Online streaming devices allow you watch On-Demand TV at your leisure, but the options for how you get the content to your TV is growing faster than ever before. If you’re Looking to get On-Demand TV into your home but don’t quite know what’s the best way to get it, we’ve got the ultimate guide to streaming devices.
From mini sticks like the Chromecast, Fire TV and Roku to Home Entertainments systems like the PS4 and Xbox One here are some of the best options for streaming.
TV streaming has revolutionised the way many viewers watch TV. No longer are consumers tied to TV schedules or timing restrictions. Online services allow the viewer to watch programmes whenever it’s convenient for them, rather than when the broadcaster says so.
This change in attitude has seen many people replace traditional TV habits with web streaming and catch-up services like LoveFilm, SkyGo, iPlayer and Netflix. All these services can be broadcast to your TV via a streaming device.
We’re now going to take a look at some of the devices available to open up your TV to the world of online streaming…
So let’s start with something most people have in the house already, a games console. The last generation of games consoles were, arguably, the beginning of the media streaming revolution. Both the Xbox and PS3 could stream online programmes direct to your TV and made services like LoveFilm Instant and Netflix incredibly popular. Each system may have been tied to particular providers (Xbox or Sky) but the bulk of services were available across both platforms. In the UK, both systems share Netflix, Crackle, Amazon Instant Video(Prime) and Demand5. However, Sky’s Now TV is only available on Xbox whereas PS4 has more BBC channels.
For the new generation, both the PS4 and Xbox One have the same streaming capacities, although agreements are still not in place for every provider. When the dust settles and problems are ironed out, it’s safe to predict that the PS4 and Xbox will both have an almost full array of channels to offer.
The next (semi) generation of Sony and Microsoft consoles are set to have 4K streaming capabilities, with the PS4 Pro upgrading to 4k and the Xbox S and Scorpio at true Blue Ray 4K… all you will need now is an internet connection fit to stream Ultra High Definition content.
Pros– Apps already built-in to system, rapid interface, powerful processing, tailored apps, work great with home entertainment systems.
Cons– Lack of options after ‘big providers’, some channels are locked to one manufacturer, £200-350 cost.
Designed as a simple way to get you connected to the smart TV infrastructure, Streaming sticks are a fantastic, cheap and effective way to watch OnDemand content. With an easy hook-up to your TV, via HDMI, streaming stick connect to your WiFi to basically turn your TV SMART.
We’ve picked the top four on the market ApplePlay, Amazon Fire Stick, Chromecast and Roku (some are technically a box not stick) as they are frankly the best options with the most support.
Apple TV is the official product for streaming media via Apple devices. Apple users will be familiar with the device as the best way to play media from a Mac, iPhone or iPad to a TV using the Airplay function.
Apple TV also works as a standalone streaming player allowing you to watch movies, listen to music and stream your media onto your TV in glorious HD.
If you have an Apple device, Apple TV is still the most natural and seamless way to play media from your technology, but as a standalone player it lacks the all-round functionality of its rivals. The device is also let down a little with the lack of approved channels and the typically high price tag.
Pros– Works seamlessly with Apple products, great interface.
Cons – Not great to use with non-Apple products, limited streaming options, cost.
Google’s venture into the streaming market had been met with mixed success before the launch of their simple streaming stick. Although Android-powered devices have been popular, the flagship streaming service, Google TV (Andriod TV), has had limited uptake . To combat this, Google launched the Chromecast Dongle in 2013 with roaring success.
the £30 Chromecast is a miniature device that plugs into your HDMI port and streams media via your WiFi connection. As with many other devices, the usual ‘big players’ are supported: Netflix, Iplayer, ALL4, Spotify, Deezer, Youtube etc. However, for other services, the Chromecast supports a “casting” feature that mirrors whatever’s open on Google’s Chrome browser. Great for watching programmes without a tailored app.
However, for other services without a ‘supported app’, the Chromecast features a “casting” options (hence the name) that mirrors whatever’s open on Google’s Chrome browser. This means you can watch, almost anything, that runs in your Chrome Browser… Great for watching programmes without a tailored app or projecting sites and video in meetings.
Chromecasts ability to mirror websites means it is a great option for those without a TV satellite connection- Although you will need pretty decent Wi-Fi to stream video content. To use Chromecast, all you need is a smart device (Yep Apple is supported) and a WiFi connection. You can also stream from a computer with a Chrome browser.
Pros– Incredibly cheap option (£30), Easy set-up and compact design. Can ‘cast’ anything from Chrome browser.
Cons- Limited built-in apps, some providers block live streaming (All4, Sky GO)
The Roku Box is a standalone streaming device with a huge array of inbuilt channels to pick from. Ok, technically not all of their devices are ‘streaming sticks’ (they do have a stick version) but the tiny boxes are about the size of a beermat, and hold the key to a world of online channels.
Most big providers like Netflix, NOW TV, BBC iPlayer, Sky Store, Demand 5, ALL4 and Spotify are already signed up to the service and Roku are always adding more.
The rest of the channels are made up of specialist networks streaming news, documentaries, music and sports. Coverage depends on your area, but the UK already has great options.
Roku players come in four variations, each with different levels of features Roku 2, 3 and the Stick.
The basic Stick model is around £30 and comes with over 450 channels to choose from. The device can play 1080p HD video, mirrors your smartphone and has built-in Dual Band wireless. As you go higher in the range, features like Ethernet, USB, and microSD card slot are added as well as a faster HD optimized processor.
The top package, ROKU 3, is a superfast streaming machine with the capabilities of a fully-kitted media player with remote and headphone jack, though the £80price tag is a little higher than many of its competitors.
Pros– Huge array of channels to choose from, super easy to use and great interface.
Cons– Lack of connections on lower models (no USB or SD)
A somewhat surprising success in the streaming market in 2015 was the Amazon Fire TV range. Inspite of the Amazon Prime Video service suffering from a case Netflix-Dominance, the US ecommerce giants created a very impressive and versatile streaming device.
Fire TV range comes in two models, the Fire TV, which is a small box (like the Roku 3 and Apple TV) and the Fire TV Stick (more akin to the Chromecast and Roku streaming stick). The two models work from the same system but have a few performance differences. Both models support 1080p HD, however, the box (Fire TV) also runs 4K UHD, is faster and has more memory. It also has an Ethernet, USB port and microSD slot to provide even more storage- The stick is just a (Very good) streaming device.
The budget Fire TV stick, £25-£35, is probably the best value and stacks up very well against its rivals. The Fire TV (Box) retails around the £80 mark and faces off against AppleTV and top end Roku.
The experience on the Fire TV is a somewhat akin to Roku, however, Amazon Fire TV is based on an Andriod backend system, meaning it is super easy to sideload Android apps. This opens the device up to a world of opportunities.
Many people sideload apps such as Kodi, turning their Fire TV device into a fully-fledged media system. Fair warning here, Amazon recommend you load apps from their store only, but if you are tech competent the process is pretty simple.
Pros- Simple easy to use system, sideloading from Android, good selection of apps.
Cons- Limited Mirroring function, Amazon Prime is baked in and constantly pushes it’s service
Media Players are devices that have pre-set channels and applications built into the machine. Think of it like a Freeview box that hooks up to your WiFi to stream content rather than using an aerial connection. All you need to do is plug the device into a TV, usually through HDMI, and power it up via a USB or wall socket.
Media Players have the advantage of being able to connect to a home network. If you have a Networked Hard Drive (NAS), you can stream media from it via the Media Player to your TV. The Media Player will then convert the files into a format your TV understands.
Pros– Tons of options, can stream media via NAS drives, often have SD/USB slots for expandable storage
Cons– Don’t always have a full range of services or channels, Expensive compared to other options on market
Want to turn your TV into a massive tablet? Well, now you can. Android TV Boxes and Dongles act as mini tablets broadcasting directly to your TV. This means you can run any app you have on a tablet on your TV, effectively cutting out the need to link your tablet to a TV.
The boxes and dongles are basically low specification tablets without a screen. Most run the JellyBean 4.1 operating system. They can be controlled via remote, smartphone or tablet so you aren’t tied to your TV.
Prices vary hugely with the device just like standard tablets. Models can start from the £20 mark but will probably be far less powerful than something like the highly rated Tronsmart-cx919 which is around the £60 mark.
Pros– Turns your TV into a giant tablet, that’s just awesome! Lots of apps and programs, customisable, good value.
Cons– Some models can have poor WiFi reception due to small size, Reported compatibility issues with older TVs. Cheaper devices are very slow and interface is nowhere near as good as a full tablet.
Ok, so what about if you want everything in one place, well Smart Tvs could be for you. A Smart TVs has a selection of streaming services built into the TV itself, think of it as the Roku, from above, built into the TV itself, but usually with less apps.
Different manufacturers have contracts with various providers, so each model of TV could carry different services. It may be possible that a Sony TV will have Netflix but not 4oD, whereas in an older LG TV the opposite could be true (this is just an example, not a guide), check with the manufacturer to see what their smart TV come built in with.
Having these channels built into a TV is naturally very advantageous as there is no need for external connections. Manufacturers are now begging to equip SMART TVs with a much larger range of channels. Newer SMART TVs are much easier to update than older models, if anyone ever has the experience they’ll know why other devices saw a gap in the market.
A new consideration with Smart TVs is the introduction of Android TV- Effectively Android OS baked into the TV. It’s still not quite as good as you get on a tablet or smartphone but having the option of adding Android apps and updates means Android-equipped Smart TVs are usually a great idea and give the view far more options than say a SONY or SAMSUNG portal.
Pros– Built-in to your Smart TV. Tailored apps mean great user experience.
Cons– Limited choice, many programs are ‘paid for only’. Older TVs often cannot be updated.