TV Streaming 101 - Streaming Devices
Updated: Sep 15, 2019
Now that you've read all about what TV streaming is all about, it's time to get started by choosing a streaming device that works best for you. Streaming devices come in all shapes and sizes, many of which are likely already part of your everyday life. With a price range of $40 - $200, set-top streaming devices and streaming sticks run the gamut in terms of options to choose from. Beyond that, there are Smart TV's and gaming consoles which offer additional options to get you hooked up to streaming. After you read about the different streaming device types, our Guide to Streaming Devices can help you identify which particular brand may work best for you.
Set-Top Streaming Devices
Set top streaming devices like Roku Ultra, Amazon Fire TV Cube or Nvidia Shield are a great way to retrofit your current HDTV to be able to stream. All you need is an internet connection and an HDMI port in the TV. Set-top streaming devices connect to wi-fi and have a variety of ports for expandable storage or direct connection to the internet through your router or modem. They are controlled via a remote that comes with it or mobile apps that have remote options on the app. Many of the set-top streaming devices have much stronger processors in them than a streaming stick, which allows you to access apps and content quicker. Other features of set top streaming devices may include USB ports that allow you to play music or videos stored through a USB drive or flash memory cards to view photos.
Apps come pre-loaded to these streaming players and most of them allow you to download additional apps as well. Streaming apps available for download range from the wide variety of choices to stream live TV, on-demand streaming apps like Netflix and games. Set-top streaming devices have kept up with the latest in HDTV technology, with most new introductions to the market being 4K/HDR compatible.
Streaming sticks are about 2" long and plug directly into an HDMI input on your HDTV. They connect to wi-fi and a power outlet, then are controlled by a remote that comes with the streaming stick or by mobile apps that can be downloaded separately. Popular streaming sticks are available from Roku or Amazon Fire TV.
Like set-top streaming devices, streaming sticks come with a variety of pre-loaded apps as well as access to hundreds of other apps available to download. Streaming sticks are much more portable than set-top players and are easily transferred between HDTV's if needed. If you're looking for an easy way to enter the streaming market, streaming sticks are typically the most affordable option to do so.
Smart TV's were built for streaming. With streaming apps that are built-in and as well as available to download, the streaming experience is directly on your TV in this format. Many forms of Smart TV's are supported by Roku, Android TV, and others.
With a Smart TV you don't need a set-top player or streaming stick because all you need is already built-in to the TV. One key aspect of purchasing a Smart TV is knowing which apps are available to download. Different manufacturers have different apps available, so it is recommended you visit their website to research which apps would be available before buying. Other considerations for a Smart TV include knowing what you plan to use the TV for. For example, if you're streaming live TV, especially sports, you'll want to make sure the refresh rate can keep up with the frames per second on your streaming service.
Screen Mirroring Devices
Like streaming sticks, screen mirroring or screen casting devices are smaller dongles that plug directly into your HDMI input. What makes screen mirroring different is that it hooks up wirelessly to your smartphone, computer or tablet and casts the picture you're watching on that device to the HDTV the screen mirroring device is plugged in to. Google Chromecast, Apple AirPlay and Miracast are all popular ways to enable screen mirroring.
If you already own an Xbox One or PS4, streaming TV may be much closer than you think. A range of streaming apps are available through both consoles via the same store where you would download games. Gaming consoles tend to have a more limited number of streaming apps available, but because they are built for performance when it comes to video games, they make a great option for streaming TV live or on-demand. If you already own a gaming console with streaming capabilities, it may be your cheapest option to readily access the world of streaming TV.
Smartphones, Tablets & Computers
Since streaming is done via apps, your current smartphone, tablet, computer or laptop can also make streaming TV easily accessible without having to purchase equipment. Because of the wide range of these devices available, how you stream through them can depend on many factors. However, if you've got access to the internet and an app store, using your smartphone, tablet or computer to stream TV can be just what you need to get started.
The bottom line - no matter what your needs are in terms of streaming TV, there are a wide variety of devices available to get you all set up to stream. Looking to see what live TV streaming service or on-demand streaming apps may fit you best? Our Streaming Services Guide will walk you through these apps and our StreamMatch Tool can help match you to the best live TV streaming service based on the channels you currently watch!