Well a few months ago I finally did the unbelievable and canceled my cable subscription. The main reason behind this is was that I rarely watched TV at all and honestly most of the stations I did watch showed the same shows over and over again. It was weird not having cable after having it for the past 29 years of my life it seems like, but I have really got used to it and with the money it has saved me I have been able to do other things and buy some other gadgets. In recent years cable has become impractical because of the revolutionary ability to stream. As of lately I have been using a Hisense screen cast to watch my shows from my Mac on my TV. It’s very easy to show your mac onto almost any TV, but I want to spend a little extra for a media box with more features. In this article series I will be going through my journey of canceling my cable and finding alternatives. Today I will be focusing on hardware to watch media on your TV.
1. Apple TV ($99)
The Apple TV was one of the first and one of the most popular streaming devices out there. If you are in the Apple ecosystem (use iTunes, have a Mac, or iPhone) then the Apple TV will just work for you. It will let you access all of that content quite easily. If you have a recent Apple product you can easily push music, video and photos to the Apple TV using AirPlay. This gives you the ability to use apps that are not natively supported on the Apple TV. The Apple TV has all of the native apps that you want like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, etc. While you don’t have apps like Amazon Instant Video or Pandora those apps can be played via AirPlay to the device using another device like your iPhone or iPad. The Apple TV connects to your TV via HDMI, gives you optical audio and has an Ethernet port for faster streaming. It has been rumored that Apple will release an updated version of Apple TV before the end of the year.
2. Roku (Roku 3 $99 / Roku Streaming Stick $49)
Roku actually has three different devices that you can purchase right now, but I would suggest either the flagship Roku 3 or the Roku Streaming Stick as they are the newest. The thing that separates the Roku players from all others is that it supports the most apps, over 1700! So you do not have to worry about the service you use supporting your Roku box. One really cool thing about the Roku 3 and Roku 2 is that there is a headphone plug in the remote itself. This way you can listen to whatever you are streaming quietly without disturbing anyone else. This is perfect for a dorm room or roommate situation. The Roku 3 also is the fastest of all of the boxes here, so it will be snappier and more responsive. While the Roku 3 is more of a set-top box like the Apple TV that offers an Ethernet connection as well the Roku Streaming Stick is like the Chromecast as it plugs right into the HDMI port on your TV. If you use a lot of different streaming services a Roku box is the way to go.
3. Google Chromecast ($35)
The Google Chromecast was the first major “dongle-type” device that was released. So much like the Roku Streaming Stick it plugs direclty into your TV’s HDMI port. It does however require external power from the wall or your TV’s USB port. The best thing about the Chromecast is its price at only $35. With such a low price even as an impulse buy you really do not feel like you are throwing money away. Giving the Chromecast such a low price point meant that Google had to cut out a few things and one of them was a remote. To control the Chromecast you need to use a phone or tablet. The Chromecast will give you access to services like Netflix, YouTube, HBO Go and much more, but there are some major ones missing, hopefully they get added over time. The Chromecast does offer a screen mirroring feature that allows your to project any content from a Google Chrome tab to your TV. It seems to work quite well. One thing you need to make sure with the Chromecast is that you have a good WiFi signal as it does not have a Ethernet port.
4. Amazon Fire TV ($84)
The Amazon Fire TV is the new kid on the block when it come to streaming boxes as it was just launched back in April. Coming from Amazon this box is set to stream Amazon Instant and Prime videos. It actually streams them incredibly well with its “ASAP” feature. While this feature is only available on Amazon videos it makes fast-forwarding and rewinding videos extremely easily and less clunky than on other boxes. Of course this box supports Amazon Instant Video, but you also have access to other streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and MLB.tv. There are some apps missing, but as the platform matures I’m sure the app selection will grow. Much like the Kindle Fire the Amazon Fire TV puts Amazon services front and center without the ability to pin favorite apps or anything like that. The Fire TV does offer voice search, but only for Amazon services and Vevo (for now). If you are a gamer you can purchase a separate Fire TV controller that allows you to play games available in the Amazon app store on your TV. Like the other major boxes the Fire TV connects to your TV via HDMI, has optical audio and an Ethernet port for super-fast streaming.
So those are the major cable box alternatives that we would suggest that you purchase if you plan on canceling your cable. Stay tuned as we will be going over the major streaming services in our next Cutting the Cord article!