Whether cord-cutting is something you dream of, or you’re just looking for a cheaper alternative to paying for a multi-room deal on your Sky or digital package, there are a surprising number of alternatives to increase your viewing options over the standard few terrestrial channels that we receive in the UK.
Cut The Satellite Cords And Buy A Media Streamer
The Smart TV And Games Console Option
The Smart TV not only usually offers access to Freeview channels, but also to some online TV and catch-up apps, while games consoles are also getting in on the act, with both Microsoft and Sony introducing their own TV network.
However, both of these options can prove costly, and while console TV remains limited, Smart TVs can offer a slow and unresponsive experience unless you are fortunate or knowledgeable enough to choose the right model.
Mobile phones, tablets, and even laptops and desktops obviously also offer access to Internet TV and inexpensive TV cards can extend your viewing to include Freeview channels too.
However, watching TV on your PC monitor, at your PC desk, simply doesn’t offer the same experience as viewing from the couch. You can connect them to your TV but this may mean suffering buffering problems and will almost certainly mean a mass of wires.
Enter The Media Streaming Device
Fortunately, inexpensive media streaming devices like the Roku, and dirt cheap models like the Chromecast offer a seemingly viable alternative, and these are just two of several options.
But, do these unobtrusive devices, which typically cost less than £50, and in some cases as little as £10, really offer the viewing experience that you want?
Most of the modern devices plug directly into the HDMI port of the TV and offer a choice of wireless or wired connection, although you should check that any model has the connection that you want before you buy. Streaming sticks are dongle-sized and, once plugged in, you will basically never see it again, making these the most covert and convenient option.
For those that hang their TVs on the wall, you can also buy an extension wire so that you can retain the flush look without having to opt for a different model. Some devices, like the Roku 3, are more akin to set-top boxes, but they are well designed and really quite small.
However, design is less important than content with these devices, and this is where the major differences with Sky and digital TV do occur. For a start off, the devices themselves are not set-top boxes, and they don’t directly offer live TV. You have to rely on apps like the ITV Hub and iPlayer for the live streaming of programmes.
Many of the apps do offer this function, but you will miss the planner and layout features you would receive with a subscription.
What’s more, not all channels are available, even if you pay for a service like Now TV, which means that you will miss out on some programmes and wait for others to hit the catch up services.
If you like live programming and you want access to the biggest shows then a streaming media player probably won’t cut it.
However, choose the right device and you can access all of the major catch-up services. Thanks to the fact that it does not own its own media channel and therefore doesn’t have to worry about competition, the Roku offers the greatest range of apps. You can get all of the usual terrestrial catch-up channels, and you can also install all of the competing subscription services from Netflix, Amazon, and even Sky.
With devices made by Sky (Now TV Player) and Amazon (Fire TV), this same level of access isn’t possible without some trickery.
We briefly mentioned that you will miss the planner, but this isn’t the only area where you will struggle with a streaming box if you are used to Sky or even Freeview boxes.
Every app that you install essentially works independently. You can install iPlayer, ITV, and the Sky channels, but when you go looking for a programme or you just want to browse in order to find something to watch you will, for the most part, have to search each of the apps separately. This can be tiresome and tedious, at best, and it could prove a deal breaker for many people.
Roku has attempted to remedy this to some extent. You can use the Search function but this still doesn’t include all of the apps, and the same limitation is true of My Feed, where you can receive updates on films you’re waiting for and a limited number of TV programmes.
Streaming media players do have some benefits over other options. They are smaller and less expensive than virtually any option, and they do offer access to the vast majority of Internet TV and catch-up TV.
However, they do not feature live programming and the lack of a proper universal search and content discovery option proves to be a major downfall.
If you want something small and cheap for the spare room, or if you are an infrequent TV viewer, or you only ever watch Netflix or Amazon programming, then they are a good option.
Otherwise, they still have some way to go before they could fully replace your subscription satellite package.
About the author:
Matt Jackson is owner of BestMediaPlayers.com, offering reviews of media streaming devices, as well as news and features on the latest devices, content, and media channels.