A Beginner's Guide to Streaming
You've probably heard of streaming before, but if you haven't taken advantage of the on-demand technology yet — or if you simply want to learn more about how streaming works — this article is the perfect place to start.
With streaming media, you can listen to music and watch shows and movies from most smart devices with an internet connection. Your connected laptop, tablet, desktop computer, smartphone, or smart TV are all streaming-ready devices.
What Exactly is Streaming?
The first thing you need to know is that streaming is different from downloading. When you download media, it stores the file on your device and you can access it online or offline. When you stream media, the file remains in its original location and you access it over an internet connection. You can enjoy streamed media immediately, with no download time. Though streamed media does require you to be online to watch or listen to it, the content takes up no storage space on your device.
Technically speaking, streaming media is a continuous stream of content that plays as it arrives. Since you don't have to worry about running out of storage space, the size of your media library is limited only by your imagination. Unless the media is a live broadcast, you can play, pause, rewind, and fast-forward just like you can with a downloaded media file.
Streaming Can Be as Easy as 1, 2, 3
Streaming media requires three things: an internet connection, a streaming-ready device, and a media player app.
1. Make sure you have the right internet speed.
The more internet-connected devices you have on your home network, and the more internet activity is going on, the more your streaming experience will be impacted. If your spouse is video chatting with your son, and your daughter is watching YouTube on her phone, you might have a spotty connection to Netflix when you want to stream the latest season of Stranger Things.
For the best streaming experience in a multi-user household, many experts recommend a download speed in the range of 20-30 Mbps or more. If you're not sure what download speed you have right now, you can test it for free at www.speedtest.net.
Look at your internet provider's website for resources to help guide you to the right speed given your household's online activities, number of users and devices, and other factors. Or better yet, call the customer service line and speak to representatives who help people like you every day.
2. Use an internet-connected device (hardware).
Most smart devices, including modern TVs, come with built-in networking capability so you can download the streaming app you want to use. In fact, many smart TVs now come with apps like Netflix and Hulu pre-loaded. All you need is a subscription to the app, and you're set to stream!
But if your TV is older, or the built-in app experience is just not easy to use, you have other options for connecting to streaming apps. Media streaming devices such as the following plug right into your TV's HDMI outlet. These devices make streaming a breeze and give you an even wider variety of media to choose from:
- Roku Streaming Stick
- Amazon Fire TV Stick
- Apple TV
3. Choose from popular apps (software) for streaming.
With an internet connection and a streaming-capable device, the only thing left to do is choose your app(s). There are many options to choose from, each with its own selection of media. Here are some of the most popular streaming apps right now:
- Netflix: Watch past seasons of many TV shows, as well as new original programming.
- Amazon Video: This streaming service is available to Amazon Prime members.
- Hulu: Get next-day access to shows from many cable networks.
- YouTube: YouTube now also offers premium original programming in addition to its user-created content.
Your cable provider may have their own streaming media app. Comcast, for example, offers Xfinity On Demand, and DirecTV offers DirecTV Now. Many premium cable networks, including HBO and Starz, have their own streaming apps now, too.
With few exceptions, streaming apps do require a low-cost monthly subscription.
Saying Hello to Streaming May Not Mean Goodbye to TV Service
Streaming can be done in addition to your traditional cable or satellite TV service. It's simply another way to access and play media on your internet-connected devices. To choose the right streaming setup for you, consider first what channels you watch most, then choose the apps (or TV service plus apps) that will give you what you need.