How Are You Streaming Today? A Look into the Devices

By Taylor C. Berrier

I stream, you stream, we all stream for TV. It’s not something we take for granted. The inception of media streaming brought with it the glorious ability to watch whole series of shows in their entirety in one convenient location, on your mobile device, personal computer, or simply any electronic display. The question most often asked in an everyday conversation between co-workers, school children, and reviewers like myself is “What are you streaming?” To which there were two answers to this just a couple years back. House of Cards or Orange is the New Black.

But the question I liked to ask next is “How are you streaming?” Mostly out of sheer curiosity, but also out of intrigue. I found most men my age had a similar answer. PlayStation. But there was a wide variety amongst the general public surveyed. “My MacBook.” “My iPhone.” “Apple TV.” These were just about every other answer at a time looking back. However, the options out there for streaming have soared to unlimited possibilities. TVs became smart meaning they could stream with their own built-in hardware. You didn’t even need to plug anything in besides the power cord, and of course your Internet.

People stopped caring about how they were streaming, so long as they could. But if you couldn’t, it seemed imperative to change that as soon as possible. It was possible on just about any budget. Pick up Chromecast for under $40, an Android TV stick for $20, or a budget smartphone for $10. Whatever you were streaming your media from, it didn’t matter as long as you still had one subscription to a streaming service. The ability to binge was just way better than anything cable was offering and it could be done without break-the-bank services like satellite or a landline.

I’m going to break down some of the most affordable and most wide-ranging media streamers on the market today, that way there is no question in media streaming superiority and to end the debate of whether or not your brand loyalty holds any gumption in the matter.

But which one? There’s so many!
You might not have any experience with Roku, especially if you are a gamer rockin’ any of the current gen systems or if you are an Apple user. When put that way, it makes Roku sound like a superfluous commodity in today’s market, but the wide-range of streaming networks it offers makes it a standout player among other media streamers. Oh, and its channel selection also provides a wide variety of adult-oriented channels. Plus the fact you can pick one up in every Wal-Mart across the nation.

As to which model to get, well they all have access to these adult materials, however, what better way to watch those than in 4k resolution? Netflix, the all-supreme media streamer available on Roku and every other streaming device, also offers streaming in 4k. The Roku 4 (MSRP $129.99), released back in October, offers such abilities and a plethora of services for children as well, including games. Did I mention its remote is motion sensitive and makes for a unique gaming and general user experience? It also has voice controls.

The Roku 4 is a bit on the higher end scale of media streamer prices, but retains its popularity with its selection of devices at every other price point. Super budget buyers should check out the Roku Stick or the Roku 1 refurbished (usually between $30 and $50 depending upon condition), which both offer streaming in 720 or 1080 HD, but void the gaming experience with more basic hardware in the box and the remote.

Ever hear of Android Mini PCs? No, because there’s just not nearly enough use for them besides streaming media and everything else can do already do that. Its applications are limited, but if you are interested in turning any television into a basic computer for as low as $20, then these are your best options. Most require a Bluetooth remote however, which can cost as low as $10 themselves and you hardly have to worry about compatibility issues. Hard to find in stores, but pretty common in online markets.

For a bit more money, your options for Android begin to expand, but so do the requirements. Phone users can use their mobile device to stream onto any larger display with an HDMI port using a Mini-HDMI cable, but your phone would require a Mini-HDMI port different from your Micro USB charging port. Or you can use your charging port to stream using a Micro USB to HDMI connector cable, but then whatever television you are plugging into would require either a MHL or a Slim Port. MHL looks like an HDMI, but always will be branded as MHL on the television. Or just use Chromecast ($25 for 1st Gen, $35 for 2nd).

Apple TV has come, and many thought it would go as well. What’s made this $100 device survive this long? Its compatibility with every other Apple device. Using your iPhone or iPad to control it means you are almost never without your remote, which if you ask me is its best feature. But it still comes with a remote and the newer model even offers some gaming capabilities with it.

This leads you to the question of the cost. Surely Apple has made it expensive, because hey, you are buying the brand. It is after all, just another media streaming device. Fortunately, Apple isn’t the monster the other side so often makes it out to be. With newer generations came bigger and better price cuts on the older models. For under $70, you can get that fresh Apple scent, and for a few bucks less around $40 or $50 you can get it with some used stank to it.

If you are a cheap Apple user (sounds contradictory I know), don’t fret. There’s still hope. But another middle man is still involved in this process. Check out adapters that turn your charging port into a display port. That’s right, there’s a cable for everything nowadays, even for Apple products. This only requires a regular HDMI port in your television and an HDMI cable plus the adapter. Assuming you already have an HDMI cable laying around and a television to watch it on, the lightning/30-pin/or Thunderbolt (for Mac laptop users) to HDMI adapter can run you about $50. That still screams Apple prices to me, but Apple users knew the costs of their devices going in.

Why Amazon? After considering the options above, Amazon manages to squeeze in its media streamers somewhere between the two levels of quality that separate Android and Apple, as well as the two price ranges. Amazon offered its Fire TV Stick to early investors at half the cost, but now sits at $39.99, with the exception of some holiday discounts found intermittently after Thanksgiving and the newer voice activated remote offered for $10 more.

There’s also the Fire TV for $99, which offers support for 4k streaming and differentiates itself from the Stick with access to games, best playable on the Amazon TV game controller sold separately or bundled for an additional cost of $40 more, (though at the time of writing this article, the bundle was being sold for $114). Running its own version of Android, Amazon provides a wide variety of games commonly found in the Google Play store, and some also found in the Apple App Store.

If you’re good on your set top box situation, the least you can do is check out Amazon Video, offered on most other streaming devices and set top boxes. I hear that Man in the High Castle is some good stuff. And even though Prime Video may seem expensive compared to most other streaming services at about $99 a year, effectively that’s less than $9 a month. And don’t forget about the 50 percent college discount ($49 a year).

Another wide range of offerings that come at a bit of a price, but ultimately offer an all-around smoother and broader experience for the typical gamer or entertainment enthusiast. If gaming is equally or more important to your streaming needs, look no further than the PlayStation 3 or 4. Media streaming devices are a moot point in this matter, as none can compare to what Sony is offering. Though at a cost, a PS3 can run you between $100 and $200 depending on condition and memory size and a PS4 will be $100 to $200 more. I have a smart TV and a PS4, suffice to say I never use my TV’s smart feature. If I didn’t have the PS4, I’d still prefer to use my PS3 over my Fire TV, Apple TV, Wii, or Android TV stick. Its powerful hardware makes for as seamless of a buffering experience as possible and video becomes cleaner in this regard.

The channels for streaming services are a bit more limited, but still provide access to your basics: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Crunchyroll, HBO, and ESPN, along with some radio services.

No matter what media streamer you decide to go with, remember the standard rule of electronics apply. You get what you pay for. Money buys happiness and so does your media streamer.

I hope this article gives you a better idea of which media streamer is best for you, and for whatever reason you decide to open that crusty book out from storage instead, good for you. Getting lost in a show is nothing like getting lost in the written word. But to each his own.