Streaming to Your Computer
Have you ever watched a YouTube video on your computer?
You can watch video on your computer, mobile devices or televisions.
Open a web browser and go to the streaming service's website to view or stream content. In some cases, you have to subscribe to these services. More on that later.
Most of us prefer to watch movies, TV shows, and videos on our televisions rather than our computers. To stream to a TV you need some type of signal processing. Smart televisions are already capable of streaming. Some even have Netflix buttons on their remotes. Other televisions need a separate Streaming Device to receive Wi-Fi or ethernet signals, then convert them into watchable TV.
Among the many streaming boxes and devices available, here are the most popular:
Why Is It Called Streaming?
There is a lot of data involved in streaming, so instead of just downloading the media to your device, it's normally watched as it comes over the internet, hence streaming. Your inability or limited ability to download and store content facilitates the industry's ability to rent and sell streaming content as well.
How Does My TV Connect to A Streaming Device?
Any streaming device you buy will have instructions on how to connect and set it up. Almost universally these boxes connect to a TV using an HDMI connector. HDMI connections and cables are the industry standard for video and streaming.
Since 2009 most TVs have at least one HDMI port. Newer models can have several. If your TV doesn't have one, you should consider a new TV. Today's flat screen televisions are greatly improved with higher picture definitions and lots of new features.
What Is A Streaming Device? Which One Should I Buy?
A streaming device is a small box or stick that connects to your TV. It receives a Wi-Fi or cable signal from your home network and converts that signal into a format your TV can display. The streaming device may come with a remote control and allow you to select different streaming services, like Amazon Prime, YoutubeTV, Netflix and Hulu.
There are a large number of choices for streaming devices. Most are inexpensive, ranging from about $30 to above $100. People often have two or more devices. Your choice of device will define what streaming services you can receive, what quality of picture you can see (e.g. standard definition, high definition, ultra hi-def or 4K), and how the user interface works. The best way to make a choice is to review the different items available at the various websites that explain them.
Amazon Fire, Roku and Apple TV all offer many channels, convenient remote controls and quick response times. While major channels and services, like YouTube TV, Netflix and Hulu, are found on all devices, there will be differences. Historically, Roku offers the most extensive line-up, however, Amazon and Apple are catching up. Newer models work faster, have better remote controls and can feature more content like games and channels.
The following links review the major streaming devices:
Another option is to buy a Smart TV. This is a television with streaming built in. Top TV brands like Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba and Vizio make Smart TVs. You can even find brands touting Roku, Chrome, Amazon Fire and AppleTV inside, or featuring their own streaming system. The convenience here is having one remote control for both regular TV and streaming. The downside is that the operating speed and features found in streaming hardware is improving faster than TV screen technology. In a couple of years, you may find yourself buying a new streaming box or stick, and foregoing the smart features of your television.
What's a Streaming Service?
You can think of a streaming service like a website that plays videos. Many have subscription fees, and some specialize in different types of content. Some streaming services are even developing their own creative content, like Netflix and Amazon. There's a wide variety with different types of content and different focuses.
Streaming Services with Content Libraries
One of the oldest and largest streaming services, Netflix is well known for an extensive library of popular TV and movies, and for creating their own award-winning content. Netflix offers multiple levels of streaming quality, but not all content is available in HD or UHD. Currently, Netflix typically offers a free trial with multiple service plans available. Check out the Netflix website for more details.
Amazon Prime Video offers a 30-day free trial, then it is free for Amazon Prime members or you can subscribe for a monthly rate. There is a large library of movies, TV shows, and original content. Many of these shows are free for members, but other shows and movies are for rent. Typically recent movies and TV seasons rent for five or six dollars. Check out the Amazon Prime Video website for more details.
This is more like a cable TV service as it has your local station channels plus on-demand movies from the cable channels. YoutubeTV also includes a cloud DVR so you can select the content you want automatically recorded to view later which is stored and available to you whenever you want to watch. A single account allows for 6 different users to log in and watch TV shows or movies that have been broadcast on almost every single platform. Further, they provide an unlimited DVR cloud storage, meaning you can select the content you want automatically recorded to view later which is made available to you whenever you choose to watch, from any device that can use the YouTubeTV app or a web browser (i.e. almost everything). Check out the YouTube TV for more details on content options and pricing.
Hulu offers two types of streaming services. There is the standard streaming service offering libraries of content of both movies and TV shows. The second option offers the same streaming as their base service but also includes Live TV streaming content. Check out the Hulu website for more details.
DirecTV plans offer cable-like packages with your local TV station channels. No Satellite is needed, there is no annual contract and includes a service called "True Cloud DVR" for recording television content when you are away. Depending on the package you select, determines the networks channels that you have access too. Check out the DirectTV Now website for more details.
Apple iTunes is the Apple service where users can either buy or rent movies, TV and even music. This is not a subscription service and charges for individual instances of content. Check out Apple iTunes for more details on pricing and content options.
Acorn TV is primarily focused on British content in movies and TV shows, at a low monthly rate. Check out Acorn TV for more details.
Streaming Services with Packages of Content Similar to Cable TV
Sling TV offers a monthly service of cable-like packages of content. Networks include Food Network, TNT, AMC, CNN, etc. There are two main channel packages of 30+ channels with additional 3-5 themed channel packs, like a sports pack or movie channel pack, available for a small additional charge. Check out Sling TV for more details.
Streaming Services with a Specific Channel Content
HBO Now is strictly for HBO content. From their better-known Game of Thrones and Westworld, as well as their many movies. It is a monthly service that you can cancel at any time. It's available via a web browser, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon and Roku. Check out HBO Now for more details.
PBS offers a free streaming service that offers most PBS shows with a lot of children's content. Check out PBS for more details.
CBS All Access plans start at a low monthly rate with commercials, or you can upgrade to a higher cost tier to view content without commercials. CBS All Access allows for the viewing of live CBS affiliate content. The service includes original content only available online, CBS network shows and sports, including up to 10,000 episodes of television shows past and present. Check out CBS All Access for more details.
There are many other channel/network specific streaming services, but many (like ABC) are not available in all markets, or are announced and not yet available.
Streaming Services with User Contributed Content
The vast majority of the content created on YouTube is typically by individual people. Larger, more successful channels may have companies behind them to help improve production values. It’s being increasingly adopted by mainstream media as a method to distribute their own work or trailers for their work.
The service is free, but does offer a few ways where you can support your favorite creators directly.
Further, topics for the content are as varied as there are people creating it. From cartoons, to instructional videos on how to make them. From carpentry to makeup, there is a video/topic here for anyone and everyone. This is not the same service as YouTube TV.
Twitch is primarily focused around watching personalities play computer games. It has recently expanded into areas where you can watch people create artwork or crafts. The service is free, but users do have an option to subscribe to their favorite creators for a fee. This is still a very new and growing market.
Streaming on the Go
A streaming alternative for people who want to watch their home TV programs, like local sports teams, no matter where they are is Slingbox. It is a TV set-top box you keep in your home. This device encodes your TV signal and transmits it, privately and securely, across the internet. You can watch from wherever you have internet access, like a hotel room or coffee shop.