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TV Streaming 101 - Getting Started

Updated: Sep 24, 2019

What is Streaming Anyway?

Let's start quickly with the basics. Streaming video (or audio for that matter) means that you are able to start viewing or hearing the content before the file you're watching is fully downloaded. Therefore, the content is never downloaded directly onto your device (unless you actively choose to download it), it's only available when you have access to an internet, wi-fi or mobile data connection. Check out our TV Streaming 101 - Live TV Streaming vs. On-Demand Streaming for more details on what streaming means in terms of live streaming, streaming on-demand, etc.

Streaming Live TV vs. Cable or Satellite

Making the switch to live TV streaming can feel like quite the task. What’s a streaming media player anyway? Or you may be thinking, what’s the best streaming service for me? Throw in streaming sticks, Smart TV’s, apps, internet connections, screen mirroring… it can all be a bit overwhelming to start. In our TV Streaming 101 series, we’ll get more in depth on each aspect of streaming, from the strength of your internet connection to the devices that stream the content to your TV. Couple this information with our StreamMatch Tool and you’ll be on your way to streaming live TV in no time!

Starting With Why

So why switch to streaming live TV? Isn’t your old cable or satellite package good enough? Just as the TV itself has changed dramatically over the past 50 years, so has the way we watch TV. Cable and satellite revolutionized the TV watching experience and opened us up to a world of endless channels, and now streaming is doing the same. With streaming services, not only do you get access to more choices than you can ever imagine, you also get the freedom to have more choice of services that cater to what you already watch. Many times this means you can avoid paying for the channels you don’t watch.

One of the main attractions for people and families who stream live TV is the cost. According to a recent study by Leichtman Research Group, the average cable bill now sits at $107 per month. With DVR, extra receivers and other add-ons, it’s easy to see why monthly bills like this are spiraling out of control. Consider then that the average person watches only 20 channels per month and you quickly realize that you’re probably paying for a lot of channels you’ll never even turn on. With live TV streaming services like Sling, AT&T TV NOW, fuboTV, Hulu + Live TV, PlayStation Vue and others, there are plenty of packages to choose from that can save you money each month because you’re narrowing down your choices to cater more toward the channels you watch and not the ones you don’t.

Saving money is one of the primary reasons people consider switching to streaming TV.

Long-term contracts are another reason that people are leaving their cable and satellite providers. This is another area where there is a distinct difference in live TV streaming vs. cable or satellite. Most on-demand and live TV streaming services only require a monthly subscription, giving you a lot more flexibility to choose what works best for you, especially if your preferences change. Plus, many also have a free 7-day trial period before you sign up!

Streaming apps also open up a world of content not available through traditional cable or satellite subscriptions. Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access, Amazon Prime Video, and others are all competing hard for subscribers with a plethora of high quality original content only available through their service.

Having the Right Connections

Once you’ve made the choice to switch to streaming live TV, now you’re faced with the question of “how do I actually do it?” If you are using a smartphone or tablet, you can choose to stream through a wi-fi connection or the data plan you have with you carrier. If you are streaming at home, you’ll want to start with a strong internet connection, since streaming media players and sticks connect your current home Internet service.

Most streaming devices will connect easily to wi-fi and most set-top devices have ports in the back to plug into your modem/router as well. It's critical to ensure you have the proper internet speed to ensure a user-friendly experience. Each streaming app has different minimum and recommended internet speed requirements, especially depending on the picture quality you will want (SD, HD, UHD/4K). The typical minimum recommended bandwidth is 3Mb/s for Standard Definition (SD/480p), 4 Mb/s for High Definition (HD/720p/1080p) and anywhere from 15-25 Mb/s for Ultra HD/4K content. There are internet speed testers available for you to check your current speed online. You can also contact your Internet Service Provider for more guidance based on your anticipated streaming needs.

The streaming device you use is also very important to the equation. Smart TV’s are taking root with built-in apps that are available for download, no streaming devices required. However, a Smart TV is also reliant on the apps available in their app store and some streaming services may not yet have apps built for every Smart TV brand yet.

If you’re looking for a way to stream through your current TV, streaming sticks, set-top boxes and other options are available. This includes streaming devices from Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Nvidia Shield, Apple TV and more. The main requirement is an HDMI port for the streaming device to connect to your TV. Additionally, you can watch streaming apps straight on devices you probably already have like a smartphone, tablet or computer. You could then use screen mirroring like Google Chromecast to cast the picture to the TV from one of those devices. If you need further help, you can always visit our Streaming Devices Guide where we walk you through the features and options for the move popular streaming devices available.

Once you’re connected with the right internet speed and streaming device, you’ll then want to figure out exactly which live TV streaming services or streaming apps may be right for you. Live TV streaming services are apps that act similarly to your current cable or satellite subscription in terms of the viewing experience. Many also allow you to watch on more than one device at once as well as offer add-ons like Cloud DVR so you can still record the shows you want. Where these services deviate from cable or satellite is in the amount of choice you have, including add-on channel packages that complement a base package of your favorites. Our StreamMatch Tool is the perfect way to find out which streaming service plan is the best for you. Just select the channels you already watch and within 24 hours we’ll send you the plans that match up closest to what you currently watch!

What’s Next?

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be diving deeper into additional aspects of streaming TV, including in-depth tutorials on live TV streaming apps, on-demand streaming apps, streaming devices and more. Until then, check out all of the Streaming Match resources to get up-to-speed on the world of streaming.

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