Streaming content is becoming more and more popular resulting in an increased number of options for watching on-demand content on your television. Some of the most well known devices for projecting streaming digital content to a TV are Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV. In addition there are a large number of streaming services that don’t have their own hardware that can be streamed directly on a computer or a mobile device: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube, Crackle, Pandora, Sling Television and a bunch more. Where does Cable and network TV fit into this entertainment mix? What do I choose? Do I need Cable TV to use these services?
Below is a summary of popular devices with pros, cons and pricing for each. There is not a single solution that works for everyone so depending on your needs & budget you may choose any one or combination of services.
Roku is the most comprehensive streaming service I have tested. With over 2000 channels, this all in one streaming device is a centralized hub for a wide variety of streaming content providers including: HBO Go, HuluPlus, YouTube, Pandora, Crackle, PBS, Blockbuster on Demand, etc. Major content providers such as Amazon Instant Video, Google Play and Sling TV stream their content through Roku in addition to their own hardware devices. The major exception to this rule is Apple TV (iTunes) which is notorious for keeping their content and services unique to their devices. Roku is brand independent and therefore can offer its device as a distribution platform for well known and independent content providers. In addition to big brands; churches, local TV stations and specialty providers like the Autism channel, all offer content on Roku. Content ranges from sporting events, news, movies, tv shows, and games. You can find blockbuster hit movies to older movies such as Godzilla and the Andy Griffith show. However, Roku does not offer the option to mirror apps from mobile devices to the television like Apple TV or Chromecast.
What does Roku cost?
The Roku 3 device, is $99 and the company offers several less expensive models ranging from $49 – $69. There are no recurring monthly fees. There is free programming and content for purchase available from content providers. If you have subscriptions through other streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Instant Video, you can watch their content on your television through Roku (no additional fees are charged). YouTube, Vimeo, ifoodtv and other Internet content traditionally watched on a laptop or mobile device can be watched on a television using Roku. Sling TV (see below) currently has a special offer on Roku: Purchase Sling TV service and get a Roku 3 for 50% off. See the special offer at https://www.sling.com/devices/roku
Key benefits of Roku:
- Over 2000 Channels
- Wide selection of free and paid content
- A single search looks across multiple content providers displaying the best prices for purchased content
- Search by Movie, TV or Actor
- Add Channels to make your most frequently watched content easily accessible
- Low price point and no recurring monthly fees
- Some Roku devices do not require TV’s with an HDMI connector. This means older TV’s can get Roku content, too!
Can I watch Broadcast Television on Roku?
Some broadcast stations have content on Roku allowing a viewer to watch broadcast TV on-demand. Examples of broadcast content available on Roku includes “60 Minutes” and CBS offers some on-demand content.
Do I need Cable television service if I have a Roku?
No. Roku operates independent of cable television service. Some users feel Roku is a great alternative to expensive monthly cable fees. Users get a wide selection of content they can watch on demand without recurring monthly fees. You can save money with Roku unless you rent or purchase more content through Roku than you spend on monthly cable TV service. However, other viewers feel that Roku is an extra viewing option in addition to cable. If you have cable service some cable content is provided through Roku on-demand.
You can easily get major network broadcast television stations without purchasing cable television (or Internet) service. Antennas are inexpensive and can be purchased at almost any major electronics retailer (Best Buy, Target, Walmart). Prices range from approximately $25.00 – $100.00 depending on signal strength, how many TV’s you want to connect and indoor vs. outdoor antennas. Plugging an antenna up to a single TV will provide broadcast signal to that TV. If your house is wired for cable (even if you don’t have cable service) you can purchase an outdoor antenna and connect it to your cable lines to provide access to all of the televisions in your home that are plugged into a cable outlet. Using an antenna plus Roku or any of the other streaming services makes a great inexpensive television service without monthly fees.
What is the difference between Roku, AppleTV, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV & Sling TV?
Apple TV –
$99.00 Now $69.00
Apple TV and Roku offer similar services but there are two main differences. Apple TV and Roku offer free and paid content, however, Apple TV specific content is not available on Roku. Roku services such as Sling TV, Amazon Instant Video are not available on Apple TV. Because Roku is brand independent it acts as a distribution point for many content providers. It is not likely that Apple TV will ever include competitor’s content. The second key difference is that Apple TV allows a TV to act as mirroring device for your iPhone, iPad or Mac computer. Anything you play on an Apple device, such as games, apps, photos, video on your iphone, is easily projected onto a TV using Apple TV. Apple TV requires a TV with an HDMI port. More info
Google Chromecast – ~$35.00
Chromecast is a low cost streaming alternative that primarily offers the ability to project Android Chromecast enabled apps to a television. The device was first released in July of 2013 with only a few Chromecast enabled apps however, some reports say there are over now over 10,000 Chromecast enabled apps. Popular Chromecast enabled apps include: HBO GO, Netflix, Pandora, Hulu Plus, GooglePlay, PBS kids, etc. For a full list visit: chromecast/apps.html.
There is no Chromecast specific content to rent or purchase (unlike Apple TV and Roku). Chromecast is a small, easily portable devices that plugs directly into your television’s HDMI slot and it accesses the streaming apps through your wireless network. A power cable connects to the TV USB port and there is no remote. It is a simple, inexpensive, sleek solution but with some limited functionality as compared to other streaming solutions. More info and purchase: google.com/chromecast.
Amazon Fire TV – Currently on sale, $84 (Regular price $99)
Amazon touts Fire TV as the “best way to enjoy unlimited access to thousands of Prime Instant videos on your HDTV …” If you have purchased Amazon’s Prime service that gives you free two day shipping on specific products purchased on Amazon, you automatically get free access to Amazon’s Prime Instant Video. Fire TV provides free & paid content, as well as, the ability to project your Fire OS or Android Device onto your HDTV. It supports video, music, games, and photos. There is also Amazon exclusive content, personalized watch suggestions, parental controls and voice search features that are unique to Fire TV. Popular content includes Netflix, HuluPlus, Sling TV, Amazon Instant Video, Watch ESPN, Crackle, HBO Go, Pandora, etc. For more info visit Amazon Fire TV.
Sling Television – $20/mo
Sling is a monthly live television service that targets individuals that do not want cable service. There are no annual contracts and the service offers access to cable type content such as ESPN, ESPN2, Disney Channel, TNT, HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel, TNT, CNN, TBS, ABC Family, Caroon Network, Best of Maker plus more channels that you can add on. Sling TV asks, “Do you wanna pay $120/mo or $20 for live TV?” You can watch Sling TV on your TV, tablet, phone or computer. iOS, Android, Mac, and PC are supported. You can watch TV live or later on-demand. Sling TV content is also available on Roku Player and Amazon Fire TV. xBox and Nexus player are coming soon. There is a 30 day free trial and currently a special offer with Amazon. You can get a free fire TV Stick or $50 off Amazon Fire TV when you sign up for Sling TV here.
- Chromecast vs Apple TV (from 12/3/2013)