Home Media Streamer Buying Guide

Having a home media streamer attached to your television or computer lets you watch hit movies and television shows without signing up for a cable package. Installing these devices is easy, and once installed, you can download apps that let you watch cartoons, work out at home and even pick up recipe tips. Though many apps charge a monthly or annual fee, you might find that investing in a home media streamer lets you finally cut the cable cord.

Types of Home Media Streamer

Home media streamers changed quite a bit since Vudu first jumped onto the scene. Though that company later pulled its streaming devices from the market, several notable companies jumped into the industry in recent years. Streaming devices today typically fall into the stick, box or console category.

Streaming boxes are among the more popular. Companies like Roku and Apple both make these devices. Most look like a small box that you can place on top of or next to your television. You'll need to plug the included cords into the audio and video ports on the back or front of the TV. Switch between apps, launch apps and watch videos with the remote control that comes with the box.

Stick streamers are best for those on a budget because these devices cost as much as half as some boxes do. These sticks look like standard USB devices, but you plug one end into the appropriate port on your TV. These generally only work with smart televisions and newer television that have a USB plug. If you have an older TV, you might need something different.

Google Chromecast is an example of a home media streamer that is in a league of its own. Though it works similar to a stick streamer, it actually lets you connect your tablet, phone or computer to it. Chromecast then uses your device to stream videos and use apps. As it lacks a remote control, you'll need to use a separate device to switch between apps and make other changes.

Those who love video games may want to invest in a video game console that also functions as a streaming device like the PS4 or XBOX One. These devices let those with an Internet connection download games, search for free and paid apps and even surf the web. You can use the controller to control those apps or buy a specialty controller for use with the console's apps.

Pay Attention to

Operating systems

If you primarily use Apple or Android devices, you'll want to invest in a media streamer that uses the same operating system. Apple TV, for example, lets you access your entire iTunes library and play music or videos in your library on your television. Android streamers search for content stored on your Android devices.

Wired or wireless

Wired streamers work best in rooms that also feature your modem because you'll need to connect the streamer directly to your modem or router via a cord. With a wireless streamer, you can select your wireless Internet connection from those available, enter your password and start streaming.

Size

A video game console can take up a lot of room, but those consoles perform multiple functions, including letting you play games and watch movies. With a box model, you'll need to clear away some space near your television and make sure that it detects the remote from various positions in the room. Streaming sticks are better for those who plug multiple devices into their televisions and need to free up some space.

Cost

Cost is important because you may need to pay extra to use some of your favorite apps. Hulu, Netflix and other apps charge a monthly fee to use their services, and Amazon charges an annual fee to access its full library. You'll also pay a separate fee to rent or purchase films and TV shows that you download to the device.

Remote type

Take a look at the type of remote that comes with the streamer. Several companies make remotes that have dedicated buttons that let you launch popular apps with a touch of the button. You may want a remote that lets you check the time remaining in movies and skip forward too.

Top Brands and Product Lines

Roku

Roku makes several streaming boxes that you can plug right into the audio and video ports on your television. The included remote lets you search for apps, load new apps and watch videos. You can also use the remote to fast forward, pause and rewind. Some newer models come with buttons on the remote that let you automatically load popular apps like Netflix. The Roku Streaming Stick combines all the features of its streaming boxes with a USB stick that you plug right into your TV.

Apple TV

Apple TV looks similar to the Roku streaming boxes but provides users with the option of connecting all their Apple devices together. Models come with up to 32 GB of storage, which is plenty for most home users. You can also use Siri on the Apple TV to use apps and other features via the sound of your own voice.

Amazon Fire

Since launching its own line of tablets, Amazon keeps making headway in the technology field. It designed Amazon Fire for those who subscribe and pay for Amazon Prime, which gives you access to a vast library of television shows and films. In addition to its standard streaming box, it also offers the Amazon Fire TV Stick that you can plug into your television and use right away.

Google Chromecast

Google Chromecast is a smaller streaming device that works with the HDMI port on any television. Its smaller size is great for smart televisions that may already have other products plugged in, and it lets you use all your favorite apps without paying as much for a media streamer.