Here’s where it all begins: You’re sick of paying an exorbitant cable or satellite bill, and you have a strong sense that if you just limited your spending to a few streaming subscription services, you would be much more satisfied with your home entertainment experience. So let’s say that you already have a good TV, a speedy internet connection and a set-top box. (If you don’t, we’ll get to that later.) Who gets your money?
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Television manufacturers have been moving toward “smart TVs” that connect to the internet and provide access to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and the like. The selection of apps on these sets vary depending on licensing agreements made between the manufacturers and the O.T.T. services. (O.T.T. is short for “over the top,” a term applied to any streaming media provider to which a consumer can subscribe directly.) Also, not all of them will let you plug in and get a seamless, cable-like TV experience without any other hardware. The technology and interfaces are certain to improve in the years ahead, but for now, for the best results, you’re better off just investing in a set-top box.
Start with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, tack on an HBO subscription to the latter, and consider paying for the Brit-centric streaming service Acorn as well. You’ll have plenty to watch, all commercial-free, and if you hear a lot of buzz about a show that isn’t available through any of those platforms, you can always pay for them on an episode-by-episode basis from Amazon (or iTunes, Vudu, or whichever digital retailer you prefer).
Google was comparatively late to the game, but it's carved out itself a nice little niche with YouTube TV. Its interface is no-nonsense, even drab, and yet it offers most of the features a cable service can give you -- namely, a robust channel lineup including local channels in just about every area it serves. It also has a very strong DVR, including unlimited storage, with one catch: If an episode you've recorded appears in YouTube TV's VOD library, it gets replaced by the on-demand version -- so you lose the ability to fast-forward through commercials. And unlike Sling and others, it's dead simple: one package, one price, done.
We also recommend testing your internet speed at peak streaming hours (between 6 – 10 p.m. weekdays) to determine if your neighborhood struggles under the strain of heavy traffic. For instance, if you routinely get around 10Mbps downloads during the day, but that figure takes a dive to about 3Mbps around dinner time, you’ll want to call your internet provider to see if anything can be done. Fortunately, this is an increasingly rare problem outside of rural areas, but better to check ahead.