What you need to stream TV.

How to receive programs?

Broadcasting

A term from the 1930’s describes radio broadcasting across the airwaves. It also applies to network TV affiliates in most US markets that partner with the major networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS — and broadcast local and prime time shows free of charge. All you need to receive this programming is an indoor tabletop antenna or an outdoor TV antenna.

Cable

A system to deliver programming to consumers via radius frequency (RF) signals transmitted through coax or fiber optic cabling. These channels are not available via over the air broadcasting. But there are other ways to get the ones you want.

Streaming

Requires an active internet connection to play media from a hosted remote media server. The leading streaming service providers — YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, Sling, Disney, Pandora and Hulu — push live broadcast, cable network feeds and recorded (on demand) content across the internet to phones, tablets, smart TVs, and internet connected devices. There are literally hundreds of streaming providers — most have fees, but a few are free. The challenge with streaming is making sure you get the most bang for your investment, and that value is changing.

Broadcast channels are available via all three media — antenna for free, and cable or streaming for a handling fee. If you are in the city or an area that has obstructions to over the air broadcasting you may need to pay a handling fee for perfect service. I live six miles from a major airport and planes can jumble our signal, but to save money I’m willing to work with that.

Cable programming is not free through any legal media.

Fast Internet — a requirement for streaming

  • Standard Definition (SD) requires at least 3 mbps bandwidth. SD is the 4:3 format or square TV format most common before the 2008 introduction of 16:9
  • High Definition (HD) requires a minimum of 5 mbps bandwidth. This is the 16:9 most common format of 1080p.
  • 4K streaming requires at least 25 mbps.

Check what speeds are available at your address via the FCC Broadband Map.

Streaming Devices

There are an unlimited number of devices that can receive video feeds over an internet connection. Media players began to appear on computers in the mid-1990’s. Many devices came onto the market to help users stream content. The best streaming devices today include:

But I have a smart TV!

Smart TVs are great if you have an antenna and basically only want to stream Netflix or Amazon Prime. But if you want ultimate flexibility or you are new to video streaming, you should consider a streaming device.

Streaming Access (membership)

History

In 1934 the Federal Communications Act set up the basic requirements for commercial and non-commercial broadcasting. In 2015 there was a huge deal made about “Net Neutrality”, and the FCC classified the internet as a regulated utility under the Telecommunications Act.

The FCC adopted the minimum broadband definition as 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload in 2015. Prior to that the definition of minimum broadband was 4 mbps download and 1 mbps upload.