WATCH | Live TV streaming services like YouTube TV and DirecTV Now are joining on-demand apps like Netflix and Hulu to give cord-cutters the content they've been longing for. But which device(s) to watch it all on is still a tricky question.
Finally: On-demand and on-right-now
With YouTube this month announcing a cable TV-like package of channels to take on DirecTV, Dish Network and PlayStation, on-demand streaming and on-right-now content are both finally here, making cord-cutting an easier choice than ever.
But with different smart TV hardware styles to choose from -- each with their own service exclusivity and operation eccentricities -- choosing how you want to stream is still surprisingly more complicated than plugging in a cable box.
YouTube TV is coming this year for $35 a month. The service will launch with around 40 live TV streaming channels that will be watchable on smartphones, tablets, computers and Chromecast-connected TVs.
1. Smart TV boxes
Roku, Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV, even the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One -- these are devices you plug into a regular TV that, like a smartphone, run apps to bring you content. The painful and not-so-smartphone part is how you get around a smart TV OS. You can’t just swipe through and tap what you want. And, of course, there’s no keyboard for typing in what you want, either.
Adding a streaming box to your setup runs around $100-$300, but the plus side of the cost is almost all of them double as gaming systems.
The Apple TV is a great choice for those who've bought a lot of movies and shows from iTunes -- because it's the only device that can play them!
2. Casting from a phone
Google’s Chromecast is a small dongle that plugs into a TV and plays video streaming “casts” from smartphone/tablet apps.
Chromecast has no user interface of its own, so you have to search for things to watch from your phone's screen. Even as smart TV software is hard to navigate, whipping out your phone to swipe through channels is something that takes getting used to.
But, starting at $35, Chromecast is about the cheapest thing you can get to make your TV smart.
The Google Chromecast starts at $35 and doesn't take up any space on your TV stand. But it also doesn't have a remote control and on-TV user interface for finding things to watch; instead, you need a smartphone to control it.
3. Standalone smart TVs
Most TVs being released today come with some kind of smarts inside, and without much of a premium on their prices. But it’s important to pay attention to whatexactly is inside.
Some smart TV sets essentially have integrated smart TV boxes, like TCL's Roku TVs or Sony and Sharp’s Android TVs. Others, like smart TVs from Vizio and Samsung, run on their own proprietary software platforms. Beware: the latter typically offer fewer apps.
Samsung puts its own brand of software inside its standalone smart TVs. It hasn't traditionally been at the front of the line for getting the latest streaming apps like DirecTV Now.
You can't have ALL the apps
Regardless of which smart TV device platform you go with, the ugly truth is that app availability is a problem across the board.
Movies you buy on iTunes will never be watchable on an Android TV or Chromecast. Amazon’s Prime app for streaming movies and shows isn’t on Apple TV. And for live TV, DirecTV Now still isn't available on Roku or standalone smart TVs, and YouTube TV will be a Chromecast and mobile device exclusive when it first launches.
Is your laptop your streaming champ?
And if all of the above info is a little too much to digest (or simply terrifying), just remember that your laptop is a heck of go-to when it comes to streaming almost any service.
Maybe one day there will be a smart TV system that we can say the same about!