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|How To Start Streaming in 2021
|In the time it takes to dig out the remote from under your couch cushions, it seems like another streaming service pops up (Discovery+ went live on Jan. 4), a fan-favorite series moves online (History's "Vikings" has dropped its final episodes on Prime Video) or a movie you planned to see in theaters is available in your living room (e.g., "Wonder Woman 1984" on HBO Max). In other words, the streaming revolution isn't on the way; it has already changed our everyday TV viewing.
Which is a good thing. More options! More shows! Plus, when you stream, you can watch WHAT you want WHEN you want with the click of a few buttons, or by saying, "Alexa, play 'Grey's Anatomy'." And, if you decide to cut the cord and nix cable altogether, you could keep more money in your wallet.
But I get it: All the choices seem overwhelming. So if you're not yet streaming, let me show you how to get on board with a few simple steps. And if you're already an avid streamer who binge-watches "The Crown" on your Roku TV, read on for some useful info. Then turn your attention back to Princess Diana.
1. CHECK YOUR TECH
Chances are, you already have the right stuff to start streaming. Smartphones, tablets and computers connected to the Internet can easily get you access. But what about your TV? If you bought a new one in the last few years, it's likely "smart," i.e., it can connect to the internet and comes preloaded with apps from Netflix, etc. How to tell: Check your remote to see if it has buttons for streaming services like Hulu. Or turn on the TV and scan the menu options; look for an apps section or network connection options to sign into Wi-Fi. If there are, your TV has a high IQ!
If not, don't fret. Even "dumb" TVs can get connected on the cheap with a streaming stick. Or maybe you'd rather splurge on a brand-new set or tablet. If you're in the market for new merchandise, head to Step 2.
2. UPGRADE YOUR GEAR
Out-of-date tech doesn't have to mean you're out of luck. Here are product recommendations for several scenarios (and budgets).
"I want to keep my flatscreen, but it's not smart."
Best Bang For Your Buck
Roku has long been one of the leaders when it comes to streaming sticks (the devices that plug into TVs to make them "smart"). And the Roku Streaming Stick+ ($50) proves why: It's affordable and has great features like a voice-activated remote and a universal search function. The latter is a lifesaver for those who subscribe (or plan to subscribe) to multiple streaming services. Don't know where to watch "Ozark"? The Roku will check several services to find it. (For the record, it's on Netflix.)
Other Solid Options
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K ($50) is another proven performer with Alexa voice control and access to most major streaming apps (except Peacock). If access to the most streaming services is important, Apple TV 4K (from $179), which uses Siri voice control, contains the usual suspects (Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video) as well as HBO Max, Peacock and many more.
"I need a new TV."
Best Bang For Your Buck
Easy-to-use voice control, a user-friendly home screen, and powerful Dolby audio: The TCL 55" Class 4-Series 4K UHD HDR LED Smart Roku TV has a lot of cool options for not a lot of cash ($350). It's powered by Roku, which offers apps for major streamers like Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, HBO Max, etc.
Other Solid Options
Crave a supersharp image when you watch? The Hisense 55" Class H8G Quantum Series Android 4K ULED ($530) and the Vizio 65" Class M-Series Quantum Series LED 4K UHD SmartCast TV ($700 for the M65Q7-H1 model) both have 4K resolution (more pixels for a crisper picture) AND quantum color technology (enhanced hues) You'll see when the costumes from Prime Video's "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" pop off the screen.
"I'd rather watch on a tablet."
Best Bang For Your Buck
The Amazon Fire HD IO ($150) has one important quality for those streaming on the go -- a battery life of up to 12 hours! It also includes a high-definition display. 32GB of storage (about four hours of video if you're downloading shows) and a picture-in-picture feature perfect for multitaskers who want to stream AND scroll through Facebook.
Other Solid Options
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ (from $850) has a nicely sized 12.4" display and boasts at least 128GB of storage, so you won't feel guilty about downloading that entire season of "Grace and Frankie." The Apple iPad Pro (from $799) has the option to add on an attachable keyboard that essentially turns it into a laptop for easy use. Plus, the gorgeous liquid retina display makes it awesome for seeing the moody lighting on your favorite drama.
Streaming FAQ: What Will Make My Streaming Experience Even Easier?
Voice-activated devices (like the ones recommended above) go a long way, since searching for series using your remote's arrows to type in a title or password can get tedious fast. If talking to your tech sounds too futuristic for you, try a wireless keyboard like Logitech's K400 ($20). Sync it with your TV in a few simple steps and type in show titles just as you would on a computer.
3. GET CONNECTED
Tech? Check! Now, make sure your internet, modem and Wi-Fi are strong enough to power what you want to stream. Google's connectivity expert Sanjay Noronha says you'll want your speed to be at least 10 megabits per second (Mbps) for a consistent connection, and 20 Mbps for 4K devices. "Most homes with good broadband have an internet connection that is 40 Mbps or more, and that's good enough to carry up to four HD streams with minimal loading and buffering," he says. To find out for sure, you can call your internet provider, since most companies offer various speed options for different prices. They can also tell you if your model of modem is strong enough to support the speed.
If you're looking for an ultra-fast network in all corners of your home (which is helpful if there's a big distance between your TV and the internet source), you may want to look into a mesh Wi-Fi system to cover more ground -- literally. TP-Link's Deco Mesh systems (starting at $190) and Google's Nest Wi-Fi (from $169) are both solid options.
4. SELECT YOUR SERVICES
Cost: Starts at $9 per month.
Bottom Line: A solid value for folks who want a wide variety of moves and shows over several different genres.
Cost: Starts at $6 per month.
Bottom Line: Great for fans of prestige TV who also need to see the latest episodes of many broadcast shows.
3. Prime Video
Cost: Starts at $9 per month; included in Prime's monthly and annual fees.
Bottom Line: This one's a no-brainer especially if you're already an Amazon customer with a Prime membership.
Cost: $7 per month or $70 per year.
Bottom Line: Disney lovers, science fiction fanatics and folks with kids will find Disney+ to be a great value.
Cost: Free! Access to all titles: $5 per month ($50 per year). No-ads costs double.
Bottom Line: You can't beat the price of the free tier, which offers an incredible amount of series, like "Murder, She Wrote."
6. HBO Max
Cost: $15 per month or $70 for six months.
Bottom Line: Great for movie lovers and die-hard "Friends" fans. Bonus: You might already have access (see FAQ below)!
7. Apple TV+
Cost: $5 per month
Bottom Line: For folks who want to see today's biggest stars in splashy, high-profile projects.
8. CBS All Access
Cost: Starts at $6 per month or $60 for the year.
Bottom Line: It's not just for CBS fanatics! The service has a big library that will please even the pickiest viewers.
Streaming FAQ: How Can I Stream For Free?
Try ad-supported services like Tubi (tubitv.com), Crackle (crackle.com), Vudu (vudu.com) and iMDb TV (imdb.com/tv), which let you stream movies and series at no cost. Also, if you get HBO through a cable provider, you might get HBO Max included (check at hbomax.com/do-i-already-have-access). Cox and Xfinity cable customers may also be eligible to get Peacock's $5 tier for free (check at peacocktv.com). Pluto TV (pluto.tv) has a large selection of channels in addition to on-demand) as well as the Roku Channel.
4. LOOK INTO LIVE TV
If you're thinking of cutting the cord -- i.e., getting rid of your cable box AND the often hefty bill that comes with it -- these streaming channels let you watch live TV with the click of a button (and a monthly fee). Download the apps to your smart TV or wherever you watch, create and account and start viewing. But which one is right for you? Depends on what you want to see... and you much you want to spend.
Best Budget Picks
Philo and Sling TV
What It Costs: $20 per month
What You Get: Philo's 63-channel lineup does include popular cable channels like HGTV, Hallmark, Discovery, A&E and Food Network. But there's not nearly as much here as what the other live-TV services offer: no broadcast networks, news or sports. (Hey, it's the cheapest option!)
FYI: It's good for families, since three people can stream at the same time.
What It Costs: Plans start at $30 per month
What You Get: Sling TV offers two packages, both or the same price. Sling Blue has 45 channels skewed more toward entertainment and news (think: Bravo, E!, Fox News, MSNBC), while Sling Orange's 33 offerings have a sports and family focus (ESPN, Nick Jr.). The only broadcast networks available (Fox and NBC) are in Sling Blue packages and only in select markets.
FYI: You can combine both Blue and Orange plans for a total cost of $45 per month.
AT&T TV Now
What It Costs: Plans start at $55 per month
What You Get: More than 40 channels, including the major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, The CW and Fox, so you can catch "9-1-1" and "The Masked Singer" -- news outlets CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, plus cable channels like FX, Freeform and E!
FYI: For $5 more per month, add a "movies extra" pack with channels like Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
What It Costs: Plans start at $60 per month
What You Get: FuboTV's lineup of 100-plus channels includes four broadcast networks (no CW), the major news outlets (minus CNN) and tons of sports options like ESPN, NFL Network and CBS Sports Network.
FYI: Thirty hours of DVR storage is included in the base plan; pricier plans offer more storage.
What It Costs: $65 per month
What You Get: All the benefits of a Hulu subscription including its original series and content library, plus more than 60 channels including the major broadcast networks and Animal Planet, ESPN, Lifetime, TLC and USA.
FYI: You can add on Disney+ and ESPN's streaming service, ESPN+, for an extra $7 per month.
What It Costs: $65 per month
What You Get: Like its competitors, YouTube TV has the usual broadcast networks (except The CW), news channels and cable options in its 85-plus channels. What sets it apart? YouTube TV is the only live TV service out of this bunch that offers PBS.
FYI: Unlimited cloud DVR storage is included, perfect for busy folks who want to record and watch later.
Streaming FAQ: Can I Watch Live TV With An Antenna?
Yep! Although many modern ones have moved inside (and onto your interior wall). If you'd rather not shell out a monthly fee for a live-TV streaming service like the ones here, buy an antenna, such as the Mohu Leaf 30 ($40). Once you connect it to your TV, follow the instructions to scan for channels. (Those available to you will depend on where you live and your proximity to a broadcast tower.) If you have a Roku TV or streaming stick, score! Those have a (free) live-TV app you can use in conjunction with your new antenna.