What is a Set-Top Streaming Box?

The Internet has changed the way that we consume media like music and movies. Less and less people are relying on physical CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays and are switching to digital media that is either stored on their computer hard drives, or is streamed over the Web. This has led to an increase in popularity of services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime. Previously people had watched videos from these services through their video game consoles and computers, but those can be inconvenient alternatives to the simplicity of navigating through channels with a traditional remote control.

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This created a new class of products called set-top streaming boxes that are solely dedicated to playing content from streaming services through your television. Most of them are very easy to use and only require access to a wireless network. So once you have acquired your set-top streaming box, you only need to plug it into a power outlet, connect it to your TV, then follow the steps of the setup process to get the device connected to your network so you can start streaming your movies and music.

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OK, So Which Set-Top Streaming Box Do I Buy?

The answer to this question depends largely on which services you want to use, and what devices you already have in your home. The most popular three streaming box options are the Roku, Apple TV and Google Chromecast.

what is a set-top streaming box

The Chromecast (on Amazon) is the least expensive option, and it is the newest device. However, it does not have a dedicated remote control and you will be relying upon your smartphone, tablet or computer to control the content that you want to watch. At the time of this writing, the Chromecast works with the Google Chrome Web browser, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Google Play and HBO Go. One of the most popular ways to use the Chromecast is to take advantage of its’ compatibility with the Chrome browser, as you can watch almost anything on your TV that you can open in that browser.

The Apple TV is the one you want to get if you have an iPhone, iPad, Mac computer and purchase the majority of your content through iTunes. The Apple TV is a fast, reliable device with an awesome feature called AirPlay. With an AirPlay-capable device such as the other Apple products mentioned previously, you can send content from your devices to the Apple TV so that you cam watch it on your TV, plus you can mirror your device screen on your television.

The Roku line of products is the best choice for a larger number of people, however, because it has access to a lot more content than either of the other two options. The Roku has hundreds of different channels of content, many of which are free. There are several models of Rokus available, from the least-expensive Roku LT (Amazon link) model to the most expensive Roku 3 (Amazon link) model. If you are looking to cut your cable cord and want to rely on a set-top streaming box as your primary source of content, then the Roku definitely deserves your consideration.

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Cable TV is getting very expensive, and a lot of people are looking for a way to take that expense out of their budget. Each of the set-top streaming boxes above require a small monetary investment upfront to purchase them, but the only other associated cost is the monthly fees that you will pay to subscribe to things like Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime. This can certainly result in a situation where you reduce your expenses and still leave yourself access to a wide range of entertainment. And even if you don’t want to cut your cable cord and are simply looking for an easy way to watch your streaming content on your subscriptions, then these devices are often the best solutions.

For more information you can read our reviews of the Apple TV, Chromecast and Roku 1.

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