[SNIP] Streaming Media Gadgets

Category: Television

Cable TV subscribers have their set-top boxes to bring them all the content they want and can afford. “Cord-cutters” have streaming media players that do the same things via the Internet instead of a cable company’s network. Here's a look at some of the most popular streaming gadgets and the nifty features they offer…

Is it Time To Cut The Cord?

Every day, more people are cancelling their cable TV in favor of streaming media, which brings online content to your TV screen. In addition to the money saved, streaming media players (SMPs) give users much more control and versatility than set-top boxes.

SMPs can take multiple forms. Roku’s line of SMPs include a set-top box, a portable “stick” that looks much like a USB thumb drive, and TV sets with Roku SMP circuitry built into them. All of the Roku SMPs can be controlled via a handheld remote, a smartphone app, computer, or tablet. The latest models include voice controls.

The original Roku 1 box ($50) connects to new TV sets via HDMI, but it’s also compatible with older sets using composite signal cables. However, for HD content you’ll need to use HDMI. The Roku 2 ($70) is faster than the original, and adds a few features such as screen mirroring, and the ability to access your favorite shows in a hotel or dorm room. The Roku 3 ($100) is even faster and supports voice searches for programs and gaming. The Roku 4 ($130) supports the latest 4K UltraHD sets, and has a remote finder.

Streaming Media Players

All of Roku’s SMPs provide access to 2,500 channels featuring over 300,000 movies and TV program episodes. Some content requires a subscription; Netflix, HBO NOW, and Showtime are examples. YouTube, PBS, and many other content sources are free to watch.

Apple TV can stream all of the iTunes content that you’ve purchased, which no other SMPs can do. Originally released in 2007, the Apple TV is now on its 4th generation. The 3rd-gen box costs only $30 and is the cheapest way to stream Apple-only content, as well as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vevo, YouTube, and the TV Everywhere portals of several major content providers.

The latest Apple TV costs $150; in addition to video content, it plays apps and games purchased via the iPhone, and features voice search and recognition. It connects to TV sets via an HDMI port, and can use Apple Airplay to communicate via WiFi with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod.

Fire TV and Chromecast

The Amazon Fire TV Stick ($39) is a bargain when combined with an Amazon Prime subscription ($99/year). That deal includes free streaming of several thousand Amazon Instant movies and TV programs, including original Amazon-produced shows. The stick also streams Netflix, HBO Go, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Sling TV, Watch ESPN, Spotify and Pandora, as well as hundreds of games. It is exceptionally easy to set up and includes parental controls.

Google Chromecast sells for as little as $27, but it’s not as fully featured as the other SMP options. You can control it only via an app on a smartphone or tablet, for instance. Content options include Hulu Plus, Pandora, Google Music, Plex, Vevo, and HBO Go, Netflix, YouTube and Google Movies & TV. Chromecast also excels at broadcasting what's on your computer screen to your TV. Chromecast is a good basic, inexpensive SMP that is steadily adding features and content providers, but it still lags behind Roku.

If you are already wedded to the Apple or Amazon Prime ecosystems, it makes sense to go with their SMPs. For basic streaming, you can’t beat Chromecast’s price. Roku offers the most options for moderate to severe streaming addictions.

Are you a cord cutter? What do you use to bring online content to your TV screen? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[SNIP] Streaming Media Gadgets"

(See all 30 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

15 Feb 2016

Good information to spread around. We have had ROKU 1,2 & 3. Only had one problem with 3 and it fixes with unplug and reset when you see too much buffering. Otherwise we are thrilled with the concept and savings. We kept Dish on a cheaper plan and I have to agree with Mike Brose about the awful selection with so much out there. Thanks Again, I read them all.

Posted by:

15 Feb 2016

Cord-cutting in small towns like ours is not a popular option, so we continue to rely on our cable service for TV, internet, and telephone. Our broadcast TV stations are from two towns 90 miles away. We still watch the "local news" and rely on our local broadcast stations for general information for our area. We also record lots of weekly shows for watching at our convenience, but usually watch them within a day or two of being aired. We have an Apple TV, but rarely use it. Our cable continues to be our TV content provider-of-choice for our area.

Posted by:

Linda Lindley
15 Feb 2016

I love ROKU. I have an XS ROKU box and an outdoor HD antenna for local channels and main network channels. It brings in 20 channels. On ROKU, I subscribe to Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Acorn. I also subscribe to Sirius XM radio which gives me all the cable news stations to listen to plus sports. There are some really cool internet radio stations on ROKU through Tune In. I cut the cable cord about three years ago, and I am very happy with my entertainment through ROKU.

Posted by:

John Silberman
15 Feb 2016

I don't like Roku because they are always forcing you to upgrade your hardware. I got a 1080P Roku box once and within 2 years the box was obsolete. Roku limited many of the channels I received just to get me to upgrade. I now find all the content I desire through the PC and then stream it to my TV via Chromecast.

I made an antenna out of coat hangers and receive channels about 75 miles away with no pixelation.

Posted by:

15 Feb 2016

Like John S, I also made an antennta--out of a piece of paper, a plastic sheet and a sheet of aluminum foil. Cost $5 for the balun.

I get 21 HD stations and one music only. BUT it doesn't pick up the cable-only "oldies" station so my wife won't give up her cable :-(

EDITOR'S NOTE: There are plenty of streaming radio stations that play oldies. Pandora and/or Slacker probably have you covered there.

Posted by:

Warren Colison
15 Feb 2016

We successfully cut the cord years ago by connecting a PC directly to the TV. The PC need not be expensive and puts everything from the net on your TV. Use a laptop, tablet or a wireless keyboard and mouse. Make sure it outputs at HD resolution.

Posted by:

15 Feb 2016

Had a Roku 3, it's a nice box unless you are a heavy YouTube watcher, the Roku YouTube app is crippled and rarely plays content at its optimuum resolution. This was a dealbreaker for me and many others who switched to a Chromecast which I love. Yes you have to use a phone or tablet to communicate with it but honestly I prefer using the up to date android apps compared with the sometimes clunky Roku "channels", there is nothing that the Roku did that I can't do on the Chromecast.

Posted by:

15 Feb 2016

I guess "cutting the cord" for some is akin to some bragging rights! Such streaming gadgets do have their shortcomings although it is a matured (but narrow) market. At the higher end of the price category ($150) for these streaming devices; some may wish to entertain the purchase of "Intel's Compute Stick (version 2.0)" instead.
Similar to the streamers, The ComputeStick ($160) connects directly to the HDMI input of any TV; yet is a full-fledged Win10 PC (keyboard/mouse required).

Posted by:

Al. S
15 Feb 2016

I can watch Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime on my ROKU Box the rest of the so called channels are either pay or things my Dog would not want to watch. The three I mention are subscription which I can watch on any Tablet Computer or cell phone. ROKU went out yesterday for 24 hours so I had to watch my shows on Notebook. because it would also not work on Tablet as well as my three paid ones.

Posted by:

Nick Suite
15 Feb 2016

I use an android tv box. I get links from sites across the web, and just pay for internet and the bundle.

Posted by:

16 Feb 2016

I'm cutting the cord next week! I currently have bundled services for internet/basic TV/HBO, but Google Fiber has arrived and I'm getting basic internet services. I've been happy with my 2 other TVs that have antenna/Apple TV and antenna/Amazon Fire. So now that I can access my streaming services for practically nothing, I can't wait to drop off the cable box and rented router!! Just need to add HMO streamlining in time for Game of Thrones. :)

Posted by:

16 Feb 2016

I've had Roku, along with Netflix about 3 or 4 years, rarely watch it. I think if I was going to cut the cord, I would opt for those new HD TV antennas. You buy it one time and you don't have monthly fees. I've seen it in action and it works great. It has numerous channels too.

Posted by:

16 Feb 2016

I seriously want to toss cable TV out. It is way too expensive. Currently have Amazon Prime, Smart TV and a MOHU Leaf antenna. Those work great but do not get the FOX stations that currently play on Cable. Wife needs her daily dose of FOX News so...., we still have cable. :-( I am looking for other solutions. Any thoughts are greatly appreciated!

Posted by:

16 Feb 2016

Hello Bob; Nice try on reporting set top boxes. But could you steer me in the direction of where to purchase 3rd generation apple tv boxes for $30? A friend got a Roku for Christmas. Channels had poor resolution. Gifter swapped the Roku for last year's Apple tv. Resolution problem solved.

Posted by:

16 Feb 2016

Back in 2011 I learned about a media player made by Western Digital and bought the live TV hub media player which has internet capability and loads of apps like Netflix and Hulu and sling TV as well some free apps. This device plays nearly any media type media file apart from RM files and now it is my main viewing source where cable is just for sports and news.
Sadly though the company WD doesnt support this much anymore although there is a thriving online forum at Western Digital's web site which does offer support for people using these devices.

Posted by:

16 Feb 2016

I cut the cord when Netflix first started streaming on Xbox 360, and have been using game consoles for media since then. My Xbone supports Netflix, Amazon Prime, Youtube, Hulu, Sling TV and quite a few other services like Crackle and Vudu. I also have a laptop hooked up to my TV to cover anything that I can't stream there or my own personal digital media.

Posted by:

16 Feb 2016

Is there any cut-the-cord setup that will give us access to TCM, or is that available only via cable?

Posted by:

Sarah L
17 Feb 2016

To use these streaming services, is it essential to have a really good internet connection, as to speed? Is there some level below which the streaming would always be buffering? I get more than enough television from an inexpensive antenna and being in a large metro area with lots of channels broadcasting on air. Lots means 66. So I am not in need of more television channels, but I feel I still do not understand streaming well enough to chose one of those options by any criterion other than low price.

EDITOR'S NOTE: You need some form of "high-speed" internet to use streaming. Pretty much anything but dialup, sketchy wifi, or satellite will fit the bill.

Posted by:

18 Feb 2016

Never had a cable to cut! I refuse to pay to have endless commercials and useless filler channels pumped into my house. I've used an antenna since the sixties (50+ channels here in southeastern Wisconsin) and have no complaints. I use a local broadband provider - 3mb for $30 per month and streaming works flawlessly! I also use Netflix dvd service which has WAY more selections than the streaming service. I use Ooma for free home phone. I hate monthly fees!

Posted by:

29 Feb 2016

I got a ROKU box a couple of years ago, but took it back because it seemed to me that I would end up paying as much for the individual programming as I was for monthly DirecTv service.

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