Checking Out Streaming TV; What are the options, and how do I pick?
You probably know there are different options for streaming TV out there. But what exactly is streaming TV? Do you need it? What will it do for you that regular TV won’t?
Let’s take a look at the top three streaming TV options available in Canada, what differentiates each one, as well as their price points to help you pick the right streaming TV choice for you.
If you’d prefer to watch me explain them, as opposed to reading, check out my segment on CTV Morning Live.
What is Streaming TV?
Streaming TV is basically a way to get TV programs from the web, directly to your TV. Increasingly, broadcasters, and content providers like Netflix are making their programs available via the Internet, but many people still get them the old-fashioned way, by sitting hunched at their computer. Streaming TV boxes or sticks mean that you can get those programs on your living room, family room, or other main TV set, without complicated hook ups or the need for an entire squad of teenagers to come to your house. You simply plug them in, connect them to your home wifi network, and they’re ready to go.
What are My Streaming TV Options?
There are three main players as far as streaming TV is concerned. Yes, there are other options to get streaming TV on your television, such as using a gaming console. But today we’ll focus on just those devices that exist for the purpose of streaming TV.
Apple TV is definitely the most long-standing player, and possibly the most familiar one for Canadians. It’s been around since about 2007 or 2008, depending on which version you’re considering. Once upon a time, it was pretty much the only way to get to streaming TV. Now it has competition, and it’s my opinion that anytime now, Apple will upgrade, streamline, shrink the size, as well as the price of Apple TV in the near future. Apple TV is basically a small box the size of two slices of sandwich bread. It plugs into your HDMI port, and uses an included remote control to allow you to surf for streaming TV channels. What kind of channels are available? The big ones are Netflix and YouTube. But there are dozens and dozens of available channels nowadays, covering everything from south American soap operas, to Japanese anime cartoons, to NFL and NHL, plus dozens more genre specific options. Whatever your preference as far as unique TV channels goes, you can bet it’s out there on a streaming TV device. (Check the full list of Apple TV apps here) Apple’s TV is controlled on your screen, using an included remote control. You’ll also need an iTunes account. The major bonus of the Apple TV for me is access to much of the iTunes library of current TV content, unlike other players, where the most current TV is not easily accessible.
Roku was the second major player to arrive in Canada. It’s had a couple of different streaming TV options that are similar in size to the Apple TV, but in the spring of 2014, they brought in the Streaming Stick. It’s a streaming player the size of your thumb, that plugs invisibly into your TV, and comes with many of the same third-party channels as Apple does. Its size is a bonus, and its price is even better – $59. This unit too comes with a remote included, and interfaces the same way as Apple TV; right on your TV screen. Check out what’s available on Roku, here.
Google is the latest arrival to Canada, having launched several months after Roku’s stick. Google Chromecast has a totally different user interface, in that you must use your tablet or smartphone to control and play the content. While Apple and Roku provide you the content, and upgrade it as new channels come online, with Google, you need to download individual channel apps onto your smartphone in order to play them. I found this kind of tedious, because there’s no surfing for stuff to watch, or to see what’s new. In order to keep up on Google’s available content, one needs to go to the Chromecast website, then see what’s been added. From there you go to your app store, and download the individual channel apps you like. Then you need to go into each app, pick your content, and tell the Chromecast to play it back. I also found the apps quite buggy compared to Roku and Apple. Read more about what’s new on Chromecast in my recent Tech Blog article for Future Shop. While it’s the most work for your streaming TV, the Chromecast is the cheapest option at about $39.
One more thing…
Increasingly, TV manufacturers are building smart TV capabilities right into their TVs. One example I recently tested out was VIZIO. Using their Via remote, you can access many of the same channels as you could with a streaming stick, directly within the TV. While the major players like Netflix and YouTube are there, there’s definitely not as much content available – yet. One major bonus though? You can access your social media accounts right on the TV; and it’s definitely cool watching a season finale or big game on TV, while you keep a specific hashtag up in the Twitter window, and watch the online comments as they happen. You can do the same with Facebook. Want to learn more about VIZIO’s Smart TV? Check out my recent review.
Do you have questions about Streaming TV? Ask away in comments!