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Streaming 101: A Beginner’s Guide To Services, Devices, And More

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Want to get started with TV and video streaming but not sure where to begin? Well, you’re in the right place. Even though it feels like getting started might be a complicated process, it doesn’t need to be.

Streaming continues to prove popular with new users. Not only can it open up more choices, but it can also help to save money when done right. That’s where this beginner’s guide comes in, as it has been put it together specifically for those that are new to streaming.

In this guide, you’ll find information covering what streaming is, the different streaming services and platforms, what devices you need to start streaming, and the difference between live TV and on-demand subscription services.

You can use the contents table below to jump to a specific section, or just start from the beginning.

What is video streaming and how does it work?

TV and video streaming refers to accessing video content over the internet. While homes had to make use of specific equipment to access video content in the past, that’s no longer the case thanks to the expansion of the internet and the connected home.

Even though some equipment is still needed to stream video, the choice and variety has never been greater. What’s more, many homes will already have devices in the home that they can you to stream right now.

The only integral element that every home will need is access to the internet. This is an important aspect and the strength of the internet connection can directly impact on the quality and reliability of the streaming experience. More on this later.

Advantages and disadvantages of streaming (compared to cable)

Is streaming better than cable? This is a question that comes up a lot, and the simple answer is, it depends. What’s best for an individual home depends on a number of factors and those factors differ from person to person and home to home.

One of the general benefits of streaming services is that they are available in app form. This makes it easier to access a service on different devices and in different places.

Another general benefit is that streaming services tend to be free of any major commitments. Subscribers typically pay for the current month, and with these services operating on a month-to-month basis, consumers can cancel at any time. Again, as there’s usually only an app involved, this also means that there’s typically no equipment to return, or complicated setups to untangle.

The main disadvantage with streaming is fragmentation. Not only are there tons of devices to choose between, but there are tons of streaming services, and some of them offer more than one plan. All of which can make navigating the streaming world more complicated than it necessarily should be.

In comparison, cable companies have traditionally offered packages that take much of the thought process out of the equation. You get a device, a live TV package, maybe some additional features, and pay the one price. Basically, cable was, and still is, simpler.

Due to this, and in spite of the benefits, streaming might not be the best option for everyone, and especially as cable has also increased its features and improved access over the years. More importantly, it might already be in your living room.

If you are happy with your existing setup, and don’t feel much of a need to switch to streaming, then there’s probably not much reason to. While you may need to eventually, due to the way the market is moving, there is no immediate rush.

For those that are considering switching to streaming now, or expanding their existing streaming horizons, the first thing to be aware of is the different types of streaming services, and what makes them different to begin with.

Different video streaming service types

When talking about TV and video streaming services, it is important to differentiate between two main types, video on-demand and live TV, as this distinction matters.

Video on-demand services

Video on-demand services are the ones that most people will already be familiar with. Think Netflix or Disney Plus. While video streaming services are not new, there are plenty of new ones launching every year. These services typically offer access to a catalog of TV shows and movies that are available to watch at any time.

These services also tend not to require much beyond a connected TV, set-top box, or smartphone, and generally don’t require the user to sign up to a lengthy contract. They also don’t tend to be too expensive either.

One of the more recent changes with video streaming services is their tendency to offer some form of live content. Unlike traditional live TV plans and channels, these linear channels are often curated and focus on a specific theme, genre, or show.

Paramount+ Live TV

Many streaming services also now tend to focus heavily on their own programming, often referred to as originals, that have been purchased outright or exclusively licensed. In other words, they are videos that you are unlikely to find on another streaming service at that time.

Video on-demand services also vary in the way that they make money. While the most common monetization method is a subscription, there are others, as well as some services that blur the lines. Welcome to the world of SVOD, AVOD, and TVOD streaming services.

While video streaming services are often referred to as SVOD, AVOD or TVOD, these are just acronyms. The one thing they all have in common is VOD, or video on-demand. The other letter(s) simply refer to how the service primarily monetizes its customers.

What are SVOD services?

SVOD is short for subscription video on-demand and this is likely to be one of the most common streaming services that consumers have already encountered. An SVOD service charges a flat subscription fee each month and provides unlimited access to content in return.

SVOD is currently one of the most popular monetization strategies by services. They are the easiest to implement and the simplest for users to understand and agree to. You pay for access, and that’s it.

What are AVOD services?

AVOD refers to advertising or ad-based video on-demand. Unlike SVOD, AVOD usually involves the viewer having to sit through ads. These commercials are used to generate revenue and that revenue can then help to lower the cost to the user.

Strictly speaking, a true AVOD service doesn’t charge the consumer anything. Instead, all of their income is generated through the use of ads. However, many services blur the AVOD and SVOD line with a hybrid approach. For example, a service that not only charges a subscription fee, but also uses ads.

Hulu is a prime example of a company that uses a hybrid approach. Hulu’s No Ads plan costs $14.99 per month and is representative of a true SVOD service. However, Hulu also offers a With Ads plan. Priced at $7.99 per month, With Ads combines the AVOD and SVOD methods, resulting in a win-win scenario for everyone involved.

What are TVOD services?

TVOD stands for transaction video on-demand and is best explained as a service that you rent or buy content from. Instead of paying for a monthly or annual subscription, consumers pay a fee relative to the content. Whether that’s an episode, a movie or an entire series, the fees are usually much lower and one-off costs.

Again, there are services that blur the TVOD line and Vudu is a good example. Vudu is primarily a TVOD service, as you pay for access to specific content. At the same time, Vudu also offers access to select shows and movies for free. This is an example of the AVOD approach, as consumers encounter ads instead of paying for content.

Live TV streaming services

Live TV streaming services have steadily become an increasingly important part of the industry. As more people move away from traditional cable and satellite packages, live TV streaming services offer a way to access live channels and content, including local and national news, sports, and weather.

With TV channels and content now streamed over the internet, homes have more choice than ever before and are no longer resigned to only the companies that operate locally. There are no cables or dishes involved, with most services providing access to live TV through a smart TV or smartphone app.

YouTube TV live TV guide with clock

While live TV streaming services don’t vary as much as video on-demand services, they still differ from each other in a number of ways, and any one could make or break the experience for an individual or home.

Some of the main differences to be aware of include the price, the selection of channels, and the features on offer.

Choosing the best video streaming service

With so many streaming services available, there’s just about a service to suit the needs and viewing tastes of every home.

Top video streaming Services in 2023

If you are new to streaming, here’s a roundup of some of the most popular video streaming services, and how much they currently cost.

In addition to charging a monthly subscription cost, some services may also show ads, or offer more than one plan to choose from.

Top live TV streaming Services in 2023

Just like video streaming services, the best live TV service is a hugely debatable topic. While every live TV streaming service offers access to live TV, they are very different from each other.

Below is a summary of the most popular live TV streaming services right now (and how much they currently cost):

Factors to consider when comparing streaming services

While the price might seem right, it can be easy to miss what features are missing while shopping for a new service and before signing up to one.

Some of the main features to be on the lookout for include device support and the number of streams. If it is a live TV service, shoppers might also want to take note of the channel selection and the cloud DVR.

Compare device support

Device support is an important area to consider. Generally speaking, smartphones are a given in this sense, with all of the major services offering an app to watch on a mobile device.

The same isn’t necessarily the case with other streaming devices. As essential as smart TVs are in a home, they are not always automatically supported. There are multiple different TV brands and models these days, all of which run on different operating systems, and services haven’t got around to supporting them all just yet.

While it is natural to assume a smart TV will be supported without the need for an additional streaming player, and especially newer TVs, it is recommended to check support before signing up. The same is true for Fire TV devices, Roku devices, game consoles, smart displays, and any other device that you are likely to want to watch on.

Compare the number of streams

The number of streams is another important aspect to compare as this directly impacts on how many people in the same home can watch at the same time.

With streaming providing access to live TV over the internet, there’s no longer a need for everyone to be huddled around the living room TV. If someone wants to watch the latest episode of their favorite show in the bedroom while someone else watches a movie on a different channel in the living room, they can. In the example, two simultaneous streams would be in use.

Peacock multiple screens

The problem is some live TV streaming services place a cap on how many streams can be active at the same time. To give you an example of how much this can vary between services, while DirecTV Stream offers unlimited streams, Hulu Live TV limits base plan subscribers to just two devices at the same time. Likewise, Netflix offers as many as four streams at the same time, but only for those signed up to its most expensive monthly plan.

The number of streams might not be a problem for all homes but it could be a major hurdle for those in busy households where multiple family members are likely to watch different channels at the same time.

Compare the DVR (if it’s a live TV service)

Unlike the DVR associated with traditional live TV services, cloud DVR is an online-based video recorder. There are many benefits to a cloud DVR over traditional DVR, including the ability to store an unlimited number of videos, record an unlimited number of channels at the same time, and access recordings on an unlimited number of devices.

In spite of the unlimited nature of a cloud-based DVR, many live TV services still limit the recording experience.

In some cases, live TV services limit the number of recording hours that a subscriber has access to. In other cases, a live TV service might limit how many videos can be stored at one time, and/or how long they remain recorded for. Some services may even limit the devices a subscriber can watch recordings on.

Knowing the type of cloud DVR experience a service offers before signing up is as important as any other aspect, including the price.

Compare channels (if it’s a live TV service)

One way live TV services manage to cut costs is by skipping on certain channels and this can result in different services prioritizing different channels.

As an example, Fubo places a greater emphasis on sports. While you do still get plenty of news and entertainment channels with Fubo, some channels are skipped in order to maintain the current sports-focused channel lineup at the current price.

fuboTV live guide listings

In contrast, Sling TV is primarily focused on being an affordable service, and this means it is less likely to be a good option for local channels or live sports.

While live TV services are very quick to advertise the price, and especially if they are cheaper than the competition, the channel lineup might not be what you are currently looking for.

For those interested, you can check out the guides below to see a list of the channels on offer with the most popular live TV streaming services.

Regardless of the channels included with a base plan, most services offer the option to increase the channel lineup through add-ons. While this can be a good way to add missing channels, it can also greatly increase the overall monthly price.

Streaming service FAQs

Below are answers to some of the most common and frequently asked questions on streaming services.

How much does live TV cost?

The general consensus is that live TV streaming is cheaper than cable and satellite, as there are few additional fees on top of the cost of the subscription. However, the cost of live TV streaming has steadily increased over the last few years, and it is no longer as cheap as it once was.

While services have looked to undercut each other to attract subscribers, this race to the bottom has come at a time when the same services are being charged more each year to carry channels and networks. Those increased costs have eventually been passed to the consumer in the form of price increases.

For those looking to sign up to a live TV streaming service today, they can expect to pay anywhere between $60 and $75 per month. There are cheaper services available, but the most popular ones tends to be priced in this range.

It is also worth noting that the price advertised might not actually be the total. Similar to traditional live TV plans, live TV streaming has started encountering some hidden costs. For example, Sling TV charges an ‘ABC fee’ in certain areas and Fubo charges a regional sports fee in most locations.

Live TV shoppers will often find that these additional monthly charges only become apparent after confirming a location, and usually during the signing up process.

What is the cheapest live TV streaming service

While $60-$75 appears to be the range most homes can expect to pay for live TV streaming, there are some services that are much cheaper.

For example, Sling TV currently charges $40 for its cheapest live TV streaming package. Even cheaper than that is Philo with a subscription coming in at just $25 per month. With plans starting at just $7 per month, Frndly TV is one of the cheapest options around.

Are there any free live TV streaming services?

Yes, there are live TV services that charge nothing. As is the case with AVOD video services, there are some live TV services that look to generate revenue through the use of ads. The more users they can attract by charging nothing, the more eyes they can place on an ad which makes the sale of those ads easier to do and more profitable.

Examples of services that offer access to free live TV:

It is worth noting that these free services don’t tend to offer the variety of live TV channels that paid live TV plans do. Instead, they are often curated channels that focus on a specific theme, genre or topic.

Different video streaming platform types

Streaming devices are just glorified media players. Unlike some traditional set-top boxes and players, however, streaming devices primarily deliver content over the internet.

As they are connected devices they tend to focus less on inputs and outputs, drives, or any other hardware element that requires the user to interact with. In some cases, they are not much more than a box.

Here’s a list of the most common devices used for TV streaming today:

  • Smart TVs
  • Streaming players
  • Set-top boxes
  • Game consoles
  • Blu-ray players
  • Soundbars

Top TV streaming platforms in 2023

There are many different brands that make different streaming devices and, therefore, even when you narrow down the type of device you are looking for, you’re still likely to need to make the choice of what platform you want to use for streaming.

Below is a list of the most popular streaming platforms today:

  • Apple TV
  • Amazon Fire TV
  • Google TV
  • Roku
  • Samsung Tizen
  • LG webOS
  • Vizio SmartCast

Getting started with Apple TV

Apple TV is, as the name suggests, Apple’s take on TV. While the platform is called tvOS, most people will recognize it as Apple TV. Either way, it is the ideal platform for anyone already invested in Apple’s iPhone, iPad, or Mac ecosystems. They will get access to a familiar user experience and features, including Siri.

tvOS Apple TV
tvOS on Apple TV

One of the downsides of Apple TV compared to other platforms is the general lack of device options. Apple only offers on device these days, Apple TV, although it can be purchased either with or without Ethernet. Apps are downloaded directly from the App Store.

Getting started with Fire TV

Fire TV is Amazon’s homegrown TV platform and extends well beyond the actual TV. As this is an Amazon ecosystem, it comes heavily tied to Amazon’s other services, including Alexa. With a TV that’s powered by Fire TV, Alexa voice support provides users with the option to control other Alexa-compatible products, and get feedback to questions asked.

Fire TV on Fire TV Cube

Whether looking for a streaming player or a smart TV, Amazon sells plenty of first party options. There are also a number of third-party TVs that are powered by Amazon’s TV platform. These TVs tend to be referred to as “Fire TV Edition” TVs. Regardless of the Fire TV device chosen, apps are available to download directly from the Amazon App Store.

Getting started with Google TV

Similar to how Fire TV is Amazon’s TV platform, Google TV is Google’s TV solution. Google TV is a customized version of Android for use with TV devices, and an evolution of Android TV. One of the benefits of an Android-based approach to streaming is the app support, as Google TV users get their apps from the Google Play Store.

Onn Google TV apps
Google TV on Onn Streaming Box

While Google itself doesn’t offer any TVs that are powered by Google TV, it does offer Chromecast with Google TV models that run on the same software. There are also plenty of third-party smart TVs from Sony, Sharp, and Hisense, as well as streaming players from various brands. Google’s TV platform is so prevalent that many operators also use a customized version for their own devices.

Getting started with Roku

Roku is one of the biggest players in the streaming world, and there is a good chance that if you buy a streaming device tomorrow, it will be powered by Roku. If buying directly from Roku, the company sells a wide variety of streaming players and at different price points. Recently, it has also started selling its own Roku TVs as well.

Roku OS 11.5
Roku OS on a Roku TV

Like Amazon and Google’s platforms, Roku OS is also available on various third-party products. Roku has partnered with multiple TV brands to offer a version of Roku built-in to TV sets. Regardless of whether you opt for a Roku TV or a Roku player, Roku OS comes with wide streaming service support. Technically, Roku refers to apps as channels but there’s no actual difference from the user perspective. Apps are downloaded from the Roku Store.

Getting started with Samsung Tizen

Tizen is Samsung’s own operating system and can be found on a number of smart TVs sold by the company. As this is the operating system that comes preloaded on Samsung smart TVs, and due to the number of TVs Samsung sells each year, this is likely to be the first and primary streaming option for many TV owners. It is also likely to be a good option for anyone already invested in Samsung’s wider ecosystem.

Samsung Tizen TV
Tizen on a Samsung TV

Tizen on TVs is similar to the other TV streaming platforms as it comes with a main hub where the user can interact, change settings and access apps. Unlike the other TV streaming platforms mentioned so far, however, Tizen is not quite as well-supported at the app level. While you shouldn’t find many issues when attempting to download any of the popular streaming apps, app and device support is something to be aware of. Apps are downloaded from the Samsung App Store.

Getting started with LG webOS

Similar to Tizen, webOS is yet another operating system. This one, however, is owned by LG. Like Tizen, those opting for an LG smart TV may find that the TV runs on webOS out of the box, providing them with a simple way to access streaming apps. While webOS comes with good app support in general, homes may find that some of their favorite apps are missing.

WebOS LG
webOS on an LG TV

webOS-powered TVs tend to come with good voice assistant support, including Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, making them a good option for any homes already invested in a smart home ecosystem. While webOS is not quite as rich or fully-featured as Fire TV, Google TV, or Roku OS, it is rich enough to provide a good video streaming experience. Apps are downloaded from the LG Content Store.

Getting started with Vizio SmartCast

Similar to Samsung and LG, Vizio also offers its own ‘SmartCast’ operating system which can be found on the TVs sold by the company. SmartCast is a popular option for many homes in the US, and is a platform that has been continuing expanding in terms of app and feature support in the past few years.

Vizio SmartCast A&E apps
SmartCast on a Vizio TV

In spite of its advancements, and jut like Tizen and webOS, SmartCast doesn’t offer as wide app support as Fire TV, Google TV, or Roku OS. So while users will find apps for many of their favorite streaming services, they may also find some are missing. There are no apps to download on a Vizio TV, with all currently available apps located in the app row of SmartCast Home.

Choosing the best streaming device

An important part of the streaming chain is the device used to stream on. In the past, the TV was the TV, and other than aspects like resolution or size, the experience was mostly the same.

In the age of everything is connected, that’s no longer the case. Nowadays, the type of device you use to stream can determine a number of things, including the features and apps you can access.

The good news is the streaming hardware market has never been richer. The bad news is with so many different devices, choosing the right one can be complicated. Choose wrong and it could prove costly as well.

The top streaming devices in 2023

With so many platforms available, it can be difficult to know which device to actually buy. Below are some of the most popular streaming devices in 2023.

Factors to consider when comparing platforms

For most people, the best streaming platform is likely to be the one that they are already invested in or are most familiar with.

For example, if you already have a number of Amazon and Alexa devices, then Fire TV is probably going to be the best option for you. As it is designed with those other devices in mind, it will fit in perfectly, and even add an extra level of smart control to the home. The same is true with Apple TV and Google TV. If you are already invested in iOS or Android then Apple and Google’s platforms are likely to be more of a natural fit.

To a degree, the same is also true with Samsung’s Tizen and LG’s webOS. If you already have products by either of these companies then it may make sense to consider purchasing a TV or streaming player that plays nicely with those products.

Streaming Player Remotes

It should be noted that choosing a platform can cause issues later on. For example, opting for SmartCast, Tizen, or webOS can lock the user in to the app experience offered by those operating systems. As platforms like Fire TV and Google TV are available on a variety of first and third-party TVs and streaming devices, the same locked-in restriction is not as problematic.

If not currently invested in any major ecosystem, then Roku might be worth considering. One of the big selling points with Roku is the ease of use of Roku OS. This coupled with the selection and low price points make it a good option for homes looking for a cheap and simple streaming player.

Best streaming players roundups:

Streaming device FAQs

Below are some answers to commonly asked questions about streaming devices.

Do I need a streaming player if I have a smart TV?

No. If you have a smart TV, by definition, you already have a streaming device as well. As long as the TV can connect to the internet then it is almost guaranteed to have the ability to download apps. If it is an older TV, then it is possible that some apps might not be supported anymore.

For some people, a smart TV will be enough, and for those users, there’s no need to invest in any additional hardware. If you find that your smart TV is a little limited on app support, a cheap workaround can be casting. This refers to the ability to send videos from a smartphone (or a laptop) to a TV over the home Wi-Fi network.

With most streaming apps and services supporting smartphones, casting media is a great and low-cost way to avoid additional hardware purchases. While the downside of casting is you have to continually use the smartphone to navigate and select content, it is a viable solution for those looking for one.

Do I need a streaming player if I have a game console?

If you have a connected game console then you may find you don’t need to invest in any additional hardware.

This is particular the case for newer game consoles such as the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X. However, newer devices can sometimes suffer in terms of app support so it is worth checking for specific apps before signing up.

Do I need a streaming device for each TV?

It depends on the TV. Again, most newer TVs will come with some form of a streaming platform built-in, and those TVs won’t need any additional help. If the TV is older, or you don’t like the operating system that is in use, a Chromecast or another cheap streaming player can be a quick and affordable way to give the TV an extra streaming boost.

Optimizing the streaming experience

Choosing the right platform and device is important, but some homes may find that they run into issues from time to time. Some of these issues can be fixed easily while others might not have an easy or even possible solution.

Common video streaming issues (and fixes)

Video quality places the greatest strain on an internet connection and this is nearly always what homes encountering streaming issues, including a poor signal and/or buffering, are recommended to check.

Check the internet

Generally speaking, streaming in standard definition (SD) typically requires a minimum download speed of 3 Megabits per second (Mbps). Streaming in high definition (HD) ups the minimum download speed to 5 Mbps. Those looking to stream in Ultra HD (4K) will see the minimum requirement increase significantly – to around 25 Mbps.

Those minimum download speeds again:

  • Standard definition (SD): 3 Mbps+
  • High definition (HD): 5 Mbps+
  • Ultra HD (4K): 25 Mbps+

As these are minimums, homes should be looking to have sufficient internet to handle more than these speeds, and on a continuous basis.

Most homes will be able to check their theoretical maximum download speeds by contacting their provider, or checking the details of their internet package. An alternate way to find out the actual download speed you are getting is by using a speed test site such. We recommend Speedtest.net.

It is worth keeping in mind that the speed requirements mentioned above are related to a single stream. If a home plans to stream video and TV content on different devices at the same time in the same household, those Mbps requirements will increase by the number of users.

For example, two SD streams at the same time will likely require a minimum of 6 Mbps, and so on.

Check the device

In situations where a home encounters issues and the internet is not the root cause, it is possible that the device might be.

One way to quickly check if that is the case is to try and access the same service on another device. If the streaming issues are not present on the new device, the old device (or the app installed on that device) might be the problem.

Getting started beginner’s guide: recap

As you can see, there are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to TV streaming. Yes, it can be a little confusing at first, but it doesn’t have to be. The main choices that need to be made are as follows:

  • the platform you want to stream on
  • the devices you want to stream on
  • the apps you want to stream.

In reality, most of these decisions become easier once the first one is made. For example, if you opt to use the streaming platform that your existing TV is running on, then you suddenly don’t have to worry about buying an additional device, the streaming platform, or the apps available.

If you choose to buy an additional device, and prefer to use either Fire TV or Roku, our recommendation would be to buy one of Amazon’s or Roku’s own devices. This limits the choices considerably, and with prices starting at the $30, most homes will find one that suits their budget as well as their streaming needs.

The same is true with apps. The majority of premium streaming apps will likely support all of the platforms mentioned here, and it is likely once you fire up the TV or streaming player for the first time, the interface will recommend some of the most well-known apps, making it very easy to install your favorites and start streaming.

John Finn
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John Finn

By John Finn

John Finn is the Founder and Editor of Streaming Better, a platform created in 2019 to help consumers navigate the complicated live TV streaming and subscription service market.

John has been covering technology for various online publications since 2014. After originally covering the wider tech industry as a writer and editor, John now spends his time focusing on the emerging video-streaming market, including live TV streaming, SVOD, AVOD, FAST, and TVOD services.

In a bid to keep up to date on the industry, John actively subscribes to multiple streaming services at the same time. However, John continues to advocate that the best approach for consumers is to rotate between streaming services as needed.

A Psychology graduate from England, who now lives in the US, John previously worked in the aviation industry as an airline reviewer. While reviewing airlines isn't quite the same as reviewing devices and streaming services, John brings the same analytical eye to all of his reviews and industry analysis, along with a special emphasis on what's best for the consumer.

Connect with John
Email: john@streamingbetter.com
X: @J_Finns
Website: JohnFinn.net

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