users will find this an attractive option for them. iPhone users will likely gravitate to AppleTV (Mac users) or Roku (PC users). The next generation ChromeCast will likely be a leap above this one and you would be forgiven if you decided to wait until then to buy one. One thing is undeniable… they are small and discreet, able to be hidden in the plan of a 6-yr-old child.
I am getting Roku if I buy soon. If Apple finally releases an update to the AppleTV that is worthy of considering, I’ll probably get that too. I’m likely to pass on the ChromeCast, unless the next generation is amazing.
Which one is right for you? It may depend upon your intended use (home theater or simple TV) and what you are currently doing with your smart phone (iPhone vs Android) and home computer (Mac vs PC). Is it obvious to you by now?