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TV and Video Streaming Ultimate Beginner’s Guide: Time to Cut the Cord

Getting started as a cord-cutter can be confusing, but it doesn’t need to be. Here’s what you need to know.

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Want to get started with TV streaming but not sure where to begin? You’re in the right place as while it feels like getting started is a complicated process, it doesn’t need to be.

Although it is best to make some decisions early – to make the most of the streaming experience from day one – actually getting started with streaming is fairly simple. Here we will walk you through the options so you know exactly what’s on offer and what you need.

In this guide, you’ll find information covering what TV streaming is, the different TV streaming platforms, what devices you need to start streaming, and the difference between live TV streaming and on-demand subscription services.

You can use the table of contents below to jump to a specific section or just start from the top.

Section 1: What is TV streaming and how does it work?

TV streaming is accessing video content over the internet. In the past, consumers have had to make use of specific companies and equipment to access video content, but with the expansion of the internet and the connected home, that’s no longer the case.

Yes, some equipment is still needed but the choice and variety has never been greater. What’s more, many consumers will already have the required equipment to start streaming right away. For some, there might not even be a need to own a TV to stream TV content.

The only integral element of the setup and the one everyone will need to take into account is the internet. The strength of the connection will directly impact on the quality and reliability of the streaming experience. There are different types of streaming and these place different strains on the internet connection.

What are the different types of streaming?

Streaming is more of an all-encompassing word and therefore determining the type of streaming you want will have a knock-on effect for the equipment and service you need. For example, here’s a rundown of the different main types of streaming you might be considering.

  • Video and TV streaming.
  • Music streaming
  • Game streaming

While there are common requirements to all of these services, the degree of those requirements vary considerably. If you want to game-stream then you will likely need dedicated gaming hardware and considerably greater internet download speeds. Music streaming, on the other hand, requires less demanding hardware and is softer on internet data speeds.

We are focusing primarily on TV and video streaming in this guide and the strength of the internet signal can determine the quality of the viewing experience.

Streaming download speed
Make sure you have the right internet package

Generally speaking, streaming in standard definition (SD) typically requires a minimum download speed of 3 Megabits per second (Mbps). Streaming in high definition (HD) ups the minimum download speed to 5 Mbps. Those looking to stream in Ultra HD (4K) will see the minimum requirement increase significantly – to around 25 Mbps.

Most people will be able to find out their theoretical download speeds by contacting their provider or checking their package details. However, a good way to find out the actual download speed you are getting is by using a speed test site such as Speedtest.net.

It is worth keeping in mind the download speed requirements mentioned above are related to a single stream. If users plan to stream video and TV content on different devices at the same time, in the same household, then those Mbps requirements will increase by the number of users. For example, two SD streams at the same time will likely require a minimum of 6 Mbps.

Are streaming services better than cable?

This is a question that seems to come up a lot and the simple answer is, it depends. What’s best for an individual depends on a number of factors and those factors differ from person to person. One of the general benefits of streaming services is that they are available in app form. This makes it easier to access a service on different devices and in different places.

Another general benefit is that streaming services tend to be contract-free. The only commitment is for the current month although even that’s not much of a commitment considering the user has typically already paid for the month ahead. With streaming services operating on a month-to-month basis, consumers can cancel at any time and immediately stop using the service. Again, as there’s usually only an app involved, that also means no equipment to return or complicated setup to untangle.

Cancelling streaming services
Cancel when you like

While streaming has its benefits, it might not be suited to everyone. Cable has also increased its features and access points over the years and more importantly, it’s already in your living room. If you are happy with your existing setup and don’t feel much of a need to switch to streaming, then there’s probably not much reason to.

Eventually, cable and satellite companies will likely want you to transition over to streaming as they are all in the process of rolling out streaming versions of their packages. So in time you might need to make the switch, but they will do most of the heavy lifting and help you to make the transition when the time comes.

Video streaming vs live TV streaming

When talking about TV streaming services, it is important to distinguish between the two main types as that distinction matters. Firstly, there’s the video streaming services most people will already be familiar with. Think Netflix.

The second group is a much newer set of streaming services. These are the live TV streaming services and they differ greatly from the standard video services. Over the last couple of years, the live TV streaming market has come into its own and there are now plenty of options to choose from. However, before we get too deep into the live TV streaming options, let’s take a look and recap what video streaming services are.

Section 2: Video streaming services

Video streaming services are nothing new. Although there are plenty of new ones launching at the moment, the industry itself has been around for a very long time. These services offer access to a back catalog of TV shows and movie titles over the internet.

These services do not require much beyond a connected TV, set-top box, or smartphone and generally do not require the user to sign up to a lengthy contract. On average, they tend to not be too expensive either.

Disney+ sign up
Easy to start streaming

The one video service most people will already be very familiar with is Netflix. But that is far from being the only one. In the last few years, a number of new ones have come through and some of them are already proving to be big sellers. Disney+ is the obvious example here considering it gained around 10 million subscribers in its first 24 hours.

What are the best video streaming services?

A major benefit of streaming is the sheer abundance of choice. With so many streaming services available to choose from, there’s just about a service to suit everyone’s needs and tastes.

If you are new to streaming, then here’s a roundup of some of the most popular video streaming services and how much they currently cost.

Current price
NetflixFrom $8.99
HuluFrom $5.99
Prime VideoFree with Prime or $8.99
Disney+$6.99
HBO NOW$14.99
CBS All AccessFrom $5.99

One of the more recent changes with video streaming services is their tendency to focus more on their own content. In the past, a Video streaming service would provide access to a variety of TV shows and movies from different studios and distributors.

While that is still the case to a degree, all of the main services are now relying more heavily on what they call “originals.” These are usually shows and movies they have ever purchased outright or exclusively license. In other words, they are videos you are unlikely to find on another streaming service right now.

Hulu Handsmailds Tale
Some shows are exclusive to some services

One of the reasons video streaming services are turning to original content is the fact that so many streaming services now exist. Most studios and distributors now offer a direct-to-consumer service. Due to this, these companies now prefer to keep their own content for their own service and stop licensing it out to other services.

With each service keeping their own content for their subscribers, others have had to start generating their own originals to maintain a healthy catalog of new titles for existing subscribers to choose from.

While these services all now offer streaming over the internet, and their own content, how they charge you differs, sometimes drastically.

SVOD, AVOD and TVOD streaming services

The main different types of video streaming services are typically defined as SVOD, AVOD and TVOD. These are just acronyms and the one thing they all have in common is the VOD part. This is short for “video on demand.” The other letter(s) tend to refer to how they monetize customers.

What are SVOD services?

SVOD is short for “subscription video on-demand” and this is likely to be one of the most common streaming services consumers have already encountered. An SVOD service charges a flat subscription fee each month. In return for that set amount the service provides unlimited access to the content.

Netflix SVOD streaming
Netflix is a prime example of an SVOD service.

SVOD is currently one of the most popular monetization strategies by services as they are the easiest to implement and the simplest for the user to agree to. You pay to access and that’s it.

What are AVOD services?

AVOD refers to advertising or “ad-based video on-demand.” Unlike an SVOD, an AVOD service usually involves the viewer having to sit through ads. These commercials are used to generate revenue and that offsets the cost to the customer. Strictly speaking, a true AVOD service doesn’t charge the consumer anything at all with all of their income generated from the ads.

However, there are those that blur the AVOD and SVOD lines by adopting a hybrid approach. That is where the service still charges a subscription fee, but also has ads to make the subscription cost cheaper than it would otherwise be.

Hulu streaming
Hulu combines the SVOD and AVOD methods

Hulu is a prime example of a company that uses this hybrid approach. For example, the main Hulu subscription service – “No Ads” – costs $12.99 per month. However, Hulu also offers the same service but with ads for just $5.99 per month. That cheaper service mixes up the AVOD and SVOD approaches resulting in a win-win scenario for everyone involved. It’s cheaper for the consumer and the service doesn’t lose any money. In some cases, it makes even more money using the hybrid approach as the cheaper plans attract more users and more users places a higher value on the advertising space sold by the service.

What are TVOD services?

Last, but not least, is the TVOD services. TVOD stands for “transaction video on-demand” and is best summed up as a service you rent content from. Instead of paying a daily, monthly, or quarterly subscription cost, consumers simply pay a fee relative to the content. Whether that’s an episode, a movie or an entire series, the cost is based on access to a limited part of the service’s catalog. In return, the fees are usually much lower and one-off costs.

Vudu streaming service
Vudu is another that blurs the lines

Again, there are services that are now starting to blur the TVOD lines and Vudu is a good example. In principle, Vudu is a TVOD service as you pay for access to specific content. However, recently Vudu has started offering access to select TV shows and movies for free. Again, this is an example of the AVOD approach where consumers encounter ads instead of paying for content.

Section 3: Live TV streaming services

Live TV streaming services are newer than typical video streaming services although they are quickly becoming an important part of the market. To some, they are becoming the most important part of the market as they have the potential to complete replace existing live TV solutions like cable and satellite.

Similar to video streaming services in general, live TV streaming delivers access to content – in this case, local and national live TV channels and networks – over the internet.

Xumo free TV guide
Watch live TV channels over the internet

As the content is streamed over the internet, consumers are provided with more choices than ever before and are no longer resigned to only the companies who operate locally. In addition, there’s no cables involved, and in most cases, not even the need for a set-top box from the company. Most of these services will let you access live TV just by downloading their app on a smart TV or smartphone and signing up.

What is the best live TV streaming service?

Just like video streaming services, the “best” is a debatable topic. Although live TV streaming services all offer access to live TV they are very different from each other. Here’s a rundown of the most popular live TV streaming services right now:

  • AT&T TV NOW
  • fuboTV
  • Hulu + Live TV
  • Philo
  • Sling TV
  • YouTube TV

As mentioned, these live TV services differ in a number of respects and any one of those factors could make or break the experience for an individual user. Some of the main differences to be aware of is the price, the selection of channels, and the features on offer. All of these points are individually and equally important and therefore we’ll briefly go over each of them separately.

How much does live TV streaming cost?

Live TV streaming services tend to be highly competitive and this makes them great for cord-cutters. On the whole, live TV streaming is cheaper than cable and satellite as there are no additional costs involved. For example, no one needs to come out to your home, install anything or do anything.

Likewise, there’s no real monthly hardware fees or hidden costs. Consumers simply access a feed and pay for that access. This approach means the service can cut down considerable on its own operating costs and those services are often passed on to the consumer.

The main problem with the “how much does live TV streaming cost” question is that the market does not seem to know yet. In the past, services have looked to undercut each other to attract subscribers. However, this race to the bottom has come at a time when the same services are being charged more each year to carry channels and networks by the channels and networks. Eventually, those increased costs are also passed to the consumer in the form of a price rise.

Live TV streaming price increases
Live TV streaming prices went up a lot in 2019

In 2019 alone, almost every major live TV streaming service increased its price. Services like AT&T TV NOW and Hulu + Live TV increased their prices twice in the same year. All of these rises have consistently changed the live TV streaming barrier making it hard to say live TV streaming costs a particular amount. However, and although some services charge less, $50 (and up) appears to be the starting price the premium side of the market has settled on, for now.

Current price
AT&T TV NOW$65
fuboTV$55
Hulu + Live TV$55
PlayStation Vue$50 (closes in January)
YouTube TV$50

What is the cheapest live TV streaming service?

While $50+ appears to be a common fee for live TV streaming, there are some services that are much cheaper. For example, Sling TV currently charges just $30 for its cheapest live TV streaming package. Even cheaper than that is Philo with its cost coming in at just $20 per month. Again, even cheaper than that is AT&T’s WatchTV which costs just $15 per month.

Current price
Philo$20
Sling TV$30
WatchTV$15

Then there are the selection of services that don’t charge anything at all for live TV streaming.

Are there any free live TV streaming services?

Yes, there are live TV services that charge nothing for live TV streaming. As is the case with AVOD services in general, there are some services that let you access live TV and only look to generate revenue through the use of ads. The more users they can attract by charging nothing, the more eyes they can place on an ad which makes the sale of those ads easier to do. In some cases, at a higher cost as well.

Pluto free TV streaming guide
You can watch live TV for free with some services

Examples of services that offer access to free live TV include Pluto TV and Xumo. There’s also now Locast although this service is a little different to the others as Locast is currently only operational in select cities and only provides access to local over-the-air channels.

Locast free OTA TV
Free local OTA TV with Locast, but only in select places

Regardless of the actual cost, the price of all live TV-streaming services nearly always comes down to the selection of channels. This makes the channel selection as important as the price.

What live TV channels do you get when streaming?

One way live TV services manage to cut costs is by skipping on certain channels and this results in different services prioritizing different channels or types of content. For example, a service like fuboTV places its focus on sports and therefore while you are likely to get more sports channels with fuboTV than other services, you are also likely to miss out on some entertainment channels, compared to other services.

Then there’s the approach that Sling has taken. Unlike most of the other main live TV streaming services, Sling TV is primarily focused on being an affordable service.

Sling live TV streaming
Sling is an affordable live TV streaming service

To achieve this, Sling TV offers fewer channels than the others and instead focuses on an a la carte approach. In other words, Sling TV offers a thinner basic plan but lets subscribers add additional channels to their package, for an additional monthly fee. While this approach allows Sling to keep the entry cost low enough to appeal to more consumers, that’s not to say Sling TV is necessarily cheaper than the others. By the time you add channels (or features) to a comparable level with other services the price is likely to be very similar to those other live TV streaming services.

You can use the links below to see detailed information, including a full channel list for the most popular live TV streaming services.

What are the live TV features to look out for?

Sling TV is a great example of a service that offers a low price but lacks in additional features. However, consumer might not be aware of those additional features when first making a choice between live TV streaming services. Typically speaking, if you go to any live TV service’s website right now they will clearly advertise the price and the channels you get in return.

YouTube TV sign up
Services like to advertise the number of channels and price.

While that’s great, information on the rest of the features is often hidden away from initial view. The user will either need to scroll down to see this information or worst still, read through the small print. Some of the main features to be on the lookout for include the number of streams, device support in general, and cloud DVR.

Check the number of streams

The number of streams is important in the world of live TV streaming as this directly impacts on how many people in the same home can watch at the same time. With streaming providing access to live TV over the internet, there’s no longer a need for everyone to be huddled around the living room TV. However, all live TV streaming services tend to place a cap on how many streams can be active at the same time.

For example, if someone wants to watch the latest episode of The Walking Dead in the bedroom while someone else watches a movie on a different channel in the living room, that counts as two simultaneous streams.

HBO multiple devices
How many same-time streams matter

Nearly all of the main live TV streaming services will provide access to two same-time streams, but that’s often the limit with no option to add a third or fourth stream. At least, not without upgrading and paying more for the luxury.

This is an important feature for those in busy households where multiple family members are likely to watch different channels at the same time.

Read more: Simultaneous streaming: Which live TV service gives you the most streams?

Check the device support

Equally as important as the number of streams is the device support and especially as these two features often go hand in hand. It is no good being able to access four or five different streams if the service does not support a wide enough selection of devices. After all, not all households will have four or five TVs to watch on at the same time.

YouTube TV devices
Make sure your devices are supported

Generally speaking, smartphones are a given in this sense with all of the major services offerings an app to watch on a smartphone. However, there are a variety of different smart devices now in homes and making sure the service supports the devices in your home is going to massively increase (or decrease) the usability of that service.

Whether it’s a game console, a smart display, or a Roku player, device support is an important feature to know about before signing up.

Check the cloud DVR

Another important feature to check is cloud DVR. Unlike the DVR associated with traditional live TV services, cloud DVR is an online-based video recorder. There are many benefits to cloud DVR over traditional DVR, including the ability to store a limitless number of shows, record a limitless number of shows at the same time, and for access to the recordings on a limitless number of devices. However, there are very few limitless features offered by any live TV streaming service, and cloud DVR is no exception.

Manage cloud DVR
If you want to record, know the cloud DVR limits

With some live TV streaming services you might find there’s no option to record live TV shows or movies at all. Those who do offer cloud DVR are likely to place a cap on how many hours you can record before the cloud DVR is full up. In some cases, new recording won’t be recording, while in other instances, your oldest recordings might be automatically recorded over – regardless of whether they have been watched or not.

Likewise, some services might place a limit on which devices you can access recordings on. While there are no hard limits in theory, live TV services set their own limits and therefore knowing the type of cloud DVR experience a service is offering when signing up is as important as any other feature, including the price.

Read more: Cloud DVR: Live TV streaming service comparison

Section 4: Streaming devices and players

An important part of the streaming chain is the device you use to stream with. In the past, the TV was the TV and besides things like resolution or size, the experience was ultimately the same. In the age of everything is connected, that’s no longer the case. The type of device you use to stream TV will determine a lot of things, including the features and apps you can access.

The good news is the streaming hardware market has never been richer. The bad news is with these devices not all being equal, choosing the right one can be complicated. Choose wrong and it could be costly as well.

What do streaming devices do?

Put simply, TV streaming devices are just glorified media players. That is, they play media. Unlike some traditional players, streaming devices primarily look to do this over the internet. They are connected devices and tend to focus less on having inputs and outputs, drives, or any other hardware element that requires the user to interact with. In some cases, they are not much more than just a box.

New Android TV dongle from Google
Streaming device design differs a lot

In spite of their simplicity in design and minimal ports, streaming players are powerful devices with some able to do more than just play media. Likewise, others are not boxes at all but come inside another product – in a similar way to how a computer or laptop comes equipped with a built-in media player. Although, just like you might choose to ignore the built-in media player on your laptop in favor of your favorite third-party media player, you also don’t have to use built-in streaming players either.

In other words, yes, streaming devices can even be connected to other streaming devices. Here’s a list of the most common devices used for TV streaming today:

  • Smart TVs
  • Set-top boxes
  • HDMI dongles
  • Games consoles
  • Blu-ray players
  • Soundbars

What are the different streaming platforms?

There are many different brands that make different streaming devices and therefore, even when you narrow down the type of device you want, you will still likely have to make the choice of what platform you want.

The most popular TV streaming platforms right now consist of:

  • Amazon Fire TV
  • Android TV
  • Roku TV
  • Samsung Tizen
  • LG webOS

What’s Amazon Fire TV?

Fire TV is Amazon’s homegrown TV platform and extends well beyond the actual TV. As this is an Amazon platform it comes heavily tied to Amazon’s other services, including Alexa. With any TV that’s powered by Fire TV, Alexa voice support is built-in providing users with the option to control other Alexa-compatible products and get feedback to questions asked.

Fire TV interface
Amazon Fire TV works with lots of apps and Alexa

Technically, Amazon does not make any Amazon-branded TV sets running on Fire TV. Instead, TVs from a number of third-party TV brands can be purchased running on Amazon’s TV platform. These TVs tend to be referred to as “Fire TV Edition” TVs.

While Amazon does not make any Amazon-branded TVs, it does offer plenty of Amazon-branded streaming devices. These are units you connect to your TV to add streaming capabilities to the TV.

Amazon’s own line of Fire TV streaming devices include:

  • Fire Stick
  • Fire Stick 4K
  • Fire TV Cube

In addition, Amazon is also one of the few companies who have partnered up with a device-maker to offer a streaming soundbar with the Anker Nebula Soundbar.

Regardless of the Fire TV device chosen, apps are available to download directly from the Amazon App Store.

What’s Android TV?

Just like Fire TV is Amazon’s TV platform, Android TV is Google’s TV platform. Android TV is a version of Android that’s been customized for use with TV devices. One of the benefits of an Android approach to streaming is the app support. After all, with this being Android, Android TV users get their apps from the Google Play Store and with almost every streaming service having an Android app this means there’s plenty of Android TV apps to choose from.

Android TV homes screen apps
Android TV features the Google Play Store

However, just like Android TV is an optimized version of Android for the TV, Android apps also need to be optimized for the TV as well. Many Android app developers have yet to do this and this has resulted in Android TV having far less apps available compared to Android mobile. At the last count, Google says there are currently over 5,000 Android TV apps to choose from.

Android TV can be purchased as part of a TV. Like Fire TV, Google has teamed up with many third-party TV brands to include Android TV as the operating system. In fact, Android TV is now adopted by many TV brands in the U.S. and therefore anyone buying a new TV tomorrow from Sony, Sharp, Hisense, or others, is likely to end up with Android TV by default. Google itself does not currently offer its own TV powered by Android TV.

Another similarity with Fire TV is the inclusion of Android TV in dedicated streaming players. These standalone devices add Android TV to an existing TV set.

The two most popular Android TV set-top boxes in the U.S. are:

  • NVIDIA SHIELD TV
  • Xiaomi Mi Box.

In addition, Google has also partnered with JBL on the JBL Link Bar. This is a soundbar which comes with Android TV built-in.

Last, but not least, there’s the operators. Over the past few years, many operators have turned to a customized version of Android TV to deliver devices to the market quickly. Choosing any of these operators for access to live TV might result in the use of Android TV even if it doesn’t look like Android TV.

What’s Roku OS?

Roku is now one of the biggest players in the streaming world and as a result, there’s a good chance if you buy a streaming device tomorrow, it will be powered by Roku.

Roku TV home screen apps
Roku TV has access to many popular streaming apps

Like Amazon and Google’s platforms, Roku OS is also available in both TV and streaming player form. Roku has partnered with multiple TV brands to offer a version of Roku built-in to TV sets. These are usually referred to as “Roku TV” products and are the easiest way to get started with Roku OS – especially for those buying a new TV.

However, the company first became known for its own players and hardware. These are devices you can buy to add Roku OS to an existing TV.

Here are some examples of the different Roku players you can buy today:

  • Roku Express
  • Roku Premiere
  • Roku Streaming Stick+
  • Roku Ultra

Just like Fire TV and Android TV, you can also now buy a soundbar with Roku OS built-in.

Regardless of whether you opt for a Roku TV or a Roku player, Roku OS comes with wide streaming service support. Technically, Roku does not use apps but instead lets users install “channels.” Although from the user perspective the difference is negligible. Just like apps, a user heads to the Roku Store and adds streaming channels to their device.

What’s Samsung Tizen?

Tizen is Samsung’s own operating system and can be found on a number of devices from smartphones to smartwatches to smart TVs. This is the operating system that comes preloaded on Samsung smart TVs and due to the number of TVs Samsung sells each year, this is likely to be the first and primary streaming encounter for many TV owners.

Samsung Tizen TV home screen
Tizen works well for Samsung smartphone owners

Tizen on TVs is similar to the other TV streaming platforms in the sense that it comes with a main hub where the user can interact, change settings and access apps. Unlike the other TV streaming platforms mentioned so far, Tizen is not quite as well-supported at the app level. However, and while you won’t find the same overall number of apps on offer, you will find many of the major streaming apps are compatible with Tizen, including Netflix, YouTube, Prime Video, Sling TV, Hulu, and more.

In addition, Tizen offers users the option to connect their smartphone (preferably a Samsung phone) for added benefits, including streaming over Wi-Fi and/or controlling the TV.

What’s LG webOS?

Similar to Tizen, webOS is yet another operating system although this time from LG. Like Tizen, those opting for an LG smart TV may find the TV comes running on webOS out of the box, providing them with a simple way to access the main streaming apps.

LG webOS for TVs
Watch free TV shows and movies with LG Channels

webOS comes with good app support including direct access to Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, YouTube and more. LG TVs with webOS also offer some additional features that will be of use to streamers such as LG Channels. This is a service powered by Xumo and offers access to a selection of TV channels, shows and movies for free.

In addition, webOS-powered TVs also tend to come with additional voice assistant support, including both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant making these TVs a good option for those already invested in a smart home ecosystem. Again, like Tizen, webOS is not quite as rich or fully-featured as Android TV, Fire TV or Roku OS, but it is rich enough to provide a basic and usable video streaming experience.

Which streaming platform is best best?

For most people, the best streaming platform is likely to be the one they are already invested in. For example, if you already have a number of Amazon and Alexa devices then the Fire TV platform is going to be the best for you as it is designed with those other devices in mind. It will fit in perfectly within the ecosystem and even add an extra level of smart home control to the home. The exact same is true with Android TV. If you have already invested in Android and Google Assistant smart home products, then Android TV will be more of a natural fit.

To a degree, the same is true with Samsung’s Tizen and LG’s webOS. Again, if you already have products by those companies then there is an increased chance the TV will play nicely with those products and even offer additional benefits and features. Although, most products from Samsung and LG also tend to come with third-party voice assistant support, including Alexa and Google Assistant. Making those additional products also highly compatible with Fire TV and Android TV devices as well.

Opting for Tizen and webOS also locks you into the app experience offered by those operating systems. This is one of the bigger decisions to make as it means you have to continue buying TV products from Samsung and LG to continue with the familiar experience. As Fire TV and Android TV is available on a variety of third-party TVs and streaming devices, the same locked-in restriction is not in place. You can switch between brands but still have access to the same software experience by linking your accounts.

Then there’s Roku. One of the big selling potions with Roku devices is the price. Therefore, if you are not invested in either Amazon, Google, Samsung or LG’s ecosystems, then Roku might be the best platform for you overall. The prices are generally cheaper and the Roku experience also comes with the company’s own services that add value to the streaming experience.

Read more: Best streaming players under $50

Do I need a media streaming device if I have a smart TV?

No. If you have a smart TV then by definition you already have a streaming device as well. As long as the TV can connect to the internet then it is almost guaranteed to also have the ability to download apps.

For some people, a smart TV will be enough and for those users there’s no need to invest in any additional hardware. Although, depending on the type and quality of the smart TV, app and service support might be limited. Meaning, although a smart TV is a streaming device, it might not support the streaming services you need it to.

Casting video to a TV
One workaround is casting

If you own a smart TV and find it is it a little limited on app support than one cheap workaround is casting. This refers to the ability to send videos from a smartphone (or a laptop) to a TV over the home Wi-Fi network.

With most streaming apps and services supporting smartphones, casting media is a great and low-cost way to avoid expensive hardware. You just open the app on the smartphone, click play on the content and then wirelessly send it to the TV. Of course, the downside is you have to continually use the smartphone to navigate and select content, but it is a viable solution for those looking for one.

The way you go about casting the content will depend on the TV and the phone’s operating system and support. For example, Apple and iOS users can make use of AirPlay to send content from an iPhone to a big screen. While those of the Android persuasion can make use of Google Cast, also known as Chromecast.

In fact, Google even sells a small dongle device known as the Chromecast. This is a $35 device that plugs into the TV’s HDMI port and once connected ads Chromecast support to a TV that doesn’t naturally support casting.

Do you need a media streaming device if you have a games console or Blu-ray player?

Just like with the smart TV, if you have a connected game console or connected Blu-ray player then you may find you also don’t need to invest in any additional hardware.

These devices now also come with plenty of different app and service supports and as long as they support the services you care most about, then they are the easiest and cheapest way to getting started streaming.

Do I need a streaming device for each TV?

Technically, it helps if you do. However, that’s not to say you need a Fire TV or Android TV device connected to each TV. Again, most newer TVs will come with some form of a streaming platform built-in. Even those that don’t can quickly and easily be turned into a smarter TV cheaply with the help of a Chromecast or similar dongle device.

If you want to stream online content on every TV in the home then what you do need is something that makes each TV in the home connected to the internet. If the TV itself does that then you are probably good to go without buying any additional hardware.

Getting started with streaming summary

As you can see, there are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to TV streaming. Yes, it can be a little confusing at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Users do need to choose between the platform they want to stream through, the devices that support that platform, and the apps they want to use for streaming. Although those additional decisions become easier once you make the first.

TV streaming made easy infographic
Getting started is easily than you think

For example, if you opt to just use the streaming platform built-in with the TV, then you suddenly don’t have to worry about buying an additional device or even the streaming platform.

If you choose to go for an additional device and would prefer to use either Fire TV or Roku OS then it is better to go with Amazon and Roku’s own devices. This limits the device list considerably and with prices starting at the $20/30 mark, you can just buy the one that best suits your budget as the interface and experience is common to all.

The same is true with the apps. The majority of premium streaming apps will likely support all of the platforms mentioned here and it is likely once you fire up the TV or device for the first time, the interface will highlight those well-known apps making it very easy to install them and get streaming.

The first and most important step is simply to start streaming. The rest you can take from there.

John Finn

By John Finn

John is the founder of Streaming Clarity and has been writing about smartphones and TV-related services and devices since 2014. John streams everything and genuinely believes the best streaming approach is to bounce between streaming services as needed. Contact John via email at john@streamingclarity.com or on Twitter

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