If you’re in the middle of modernizing your TV den, consider swapping your cable and satellite providers with a streaming video service. More and more consumers are cutting the cord and going with internet-delivered movies and live TV over traditional services. That’s because streaming offers more convenience and personalization. And it’s cheaper.
Editor’s Note: This article was revised on December 12, 2019 to reflect the launch of new streaming services.
Furthermore, it’s also becoming so popular that the mother of all media companies, Disney, is getting into the game with Disney+ recently launched at $6.99 per month. Apple, too, has put its mark on the genre, with its new Apple TV+ service undercutting all rivals at $4.99 per month.
But what is streaming video anyway? And how do you get started using it? Here’s a short guide to cutting the cord and streaming, where we answer some basic questions.
What’s a Streaming Media Service?
A streaming media service delivers digital content (e.g., video or music) via the internet to a dedicated media player box (e.g., Apple TV, Roku, or Xbox) or through an app on a smart TV or other computing device. The idea of streaming content isn’t new. Radio stations, cable news, and satellite TV are all streamed to your radio, cable box, and satellite dish. The difference is how the content gets to you. Broadcast TV and satellite companies use radio waves. Cable companies use fiber-optic lines. And streaming services like Netflix stream movies over the internet. This bypassing of traditional delivery methods is why streaming companies are often called over-the-top (OTT) services.
Streaming media services make video-on-demand (VOD) viewing better. Viewers no longer have to download movies to their DVRs or computer hard drives. Instead, they subscribe to a massive library of movies, books, and songs accessible by many devices when and where they need it.
What Does it Mean to Stream Video?
Providers like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix deliver a movie to a subscriber as it is being watched. Unlike downloading content, streaming means you are getting data delivered in real-time. Streaming brings the benefits of a downloaded movie (e.g., pausing or rewinding) but without cost to your hard drive or DVR space. But there is a downside to this just-in-time delivery method.
When your internet slows down, it affects your streaming service. Videos may start to pixelate or stop altogether. To solve this problem, providers deliver their content just ahead of what you’re watching. That is, the data stream for the movie may be a few seconds or minutes ahead of what you’re seeing. This buffering helps avoid interruptions to your viewing if your connection slows momentarily. Another strategy is to downgrade video resolution to avoid interruption. After all, watching a movie in standard definition is better than no movie at all.
Advantages of Streaming Video
With streaming video, you can get more of the content you want for less cost. With streaming services, the days of one-size-fits-all bundled cable packaging is over. Expensive cable and satellite packages include filler programming and extra channels. So you’re paying for channels whether you watch them or not. But with VOD services like HBO NOW or HBO GO, and streaming TV apps like Sling TV, subscribers have more flexibility in choosing only the programs they want to pay for. It’s more of an a la carte system.
Streaming media also lets you view content on multiple devices, like your TV, laptop, tablet, gaming console, or smartphone. With provider apps, viewers can download or stream all their favorite shows on-the-go. Anywhere there’s an internet or wireless connection, you can stream video.
Plus, streaming content is often customized for you. Companies like Netflix and Amazon use complex algorithms to learn what you like and don’t like to watch. The software monitors your viewing history and makes suggestions based on it. If you watch tons of British dramas, then the algorithm will assume you enjoy that genre. It will then suggest similar titles and place more in your suggested content queue. While it’s not a perfect science, content suggestions do shrink the mountain-sized stack of titles you otherwise would need to dig through.
Internet Speeds You’ll Need
In the world of streaming video, internet speed is king. It takes some serious bandwidth to stream a 4K ultra high definition (UHD) movie. So, expect to upgrade to a faster, costlier internet package if you’re not already there. Here are the recommended internet speeds based on different video resolutions. As a rule, the better picture quality you want, the more megabytes per second (Mbps) of bandwidth you’ll need.
1–10 Mbps to stream standard definition (SD) video
11–18 Mbps to stream high definition (HD) video
19–25 Mbps to stream 4K UHD video.
These recommendations are based on a single user. So they don’t account for multiple devices streaming at the same time. Every time you add another device (e.g., an iPad, laptop, or another smart TV), you’re increasing the amount of bandwidth needed. So, families generally want to opt for higher-speed packages even when they don’t have a 4K smart TV capable of displaying UHD video. When determining how much speed your home needs, factor in the number of people and the total number of smart devices in your household.
Choose the Right Streaming Service
The right streaming service for you depends on several factors. For one, what’s your budget? Most streaming services have basic subscription plans and go up from there. When you are cutting the cord, prices change depending on factors like these:
Type of content: Do you want to add live TV to your plan?
Channels: Do you want Disney, HGTV, or local channels?
Ads or no ads: No surprise, ad-free content is more expensive.
Video resolution: 4K movies cost more to stream than HD.
Number of streams: How many devices do you want to watch at once?
Another consideration for finding the right streaming service for you is your content interest. Rather than subscribe to five different streaming providers (which gets you back in the cost ballpark of cable), match your interests to the service. Even if you have niche interests (e.g., classic cinema), there’s a streaming service out there. Here are a few providers to consider.
If you’re a documentary lover, then MagellanTV can introduce you to some of the best content out there. MagellanTV is a new subscription documentary service with over 2,000 ad-free titles in its library. The service offers unlimited streaming of HD and UHD content. And the app is compatible with Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Google Play, Apple TV, and iOS devices. Annual plans start at $4.99 per month with no contracts and a seven-day free trial.
HBO NOW and HBO GO
If you’ve ever enjoyed HBO on cable or satellite, then you’ll love HBO NOW. The streaming app delivers to monthly subscribers some of today’s most popular series like Game of Thrones and Next Week with John Oliver. With HBO NOW, you’ll also get original documentaries and sports coverage (e.g., Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel). One note: HBO NOW subscribers can’t watch weekly series during their regular slot times, so there’s a short delay. But if you don’t mind the wait, HBO NOW’s $14.99 per month subscription price is well worth it.
Another streaming option for HBO is HBO GO, which is offered alongside other broader streaming TV services, such as AT&T TV Now (formerly known as DirectTV Now). With the base $50-per-month AT&T TV Now service, HBO GO is included. Other streaming TV providers may offer HBO GO as an add-on, usually at a lower cost than a standalone HBO NOW service.
fuboTV is the perfect streaming choice for sports fans who have cut the cord. The service specializes in delivering live streaming sporting events from leagues like the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and more. Major live events like the Super Bowl, World Series, and UFC events are also available.
Want movies too? fuboTV also offers major Hollywood movies and popular television series. The company’s standard package starts at $54.99 per month and includes 109 channels. Plus, you get 30 hours of cloud DVR space to record live events, so you’ll never miss a game.
Time to Cut the Cord?
The right streaming service will also fit your viewing habits, and the number of options keep expanding. So check to see how each platform packages and releases some of its content before you buy. For example, Netflix releases entire seasons of a series all at once. If you’re into binge-watching, then that works. But maybe you enjoy the suspense of waiting each week for a new episode to drop, then HBO NOW might be a better choice. Either way, you’ll want to consider these types of factors before settling on your streaming app(s).
Hilary Thompson is a freelance journalist, small business owner, and mother of two. She loves to write about everything from business to parenting, sleep disorders and stress. Coffee is her friend. You can follow her on Twitter.