Long gone are the days when people had to wait for a show to air and watch it live. For many years now, TV shows and movies have been available to stream online. There are too many streaming services to even remember them all.
Whether you have Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vudu, or any other streaming service, it’s very likely you’ve streamed an episode of your favorite show or a full movie in the not too distant past. You might have watched it by using your phone, your tablet, your computer, or perhaps something like a video game console connected to your TV.
There are many different streaming services and streaming options. One option is to use a streaming device (or a streaming stick). These streaming devices are focused solely on being small, unobtrusive, quick, and easy to use. You’ve likely heard of the most popular devices on the market.
You also might be wondering what the differences are between the devices. For those looking to get a streaming device, it might be difficult to choose. Or you might be wondering why so many people want to use these devices. In this article, I’m going to cover the basics as well as some of your options!
What is a video streaming device?
The video streaming devices this article talks about are typically small devices that plug into your TV. They can be tiny plugins that work with a remote, larger sticks, or other forms. While using one of these devices, people can stream videos from different places depending on the device: from specific services (using apps) or even from absolutely any service or site (using screen mirroring).
Some devices are more limited in what you can watch. Others (that use screen mirroring to let you display your phone, computer, or tablet on your TV) are nearly unlimited in what you can decide to watch.
Keep in mind that you’ll still need to subscribe to services separately. If you buy a video streaming device, you don’t get subscription services included (for instance, you’ll still need to pay to use Netflix).
Which TVs can use these devices?
Video streaming devices use recent technology to work. They typically need to be able to plug into an HDMI port on a TV. For this reason, you’ll nearly always need to have a fairly modern TV. Some devices specifically require you have an HDTV. If you have a pretty old TV that doesn’t have HDMI ports, you’ll very likely need to upgrade to a slightly newer TV.
You can check your TV’s manual to see if you have an HDTV with HDMI ports. Or you can look on your TV to find the TV model and look up its information online.
What’s so great about them?
Video streaming devices like those in this article are fairly popular at the moment, and they have been for years. One reason they are so well-liked is that they typically offer a wide range of streaming options. With most of these devices, you can choose between just about any service you use—Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Vudu, YouTube, you name it. This means your video streaming might be entirely controlled through one device.
They’re also great because they’re usually very small and portable. They’re typically small sticks that can be quickly unplugged and used in a different TV. So if you buy a new TV, there aren’t a bunch of confusing cords to figure out. Or if you’re going to watch TV with someone else, you can easily transport the device to their home and set it up there.
Another positive is that there are some pretty affordable options. You don’t have to buy a new computer or use a gaming console to stream your shows. Those can be kind of pricey (though, of course, they do a lot more than just stream shows). If your main concern, though, is to stream TV and movies, you won’t have to splurge on an expensive, larger product.
And with these devices, controlling them is easy and convenient. Some of them have small remotes for controlling what you watch. Some of them also work through apps on phones. It’s no trouble at all to use the devices.
What are the most popular options?
There are a number of streaming video devices out there. If you’ve heard people talking about them, though, you’ve most likely heard them mention one of the devices listed below. The four devices in this article are some of the most popular and well-liked choices you have. Of course, they’re not your only options. But these devices are probably your likeliest contenders.
Apple, of course, has a streaming video device. They have more than one model, in fact. They offer the current model of their regular device (the 4th generation Apple TV) as well as the new Apple TV 4K (for use with 4K televisions). The 4K version is specifically designed to work with 4K TVs. If you have a 4K TV, you’ll want this model. It’s designed to run faster and display 4K video.
With the Apple TV, you simply plug the box into your TV with an HDMI cable (not included). The Apple TV comes with the Siri Remote so you can control what you watch. Once you’ve purchased Apple TV, you also get access to tech support for 90 days, plus you can get help from the Genius Bar.
Apple TV has many different apps to choose from. The product description specifically lists Netflix and Hulu. It also works with the other apps you’d expect, like YouTube and Amazon Video. It’s difficult to find a comprehensive list of all the available apps, but if you’re wondering whether your service works with Apple TV, a quick Google search should tell you. If you have an iOS device, you can also either cast an app to your TV or even mirror your iPhone’s screen to the TV.
Apple TV is currently $149. If you want the 4K version, you have two options: 32GB for $179 or 64GB for $199.
Chromecast is a little different from the other devices. It’s focused on casting from your other devices. Instead of having a remote that lets you choose between different apps, you use your phone, tablet, or computer to pick what you want to watch. Then you press the “Cast” button on the app and it’s displayed on your TV. It works with a number of devices, including those that use iOS, Android, and Windows. And there are many different apps that work with it, including the typical ones like YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, and Google Play.
Screen mirroring is also big with Chromecast. If you have an Android device or use the Chrome browser on your computer, you can display your device’s screen. This means you can watch anything with your Chromecast. If there’s a streaming website that doesn’t have an app, you can simply open it on your Chrome browser, mirror the browser using Chromecast, and watch on your TV.
A regular Chromecast 2nd Generation device is currently $35. Chromecast Ultra is $69.
The Fire TV Stick plugs into an HDMI slot and can be controlled with the included remote. The remote, called the Alexa Voice Remote, lets you control what you watch by either using the buttons or by using your voice. For instance, you can say “Alexa, open Hulu” to launch the Hulu app, or ask Alexa to play a specific show or pull up a genre of shows. And if you don’t want to use the remote for some reason, you can also use your Amazon Echo device to control your TV.
This device from Amazon doesn’t just play Amazon content (I did mention Hulu above). You can launch many different apps, including the ones you’d expect, like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video (of course), and HBO NOW. You can also open web browsers and find content that way.
The Fire TV has some slight differences from the Fire TV Stick. The Fire TV isn’t the same kind of stick—it has a “pendant” design, so it looks a little different. It’s also designed to be faster, which is a definite plus. And, of course, it can display 4K content, so if you have a 4K TV, the Fire TV will be superior to the Fire TV Stick.
The Fire TV Stick is currently $39.99, while the Fire TV is currently $69.99 (or $74.99 if you get the bundle that includes a TV antenna).
Roku offers a number of different video streaming devices, each a little different. There’s the standard Roku Streaming Stick, the Streaming Stick+ (intended for 4K TVs), the Roku Express, the Roku Express+, (which works on older TVs!), and the Roku Ultra (intended for 4K TVs).
With a Roku device, you simply plug it in and set it up by creating a Roku account (or using an existing one). Depending on which device you choose, you’ll have some different features and options. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s different with each device:
- Roku Express is designed to be easy to set up (for those who are new to video streaming devices); it still has access to the same apps and it has a remote, but its performance may not be as high, and the remote doesn’t have voice control ($29.99)
- Roku Express+ is meant to be able to be used on older TVs; it comes with a composite cable as well as the typical HDMI cable, so if you don’t have HDMI ports, you can plug in the oldschool red, white, and yellow cords ($35)
- Roku Streaming Stick is the standard stick, with access to all the typical apps; it comes with a remote that includes voice control ($49.99)
- Roku Streaming Stick+ has the capabilities of the regular Streaming Stick, but it’s higher quality (it can stream 4K) and it can work well when further from your internet router, so it’s more easily used throughout your home ($69.99)
- Roku Ultra is meant for intense streaming and can stream 4K content; it’s designed to be faster, clearer, and it comes with some extras, like headphones, a feature for finding the remote when it’s lost, and other audio features ($99.99)
Though Roku’s devices all have some things in common, like access to typical apps such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video, they all have some slight differences, so make sure to consider each one before deciding.