Streaming & Over-the-Top TV Buying Guide
For nearly two decades now, progressive and forward-looking companies have been trying to bridge the gap between traditional pay TV and true TV streaming. The biggest roadblock had always been the technological hurdles involved with compressing high quality HD into an internet connection. With massive improvements in fiber optics and throughput, internet TV started to come into its own in early 2010. While it comes in various forms, internet TV can broken up into two main categories: content providers and streaming devices.
Streaming: Content Providers
These are the non-devices which provide you with a specific service of programming. A few of the more popular include: Netflix, Sling TV, Amazon Video (which has its own device as well), Hulu and YouTube. A mix of free and pay, there's no denying the explosive growth here; Netflix ($7.99-$11.99/mo) has grown to over 83 million worldwide users while Hulu (also $7.99-$11.99/mo) has eclipsed 12 million. YouTube (Red: $7.99/mo) has evolved into a user-generated haven, home to millenials and the tech-savvy alike...many of which are using it as their only source of "TV" entertainment.
While most households still subscribe to cable or satellite TV, a growing number are cutting the cord and going straight to over-the-top, internet TV. The biggest upside here is cost. Most streaming devices go for under $50 and if all you want is basic TV coverage most apps can be installed free of charge. The biggest downside? Lack of free live TV. If WWIII breaks out or hurricane is en route, you maaay not be the first to know :). Live TV (particularly local news and ANY sports match-up) require an additional monthly charge. However, new pay-per-channel(s) services like Sling TV are helping to fill that void with relatively inexpensive live TV plans (25+ live channels for $20/mo).
We've put just about every mass market streaming unit to the test and, as of this publication, our handful of favorites include: Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, TiVo BOLT and the Roku Stick. Each fill their own niche and do so impressively well. In the table below, we stack the five side-by-side and rank each based on our key categories. If you'd like to check out our full reviews on each, jump down a bit further below.
Streaming Device Comparison
(approx. sale price)
(seamless integration of top apps)
(vs cost and features)
Streaming Device Reviews:
All of our comprehensive reports of streaming media units will live right here. As new versions launch, expect an updated report soon thereafter (and a fresh table above).
Streaming Service Reviews:
These services don't necessarily come with a device or unit. In most cases, you need to run them as an app on the above devices or other connected hardware (such as a smart TV).