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For many years the best way to watch shows and movies on your television was to subscribe to a cable TV package. That package, perhaps from Comcast or Verizon, would include channels devoted to movies, sports or home improvement. People could pay extra to have access to more channels of the kind they were most likely to watch. But in today’s world, even with a cable TV package, many people want to see other shows, movies or sporting events that are only available from other providers. These other providers are selling streaming video services. So let’s learn how to use a streaming video service.

The first thing to know in order to learn how to use a streaming video service is how the process works in general. There are several pieces –

  • the device you will watch on, we will assume this is a TV
  • the content you want to watch, we will call these the service providers
  • other equipment, besides a TV and a service provider, you will need to make this work

Devices to Watch On

Even cable providers such as Comcast and Verizon make some of their content available on devices other than TVs. This allows subscribers to watch their usual cable programs on a tablet in bed or perhaps on their phone while they are traveling. All of the other service providers also allow users to view their content on TVs, computers, tablets and phones. For the purpose of this blog post, we will assume that the shows and movies will be watched on a TV.

Service Providers

Depending on what a person wants to watch, there are many service providers big and small who will make that content available to you, usually for a fee. The first step for a user is to determine what content they are interested in receiving. Some people can be satisfied with any content, as long as they have a little choice, but others want to watch a specific show or movie which might have been created by one provider or only available on one provider.

It is helpful to think of these service providers in a few different groups. First, there are free services that offer older less well known shows and movies. Some examples in this category are Hoopla, Kanopy and RedBox Live TV. Hoopla and Kanopy are available through local libraries to anyone who has a library card.

Another group is the smaller specialized content providers such as ESPN+ ($5/month), HBO ($15/month), Apple TV+ ($5/month) and Disney+ ($7/month). If the content provided by these companies is what you are looking for, they can be a good deal.

A third group is the larger more general content providers such as Hulu ($6 – $13 a month), Netflix ($9-$16 a month) and DirecTV ($50 – $125 a month).

Many people will use multiple providers, especially if they are not also paying for a cable package.

What Else Do I Need?

To get started with how to use a video streaming service, you need several things :

  • Access to the Internet. This means that although you don’t need a cable package, you do need to purchase or have available to you an Internet service package. This package comes with a router, and usually provides WiFi around your home.
  • TV – if the TV is fairly new, it may be able to access wifi and have streaming apps built in, and be ready to log into streaming services. If it is not, then a device will be needed to connect the internet to the TV. These devices plug into the TV’s HDMI port, and connect to your WiFI network. You then use the device to send programming to your TV. On your TV’s side, it is similar to having a VCR plugged in, the TV just sees video and audio input. Examples of these devices are
  • Chromecast →  $35 – $70
  • Roku  → $29 – $100
  • Apple TV → $150 – $200
  • Amazon Fire Stick → $40 – $90
  • One of the difficulties of receiving your video content only through these service providers, is that they don’t carry local news stations. For this reason, many people who don’t have a cable package will purchase an antenna to receive local TV stations.
    Antenna → $30 – $100

The HOW of how to use a streaming service has a lot of variation depending on what you want to watch. The really great part is that there is so much content available through these services and online through news services, YouTube, schools and other groups, that no one ever has to be bored again.


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