Streaming media is where we are with television as we’ve always known it.
Remember the days when, if you didn’t keep your eyes glued to the TV Guide channel on the screen, you’d get distracted, miss the channel you were waiting for, and have to wait forever for it to cycle back around?
Or what has amazed me to realize that, not only did it precede the un-interactive TV Guide channel, but is still in circulation today with over 1.8 MILLION subscribers, is the TV Guide magazine! Don’t believe me? Here’s a February 2016 issue featuring The Walking Dead:
If you only have a digital cable package from providers like Comcast, AT&T U-verse, or Mediacom, then you’re very familiar with the digital and interactive TV Guide, similar to the one shown below:
But, what about streaming video, on demand wherever you are? That’s where we are in today’s world where you can watch American Ninja Warrior or Desperate Housewives on your smartphone, tablet, laptop and more, if you have WiFi or Cellular networks available and your data provider allows it.
With that type of convenience, it’s only a matter of time before TV as we know it will become obsolete, so let’s take a look at what the market has to offer and what’s expected for 2017 and beyond!
Amazon Fire TV
Credit: Best Buy
Quite simply, if you don’t have Amazon Prime ($99/year), the Amazon Fire TV is pretty bare bones as media streamers are concerned. If you do have a Prime membership, however, then be prepared to enjoy 4K* Ultra High Definition video quality and a clean user interface that is easy to navigate. At $99, with Prime it’s a no-brainer. Without Prime, you are likely better off with one of the other options we’re about to discuss.
Credit: Best Buy
My question is “What was Google thinking with this design?” Personally, the USB-stick-looking thing is way more convenient and pleasant to look at. Design aside, it’s highly-rated thanks to a powerful WiFi antenna built into the “puck-like” dongle. I’ve heard a lot of people are saying that they consider the lack of a physical remote control to be a drawback, but I think controlling the device via an app on your smartphone is very convenient.
As of this writing, in November 2016, we are expected to see a revised version, called Chromecast Ultra, that will bump it’s predecessor’s lagging 1080p resolution to 4K HDR.** It is projected to be 1.8x faster than the older model (shown above) and will give you the option to plug the Chromecast Ultra directly into your router via Ethernet for even faster speeds. The model shown above can be purchased for $35, but for a reasonable and competitive up charge, you can get the newest model when it releases for $69.
Credit: iPhone Hacks
After a long wait, Apple has brought us a much needed upgrade to their set-top streaming media device. Previously, in its 3rd-generation model ($69, discontinued), you could stream content from iTunes (and the iTunes Store) as well as all of your personal media and games via AirPlay.***
Fast-forward four years, we now have its 4th-generation model with a much faster processor that powers all of your streaming needs. Unlike the previous versions, the new Apple TV has a few game changing improvements. For starters, Siri. Much like your iPhone, iPad and NOW Mac computers, a dedicated Siri button on the remote allows you to access a massive combination of commands to help you navigate the content you’re searching. For example, I can speak into the remote and say something like, “Show me movies with Clint Eastwood,” and along the bottom of the screen, I’ll see cover art of some of Eastwood’s top movies. If, based on those results, I want to see just his older movies, I can say “Just show me the old ones,” and like magic, the results are filtered further to show just ones from the “good old days.”
Another major addition is that Apple TV now has its own App Store. Just like on your iPhone or iPad, you can search for apps, TV Networks, games and more, designed specifically for Apple TV. With accessories like video game controllers, this is a new beginning for Apple in the streaming media arena and I’m looking forward to what’s next for the tech giant.
Credit: Best Buy
Finally, I’d like to explore the Roku Stick. If you’re like me, you’re at a point where there’s just too much to consider between the devices we’ve covered and some of the options seem like no-brainers. The Roku Stick, and its counterparts (Roku 3 and some TV’s) are pretty independent and non-exclusive in its offerings of content provisions.
Honestly, for me, it boils down to performance and hardware. The Roku Stick is known to have longer loading times for content, which turns me off immediately. Don’t offer me a product that has the slightest lag in viewing speed. Across the platforms, the remote is not my favorite. It’s pretty self-explanatory and compact, like some others, and has provider-specific shortcut buttons like Netflix and Amazon.
I will give Roku props for the headphone jack included in the remote. As someone who has a hearing disability, I have had third-party wireless headphones that connect to a TV, allowing me to listen as loud as I want without disturbing others. It’s something that I wish was more readily available in the television market these days.
Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV allows you to pair Bluetooth headphones for “private listening.” With Chromecast, based on my research, you have to have a Bluetooth transmitter in order for this to work. Aside from content, this is a huge selling point for me, with or without a hearing disability.
With all that said, which device are you leaning towards? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any of these devices and have some personal insight to add, I would love to share it on this post!
*4K refers to a horizontal resolution on the order of 4,000 pixels and vertical resolution on the order of 2,000 pixels. Several 4K resolutions exist in the fields of digital television and digital cinematography. (Source: Wikipedia)
**HDR stands for High Dynamic Range imaging, and it’s an old photography practice recently introduced to cameraphones like the iPhone and some Android devices (or with the use of special apps). (Source: Lifehacker)
***AirPlay is a service that Apple devices can use to stream audio and video between electronic devices. This is similar to the way you might connect to a streaming radio or video Web site, like Pandora or YouTube, except that everything is located on your network rather than out on the Internet. Using AirPlay, you can play media from a single AirPlay-compatible source, like an iPad or iPhone, and stream it to multiple AirPlay-compatible devices on the same network, including TVs and stereo systems. (Source: HowStuffWorks)
Featured Image Credit: PBS