Beginners guide to understanding streaming television

I was asked recently the question: What is streaming TV? The person asking the question (my sister), and her family watch a great deal of television. They have a high-speed DSL Internet connection and use websites like YouTube and Facebook on a frequent basis with their laptop.

Here is the 'TV watching' scenario from 4+ months ago:

View attachment 2374 She is heavily corded having a digital Cable TV box in every room that has a TV and is only mid-way through a 3-year term contract for satellite. The family also makes heavy use of the Blu-ray and DVD players, renting movies at the local movie store on a regular basis. Not only that, her Pay Per View bill is rather large. Needless to say, this family of four consumes a lot of TV content on a regular basis.

She has streaming hardware and bandwidth at her finger tips

Each TV also has at least one major gaming console attached. Some are last-gen, some are current-gen, but you'd be hard pressed not to find a PlayStation, Wii, or Xbox in that home. Plus, 2 of the 5 TVs in the home are "SMART."

So what does all that mean? Well, for starters, they have all the gear that they need for streaming TV now and in the future. The TVs and consoles are riddled with streaming TV apps so there is no need for a Roku or anything similar. What else? Their Internet connection is very very fast and offers unlimited downloads.

She heard she might be able to save money from streaming - she heard correctly

I should have asked her before explaining the unlimited streaming options out there: If I could save you $250+ per month for TV (she near cried when she finally did the Math on her TV expenses), will you give me $100 per month for the next year :) But that's not how I roll. Instead, I explained what streaming TV is and presented her with her options.

Between 3 paid subscriptions and 1 free, she could save a bundle and get more options

After going through the web sites and variety of options with her, she realized that between Crackle, Amazon, Hulu Free & Plus, and Netflix, that she and her family would have access to more TV (and more conveniently at that) than they would ever need, and at a significantly reduced monthly cost. In fact, all in all, her TV costs would be throttled down to less than $25 per month (after fulfilling her contractual agreements with the 'corded' variety of TV).

She was both relieved (about the costs savings) and sad (that she hadn't asked me before), but in the end, her and her family were salivating over the plethora of content available to them. The most exciting to them all is that any TV in the house could gain access and that they could watch entire seasons at one time. Plus they get access to the content without ever leaving the house. i.e. No more trips to the video rental store, although they all admitted they'd miss it in a sense. They collectively decided that a once-monthly trip the movie store was still in order, even if just to browse.

Any any rate, worth noting is that they weren't tied to content available on any premium channels like HBO, nor were they into watching sports, or local TV (although those three potential 'concerns' are becoming less so as time goes on), so cord-cutting was a no-brainer for them.

So, what is streaming TV anyway?

View attachment 2373 In a nutshell, when video content is hosted on one device and played on another, that could be considered streaming television.

Most content is pulled from the Internet and streamed to either a computer, a handheld device, or to a TV, sometimes with a set-top-box-like device (such as gaming console, Roku, Blu-ray) in between. However, the content can also technically be streamed from a local server or drive.

Now, content can be streamed for free, or there may be a residual cost, usually paid monthly. There are often no contracts for paid content and more often than not you can a) cancel anytime b) stream unlimited content c) stream to multiple devices simultaneously d) gain access to exclusive content and e) pickup where you left off, even on another device.

What is needed for streaming TV?

All that one really needs is a computer, Internet access and if paying for the content, a subscription. But to really take advantage, here are the recommendations which fortunately my sister had all of:

  • Unlimited Internet bandwidth at very high speeds
  • A high speed wired and wireless internal network (802.11 ac or g recommended with gigabit Ethernet)
  • A DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem when using cable Internet, providing the cable provider supports it (my sister uses DSL)
  • A SMART TV (that already has apps and a network connection), or a device to sit between the TV and Internet TV stream (like a Blu-ray player, a Roku box, A Nintendo Wii, etc.)
  • A subscription to one ore more paid video on demand TV streamer service (like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.)

Note that not all TVs or set-top-boxes will have the apps required for each service, although most will. When all else fails a quick HDMI connection to a TV from a laptop will solve most of the woes. With that setup your TV becomes the screen of your computer so the sky is the limit there. Essentially what you can stream in a web browser will be streaming to the television as well.

In conclusion

If you aren't married to premium channels like HBO, and you can satisfy your sports needs elsewhere you should strongly consider what content is available on one or more of the top TV streaming services: Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Plus you can let YouTube and Crackle fill in any gaps.

Also worth mentioning is streaming audio. Just like you can stream TV, you can stream audio to all of the same devices in the same way. Plus audio is more likely free in most cases. Custom selections of MP3 content is a different story though, I'm talking streaming radio being free (but probably with commercials).

Fast forward to today:

My sister has since eliminated the DVD/VCR combo devices from her home. She has donated or sold her entire DVD collection. She kept her Blu-ray player but hasn't purchased or rented any new discs for it. She cancelled Cable TV and sent back all of the equipment. She sent back all of her satellite stuff and cancelled the subscription early, but happily paid a small fine for doing so.

All of the TV areas in her home are clutter-free and only have the essential devices connected. They so far haven't started a ritual for "browsing the video store." She dropped the Hulu Plus subscription because standard TV shows aren't the families cup of tea anyway so they aren't concerned about watching them shortly after airing.

The family finds that most of their content needs are found through Crackle, Netflix and YouTube. They keep Amazon for the originals and the promise of more, and because they had to pay a year in advance anyway. She says that if nothing new and exciting presents itself on the Amazon channel she will not renew next year. She doesn't shop on Amazon at this time so doesn't take advantage of the other subscription features.

Every family member found Netflix to be the most important source of content but it was tied 2 to 2 for YouTube and Crackle as the secondary source. They are considering upgrading to the 4-simultaneous stream access for Netflix because that has posed as a problem on occasion, but so far not a lot to justify it. Suddenly $4 per month means a lot to them in TV costs :)

They have since found creative ways to use Internet content on their TVs by attaching laptops and using "remote control" features from their smart phones.

Internal bandwidth has never been an issue. There has been no buffering or lag and they really max out the connection.

"Streaming" and "Netflix" are now words used every single day in their household. They are planning an amazing vacation to Disney World with their savings from cutting the cord and switching to streaming television.

It's worth considering.


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