Streaming Services

One of the difficult decisions to make regarding streaming is whether to decide the content you want and then pick the device that best supports the content, or whether to decide on the device you want and then pick the services best supported by that device.

The answer is a combination between the two. You see, there is no device that supports all the major streaming services. One solution is to get multiple devices. That is a valid option, but it's not the option for everyone.

To determine which device -- or devices -- would suit your requirements best, we're offering a brief look at the top streaming services, and the major devices that support those services.

Netflix

Netflix is the big dog when it comes to streaming services. It’s $10/month and has the largest online streaming library. However, it doesn’t have any current season content, other than the handful of shows it actually owns. Netflix is great for movies and older TV shows, but not so great for current season shows, apart from Netflix Original programming. Most current seasons of shows are not available via Netflix.

All major devices support Netflix: Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, TiVo, and others.

Hulu

Hulu (formerly called Hulu Plus) is $8/month — or $12/month if you want it commercial-free — and offers most of the current network shows on-demand. The bad news is that it doesn’t include CBS. Hulu is by far the best service for current season shows. For older shows, it has a very good library. The downside of Hulu is that its movie library pales in comparison to Netflix, but it still has a pretty good movie library. Just as Netflix is tops when it comes to movies, Hulu is tops when it comes to current season TV shows.

All major devices support Hulu: Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, TiVo, and others.

Amazon

Amazon Prime is a good service, priced at $100/year. You get about 20% of the vast Amazon streaming library included. However, that means the other 80% isn’t included. You are able to purchase or rent any of the shows or movies in the catalog. You don’t need Prime to do that, but you may find that there is enough Prime content, and that the content rotates sufficiently, for it to be a good deal.

Amazon Instant Video refers to all streaming Amazon content, including both content that's part of Amazon Prime, and content that is not. Everything in the Amazon Instant Video library can be rented or purchased. The part that's part of Amazon Prime is free to watch, if you're an Amazon Prime member.

The Amazon Prime library is smaller than the Netflix library, but it does have some exclusives. Most people prefer the larger Netflix library, but many do just fine with the Amazon Prime offerings.

Amazon is supported on Amazon's own Fire TV as well as on Roku and TiVo.

CBS All Access

CBS All Access is a $6/month online streaming service that gets you current season content from CBS, plus a lot of older shows that CBS owns. It’s a good add-on service if you really need your CBS fix, but as a stand-alone service, it’s lacking. For many people, CBS All Access is best suited as an additional service to supplement Hulu. If you have an over the air antenna and receive a local station that is a CBS affiliate, this service would probably have little value apart from the CBS library.

Most devices support CBS All Access: Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, and Chromecast. Other devices, including TiVo, do not.

Sling TV

Sling TV is a streaming service from DISH that is, essentially, a small cable package. The smaller Orange package is $20/month for around two dozen channels, streamed live. The Orange package includes ESPN, and offers a single stream.

The larger Blue package is $25/month and contains most of the Orange channels, plus another dozen channels. The Blue package doesn't have ESPN, but has Fox Sports channels, and supports 3 simultaneous streams.

They also offer a combined package for $40/month that contains 50 channels. The Orange+Blue package includes ESPN and Fox Sports, and supports 4 simultaneous streams.

There is some on-demand content, and some channels offer 72-hour catch-up capability, which partially overcomes the lack of DVR capability. Most of the content from Sling TV is streamed live. Sling TV also offers add-on packages, such as sports, entertainment channels, news, lifestyle, as well as HBO, Cinemax, Starz, and many other packages.

For sports fans, one of the biggest obstacles to dropping cable or satellite is the lack of alternate legal sources for sports programming. Sling TV overcomes that obstacle for many, particularly with the $5/month sports add-on.

By itself, Sling TV is a good option. It works best along with an antenna or Hulu, particularly if you drop cable and still want access to live sports content.

Sling TV allows you to view content away from home, so it's great for traveling. Sling TV is supported on Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, and Chromecast.

DirecTV Now

AT&T has entered the live streaming service market with a streaming version of its DirecTV service, called DirecTV Now. There are four packages, ranging from $35/month to $70/month. The smallest, "Live A Little," contains over 60 channels. The "Just Right" package has over 80. "Go Big" has over 100. The largest, "Gotta Have It," has 120 channels.

All include ESPN, filling a large hole for sports enthusiasts who have resisted cutting the cord. DirecTV Now also offers ABC and NBC content in select areas.

Like other live cable-type streaming packages, DirecTV Now works best along with an antenna or Hulu, allowing you to drop cable and still access to live national or regional sports content.

DirecTV Now supports two simultaneous streams, but isn't geo-locked. That is, you can watch content while traveling. DirecTV Now is supported on Fire TV, Apple TV, and Chromecast, with support for Roku promised in the first quarter of 2017.

PlayStation Vue

Sony's PlayStation Vue service, like Sling TV and DirecTV Now, offers live streaming of some cable or satellite content. Like a satellite service, there are multiple levels of service. The Access package contains around 45 channels, the Core package over 60, the Elite package has around 90, and the Ultra package adds HBO and Showtime. The packages range from $30-$65 a month.

For sports fans, PlayStation offers not only ESPN channels, but also Fox Sports channels. Depending on the sports interests, this along may justify the higher price compared to Sling TV.

The primary disadvantage of PlayStation Vue is the inability to carry the package with you. That is, you are geo-locked to your sign-up location. For many users, this isn't a problem. For users that want to watch content when away from home -- for instance, while on vacation -- this may be a deal-breaker.

PlayStation Vue is supported on Fire TV, Chromecast, and Roku, as well as iOS devices (but not Apple TV) and Sony game systems.

iTunes

Apple's popular iTunes library of TV and movies is supported only on Apple TV. You won't find iTunes content available for streaming on any of the other devices.

Google Play

Google's Play Store video library is not as well know as iTunes, Amazon, or most of the subscription services, but it is a large content library. You'll find it many of the same titles as the other libraries, and at similar prices. Google Play is supported on Google's own Chromecast as well as on Roku.

VUDU

The retail giant Walmart is also in the online streaming game with the VUDU service. The content library is similar to the other services, particularly with recent content.

VUDU offers a service the others don't: Disc To Digital. You can download an app to your computer, insert your DVD, and, if it's in the VUDU library, for a small fee -- $2/SD or $5/HD -- have the content added to your VUDU streaming library.

VUDU is supported on Roku, TiVo, and Chromecast.

Pick Your Device

If you have certain services that you must have, and one device has all of those services, then your decision is pretty easy. Most people, though, fall into the other category: no one device that does it all.

The closest to that is TiVo. It supports most of the major services (excepting iTunes and Google Play) and receives over the air TV. The downside is that it's expensive. Although the price of the device can be as low as $50 -- that's the TiVo OTA -- the monthly service, or a lifetime service plan, runs the price up drastically, either up front, or over time.

Roku is the best choice for many. It supports most of the major streaming services -- except, of course, iTunes. The downside -- and this is true for all devices except TiVo -- is that it won't receive or record over the air television. Some apps -- Roku calls them "channels" -- do stream live TV, but most of the content is on-demand. No device has more streaming apps and channels than Roku. However, Roku doesn't support iTunes.

Fire TV supports many of the most popular services, but doesn't support iTunes, Google Play, or VUDU. It is a close second to Roku when it comes to number of streaming apps. If you count games, it supports even more than Roku.

Apple TV supports many of the most popular streaming services, but excludes Amazon, Google Play, and PlayStation Vue. The number of supported apps is comparable to Roku and FireTV.

Chromecast supports most of the major subscription services, but excludes iTunes and Amazon.

There may not be a single device for you. But, you may find that with just a little planning, one device will do nicely.

Online Streaming Devices