Video streaming has rapidly become one of the most popular ways for people to enjoy movies, television and web-based entertainment. Add-on devices such as Roku, Amazon Fire TV Stick and Apple TV have made it easier than ever for companies like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon to provide content to subscribers.
These devices connect to the television and stream on-demand video content directly from the internet using the subscriber’s wireless broadband service. As overall use expands, so does available content. No longer are users limited to paid subscription movies and TV shows. Most devices offer channel pages from which the user can pick a wide variety of programs ranging from news to free movies and television shows. Before buying one of these set-top streaming devices, however, consumers should be aware of the technical requirements and the differences between each.
Roku and Fire and Apple! Oh My!
Starting with the devices themselves, the Roku (pronounced, “Row-koo,”), Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick are similar in operation. Priced from $29 to $80, depending on the model, these devices offer the user direct access to on-demand services through a menu-based interface and a familiar-looking “TV remote.”
Each plugs into the television via HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) or standard RCA audio/visual cable connectors. It’s important to note, however, that these devices are designed to be used on modern, flat-panel television sets with built-in HDMI connectivity and RCA A/V ports may not be available on all models.
On screen, users can scroll through a channel selection including access to paid subscriptions like Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Hulu Plus, as well as free movie and TV content from channels like Popcorn and Crackle. The device must be registered to synchronize accounts with the content provider but once completed the interface is fairly user friendly across the board.
One newcomer, Google’s “Chromecast” device, is different than the others. Instead of streaming directly to the television, Chromecast users send video content from an app installed on a tablet, smartphone or computer to a receiver connected to the television.
It’s All About Speed
Before purchasing one of these devices, however, users should check to make certain their broadband service and wireless Internet hardware are capable of supporting high definition, streaming video. (Internet connection suggestions for streaming HD movies http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/fast-internet-connection-for-streaming-hd-movies1.htm)
Here are Netflix Internet connection speed recommendations for video streaming:
- 0.5 Megabits per second – Required broadband connection speed
- 1.5 Megabits per second – Recommended broadband connection speed
- 3.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for Standard Definition (SD) quality
- 5.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for High Definition (HD) quality
- 25 Megabits per second – Recommended for Ultra HD quality
As for video quality, according to Netflix, high definition movies and television will, “Play in 720p or better with a fast enough internet connection.”
One of the best ways to check Internet connection speeds at SpeedTest.net – http://www.speedtest.net/. From a Wi-Fi-connected computer or tablet and run the test to determine Internet connection speed. If the connection speed does not meet the minimums shown, it’s likely that an upgrade will be needed if possible.
Cable / DSL Alternatives May Limit Streaming
In some areas, DSL and high-speed cable broadband are not available but there are often satellite and cellular options. Verizon Wireless currently offers, but does not widely promote, its home Internet/telephone package called, “Verizon Home Fusion,” a high-speed broadband service that generally works wherever there is a good 4G cellular signal.
Unfortunately, there is a data limit and low connection speed in real-time application. (Deer Computer Consulting, Ltd. Technicians have recorded the connection speed of Verizon Home Fusion download at less than 2.0 Mbps in southeast Greene County, Ohio.) Such a low speed would impede a video streaming device and, if it did, just a few movies could quickly bump the user into an overage charge.
Some Internet service providers include everything needed for wireless access, while others require the subscriber to purchase a router separately. Either way, it needs to be a good one. Technically, the router does little more than provide a way for multiple networks to interact, but, in this case, it provides streaming video devices direct access to the Internet. Routers range in price from $30 through $250 and come in array of configurations.
Price has only minor bearing on the quality of the router. Inexpensive routers made by companies like DLink and Netgear can last for many years and function adequately. Many routers designed more for home use, have internal broadcast antennas. But in situations where greater signal is required, those with external antenna can often prove more effective and access point devices can also provide additional range.
Regardless of the device, it should have good security to prevent others from accessing the service or network, as well as the best range and strongest signal possible. If the router being used is several years old, consider replacing it since technology and features have changed considerable, even in the last year or so.
Video streaming through a set-top device can provide a great entertainment alternative and at very low cost. However, with all of the choices available, it’s important to know the lay of the land, on and offline. Before buying, check out the product links included in this article and be sure to review Internet connection speeds. It’s also important to check the television set and make sure it has the proper connectors for these devices.
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