Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire Stick…Do You Need One?
Are you considering buying one of these devices or are you wondering if you need one?
These devices are designed for streaming content. In this article I’m going to give you some basic information about how they work and and make some recommendations.
What Is Streaming?
Streaming is a method of transmitting or receiving data (especially video and audio material) over a computer network as a steady, continuous flow. It allows playback to proceed while subsequent data is being received.
In other words, instead of downloading a movie or song and then playing it from your device, (computer, smartphone, or tablet) you watch it as it’s being transmitted over the internet from someone else’s server. (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.)
Here’s a good analogy: when someone talks to you, information travels toward you in the form of a sound wave. Your ears and brain decode this information, allowing you to understand it.
- Streaming video and audio, is a stream of data from a server.
- The decoder is a stand-alone player like a Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire Stick or a plugin (program) that works as part of a Web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari).
- The server data stream and the decoder work together to show live (sports events, concerts) or prerecorded (movies, songs) broadcasts.
What Does Buffering Mean?
Buffering is the process of creating a buffer which is some data stored in the memory for playing back soon. When your video stops or lags and you see “buffering,” that means the download has not happened fast enough and you’ve viewed more than was able to be downloaded. This situation occurs when the internet connection is not fast enough. After a few minutes the download catches up and the video starts again.
Who Streams and Why?
According to Hub Entertainment Research’s Conquering Content Report, 52 percent of people now watch streaming video and more than 48 percent of those use set-top boxes. (like Roku and Apple TV)
Two-thirds of them subscribe to at least one of the big three streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. More than a third subscribe to two or more services.
According to another Hub study, Decoding the Default, 78 percent of people are still subscribing to cable or satellite, but 70 percent of those subscribers are also subscribing to a streaming service. It appears people aren’t “cutting the cord” but rather, adding streaming networks.
One of the reasons is that watching popular shows like Stranger Things (Netflix), The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu), or The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime), requires a subscription to their streaming services.
In addition, traditional over-the-air (OTA) networks, such as CBS are also moving to streaming. Star Trek: Discovery, is only available on CBS’s streaming service: CBS All Access.
Do I Need A Streaming Device?
Most newer TVs have streaming capability (The LG OLEDB8P or LG OLEDC7P, are considered some of the best). If you only watch shows from the big three streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime), you may not need a separate set-top streaming gadget.
Do you love Apple gadgets? Do you buy and rent videos from the iTunes store? Do you use iTunes for your personal media library? Then you’ll enjoy Apple TV. The latest Apple TV is The Apple TV 4K. The starting price is $179 and you will need a 4K TV to benefit fully benefit from the 4K resolution but it will work on older TV’s. (Be aware that if you upgrade your TV to 4K, you will need to upgrade any other devices you have, like DVD players. It’s a seemingly never ending cycle of consumerism. LOL
In addition to letting you buy or rent content from the Apple Store or your own iTunes library, the new Apple TV supports more third-party streaming services than it used to, but it still doesn’t support Amazon Prime Video. It has some cool apps of it’s own like slideshows of the history of art, famous places around the world. And your personal photos.
Other advantages to Apple TV is that, unlike other streaming devices, Apple TV 4K also supports HDR10 video, Dolby Vision HDR, Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac Wi‑Fi connectivity.
A big plus in my book is the Apple TV interface and remote controller because they are so simple and easy to use.
If you’re an Amazon Echo user or a subscriber to Amazon Prime Video, you might want the Amazon streaming gadget – the new Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice. You can use it’s remote controller or any nearby Alexa device, to start showing The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and other Amazon videos. It also supports most of the other popular streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube. At $39.99, it’s an affordable, high-quality streaming gadget.
Like other devices, it supports 4K and HDR-10 but it also supports Dolby Vision, an HDR format alternative to the more popular HDR-10. In theory, Dolby Vision HDR is superior to HDR10 because of its potential to display more colors but you may not be able to see the difference.
If you have an older TV that doesn’t offer streaming, the Roku Express+ for $39.99 can bring it up to speed. This device has composite A/V ports that work with older TVs.
Roku builds outstanding streaming devices and they have a simple interface that’s easy to use. This year’s top Roku device is the Roku Streaming Stick Plus. It’s a simple stick and it supports 4K video, High Dynamic Range Video 10 (HDR10) and 802.11ac WiFi for only $59.99.
Like all Roku devices, it supports many more streaming services than its competitors so people who want to explore the hundreds of video services available will want this one.
The new Roku Premiere+ available from Walmart for $49.99 has most of the Stick Plus features and a good voice interface with audio control built into the remote but it only supports 802.11n at 2.4GHz so if your WiFi isn’t strong, it may not work well for you.
Are You A Gamer?
If you want to both stream video and play games, you have many good choices including Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro or the Xbox One X, but for streaming, the Nvidia Shield (2017) is much cheaper at $179. It does a great job of showing 4K and HDR video and you can use it to stream many services including Netflix, Amazon, and Vudu.
It also supports Google Assistant (because it runs the Android TV operating system). The current model comes with a microphone, so you won’t need to buy an accessory to use Google Assistant. However, Google assistant devices are pretty inexpensive and very useful in their own right so you might want to get one anyway. (More about assistants in another article coming soon.)
Hope this puts you “in the know” and helps you decide what, if anything, to buy.
What streaming services do you use? Do you have a streaming device? Will you buy one now?
Please share in the comments below.