Tired of paying for cable television? Ready to step into an age that is increasingly dominated by streaming services? It can be challenging to take the first step; many options exist, with some offering fewer options than others. Both free and paid services are available, but no matter which way you prefer to go, you’ll need one thing no matter what:
Whether you’re planning to watch on your TV, your computer, or your mobile device, you’ll need a strong internet connection to stream anything worthwhile. HD streaming requires a good amount of bandwidth and is only recommended on home internet, Wi-Fi, or unlimited data plans. When it comes to home internet, there really aren’t many options out there; if you aren’t in a city with Google, you’re mostly relegated to either cable or DSL.
While it may be tempting to consider satellite internet, it’s not likely to be worth it. Usually bandwidth is limited (and sometimes even restricted) and may be subject to weather problems. For cable or DSL, you’ll want something with at least 10 mbps, though more is always better.
It’s unlikely you’ll be able to get an unlimited data plan unless you’re grandfathered in, so mobile streaming will have you relying on Wi-Fi more often than not. But while convenient, public Wi-Fi (or any other unsecured Wi-Fi networks for that matter) poses certain risks to your personal security and to the health of your device. Hackers routinely camp at public access points to steal identities and banking information, something done easily unless their target has a VPN.
Even if you aren’t planning to do much with a mobile device, you’re still likely to want some security while streaming. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is easily the best way to do this. Their services (and there are many options) will encrypt your internet connection, preventing the theft of your information even if it happens to be intercepted by the bad guys.
On top of the secure aspect, you’ll also gain freedom of access when you’re traveling. Whether it’s on your laptop, a tablet, or mobile phone, your streaming can get cut short if the place you’re streaming from is geo-restricted (that is, prevents access from certain areas of the globe). A VPN allows you to connect to servers in different parts of the world, routing your services through their server as though you are physically there.
It also prevents you from being tracked, as your device’s IP address becomes that of the VPN. Since VPNs have multiple users, there’s no way to differentiate one user from the next, meaning you can remain effectively anonymous on the go or at home. Perhaps the only downside to a VPN is the cost; good ones can run up to $15 a month, though considering the extra speed and services offered, it’s usually worth investing in the good ones.
With internet access and a VPN, there’s just a matter left of the actual streaming. For that, you’ll need service.
As the market continues to expand, so too do options for quality streaming. Perhaps the most well-known service is Netflix; once a mail-in movie rental service, Netflix now offers the majority of its service online as a streaming service. Like Hulu Plus, it also offers a variety of television shows to complement its movie repertoire.
Both of these services are geo-restricted, but if you’ve taken my advice and looked into a VPN, that should pose no problem. Hulu Plus and Netflix are not the only streaming options; many websites, such as Comedy Central, also offer streams of their shows at no cost. There are also apps available, and if you still have a regular television service, you may be eligible to watch on any number of your devices at no extra charge.
Dish Network has created a new plan called Sling that takes advantage of people’s desire to stream. Instead of purchasing a plan with hundreds of channels, you can pick and choose micro-packages of just a few desirable channels for considerably less than regular cable. All you need is internet access and an eligible streaming device (Roku is a particularly popular type for televisions, but smart TVs and computers can do it on their own).
The downside of Sling is the single use only policy: only one TV, computer, or mobile device can access at once, meaning you can’t use Sling at your house and on the go at the same time unless you have multiple accounts. While a great service for singles and college students, it isn’t as appealing to a family setting.
Outside of paid services, there are a number of websites that offer all sorts of streaming, from movies and series, to live television. These services fall into a gray area; their legality varies wildly depending on each countries laws. And while it’s rare viewers will ever be penalized for streaming in this fashion, the websites themselves may occasionally be shut down.
The biggest thing to concern yourself with here is the safety of said websites. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Some free web services are run by excessive ads and may expose unprepared viewers to unwelcome content along the sidebars. Websites offering “free” streaming may also be hosts of malware, which could lead to problems with your computer or other devices.
For the unexperienced, I recommend using reputable websites to stream. It may be tempting to avoid paying for services, but the risks can be unnecessarily high for the unprepared. Unless you’re willing to assume the risk, stick with known websites and paid services.
Other Types of Streams
The last area to consider is in the form of user generated content. TwitchTV is a popular example where users with cameras or webcams can stream content live for anyone to watch (usually for free). This service covers a slightly different area of content. The majority of available streams are of users playing different kinds of video games, sometimes even competitively.
YouTube has also become an endless hub of entertainment for anyone looking to stream, with the majority of its content also user generated. Music videos, how to videos, and other silly things are all available so long as you’ve got an internet connection. Some television programs can also be viewed, but they usually function similar to a pay-per-view service.
If you’ve been shopping online a lot and have a subscription to Amazon Prime, there are plenty of movies and foreign films available to subscribers.
Television’s Biggest Competition
Like it or not, video streaming is set to directly compete with traditional television. While a large number still subscribe to basic cable and satellite, there are no shortages of folks who have decided to cut their bills by switching to streaming services such as Hulu Plus. Knowing how to navigate to these new forms of content is essential going forward.
There’s only one thing left to do next: get watching!
Isa is a blogger and freelancer who enjoys writing about technology and how we can use it to make our lives easier and more enjoyable!