A decade or so ago, the term ‘cutting the cord’ meant one of two things. It either referred to the literal act of cutting the umbilical cord that bound a mother to a baby, or the symbolic act of getting people to depend less on you by cutting off financial aid. Today, that term has another entirely different meaning. It now also means the act of canceling costly cable or satellite connections in favor of streaming services. Cord cutters, as people who switch to streaming are called, are on the rise.
According to a recent survey, cable companies are losing anywhere between 14,000 to 15,000 subscribers every day. eMarketer predicts that the number of cord-cutters will rise to over 55 million by 2022. Add all these numbers up, and it could quickly amount to the fact that cable TV is going the same way Blockbuster did and that a new era of cord-nevers (those who have never paid for cable TV) is on its way.
Many streaming devices in the market can help you cut the cord today. In this article, we will take an in-depth look at three of them: Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, and TiVo.
Roku means six in Japanese. The company’s founder, Anthony Wood, chose this name to symbolize that it was the sixth company he started. Netflix acquired the company, and the streaming device was set to launch as a set-top box that only streamed Netflix content. Just weeks before its launch in December 2007, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had second thoughts, fearing that having exclusive hardware would mean other hardware makers would refuse to put Netflix on their devices. They dropped the project and launched their own equipment, and the rest, as they say, is history; Netflix is the most popular streaming service, and Roku is the most popular streaming device today.
Since its launch in 2008, Roku has released eight generations of streaming devices, each more streamlined, smarter, and capable than its predecessor. The latest and most popular in their lineup is the Roku Streaming Stick Plus. With the right blend of aesthetic simplicity, stellar performance, and affordability, it promises natural binge-watching capabilities.
The design is misleadingly simple. It looks like any old flash drive and weighs in at a petite 0.9 ounces. This oblong form factor has been used by Roku for a few generations now. It fits neatly behind any TV. Roku also offers users the option of ordering a free HDMI extension adaptor off their website for cramped wall-mounted TVs. One end of the streaming stick is the HDMI plug, and the other houses the mini USB power input. Roku’s power cable has a wireless amplifier integrated into it, which helps improve the device’s wi-fi range and strength. This feature is essentially what gives the ‘plus’ in its name.
The remote control has a comfortable design that nestles nicely in the palm with intuitively placed buttons. Apart from essential navigation keys, the remote control also has shortcut buttons to apps such as Netflix and Yupp TV. Another nice touch is the power and volume buttons that control the TV too so that users need not juggle between two remotes. The only negative about this remote control is that it does not have a headphone jack. The Roku mobile app, which is free for both Android and iOS, also lets users control the device from their mobile phones. Both the remote and the mobile app support a basic voice search. Users can also send photos or videos from their phones to the TV.
The operating system is Roku OS 8, which is a beefier version of their earlier operating systems. The newer OS incorporates more streaming apps than before, including Roku’s free channel, the Roku TV, which has a selection of free movies and TV shows. Supporting over 5000 different channels, the Roku Streaming Stick Plus is a streamer’s paradise. It has all the big streaming players such as Amazon, Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, and Spotify as well as lesser-known, niche services. These include a channel for Japanese anime called Crunchyroll and one dedicated to horror buffs called Shudder. The Roku Feed feature keeps track of user history across multiple devices.
Setting up a Roku device has always been easy, and that is no different for the Streaming Stick Plus. An on-screen guide takes users through the process and automatically detects the best settings to get the most out of your TV. It also syncs the TV power and volume options with the remote during boot-up. The user interface is clean and straightforward with a grid-like home screen that users can fill with their choice of apps. Since it is a neutral streaming device, it does not push content similar to the way the Amazon Fire Stick does. The search feature is intuitive land displays searched titles across all installed apps along with its price. It delivers 4K and 4K HDR video output that is studio quality. The apps load fast with no lag to write home about.
- Inbuilt wi-fi amplifier
- Over 5000 apps
- Robust mobile app
- Control TV’s power and volume from remote
- Easy-to-use interface
- No support for Dolby Vision
It costs under $50.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
Launched in 2014, the Amazon Fire TV Stick has quickly become the go-to streaming device for budget-minded cord-cutters. Crucially, its lower price point does not reflect in the robust set of features it provides, giving a tremendous value-for-money streaming experience. Its latest version, the Fire TV Stick 4K, is no different and comes with impressive credentials such as a quad-core CPU, faster wi-fi of 802.11ac, 5.1 Dolby support, and Bluetooth version 4.1.
Measuring 99mm in length, it is a bit longer than other streaming sticks. That said, it fits snugly behind any TV. The stick comes with an HDMI extender cable, which the company says improves the device’s wi-fi and remote control’s efficiency. It is powered by a micro USB power port that can plug directly into the TV or into a socket via an adapter.
Setting it up is a simple process with the on-screen prompts that set up everything from the remote to the optimum video and audio output it can extract from the TV. Viewers can also use the mobile app to sign into their Fire TV Stick. A simple and responsive user interface allows viewers to navigate to the app of their choice. The only caveat is that it disproportionately promotes Amazon Prime content over others. While its selection of apps may not be as vast as Roku’s, the Fire Stick 4K has a vast array of apps to choose from that are easy to download and set up. A notable exception is the popular app, Vudu.
The remote control has another excellent feature. Like the Roku remote, it has buttons to control the TV’s power and volume. Where it goes one step further is that it allows users to control these functions with voice commands. Voice control is where the Fire TV Stick 4K really shines. Backed by Amazon Alexa technology, it gives users a speedy and responsive voice-search experience. It has infrared blasters that can even change the TV’s HDMI input or control a soundbar with a simple command. Another tick in its favor is that it integrates with other Alexa-powered devices such as the Amazon Echo to create a wireless and hands-free TV viewing experience. The remote also has a dedicated mute button, something not found on other streaming stick devices.
- Great voice control options
- Integrates with other Amazon products
- Good selection of apps
- Supports Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos
- Overly promotes Amazon Prime content
It costs under $50.
Founded in 1997, TiVo has been around for over 2 decades now. They are the pioneers that changed the TV viewing experience and paved the way for cord-cutting as we know it today. TiVo invented the first digital video recorder (DVR) that allowed users to easily record their favorite games and shows and pause or rewind live TV, all the things we take for granted today but were unheard of back then. So revolutionary was their product that people wondered if there was any black magic involved in its making! In the early 2000s, TiVo added streaming features to their DVR so that viewers could access streaming platforms such as Netflix and YouTube too. That is what it essentially remains today; a product that lets you straddle both the worlds of cable television and streaming services.
Their latest product, launched in 2019, is the TiVo Edge DVR and is an excellent choice for those who do not want to commit to the full cord-cutting experiences. It has a slim, rectangular, and jet-black design that is pleasing to the eye. The rear I/O panel houses several ports, including an audio output port, HDMI slot, 2 USB ports, and one ethernet cable input. A nice feature here is the remote-finder button, which, when pressed, makes the TiVo remote beep, handy for when the kids decide to make a game out of hiding the remote!
The TiVo Edge has a fast processor and 4GB of memory. It supports both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. Additionally, it has six tuners that record up to six different movies or TV shows at the same time. This availability of this feature means you don’t have to choose one favorite show to watch and miss another if they are both on at the same time! This, along with a cable-card slot, gives ample storage options to store the entire season of a show or two. Users can also access the recorded content on multiple TVs around the house with the additional purchase of a TiVo Mini box.
The DVR’s interface is simple and easy to use, with the viewing content split into a cable TV and a streaming section for more natural distinction. Users can easily browse through the live TV section to schedule recordings or manage existing ones. The TiVo mobile app also lets viewers manage content from their smartphones. Setting up the box is a more involved process than other streaming devices because it requires users to have a monthly subscription.
Where TiVo seems stuck in the past is with the remote control and streaming options. The remote control is a chunky affair with a plethora of unnecessary buttons that is more reminiscent of traditional TV remotes than of the cutting-edge technology that TiVo possesses. However, it does have a few redeeming features such as backlit keys that light up for nighttime use, a button to skip commercials on recorded shows, and support for a basic voice search. On the streaming front, TiVo offers only a limited selection of apps that excludes the minor players.
To make content available on devices such as phones, tablets, or laptops, TiVo has introduced the TiVo Stream. It is a little black box that users can plug into their TiVo DVR to stream or download shows onto their networking devices to watch on the go. The TiVo Stream only integrates with iOS devices that support iOS 5.1 and Android devices with OS 4.1 or above. The company also plans to release a streaming stick for Android TVs in 2020.
- Get cable TV and streaming services with one device
- Record 6 shows at once
- Great storage capacity
- Manage content with mobile app
- Stream content on mobile devices with TiVo Stream
- The monthly subscription fee
- It is pricey
- Needs several add-ons to build a home entertainment network
- TiVo Edge- Under $400
- TiVo Stream- Under $350
- TiVo Mini- Under $200
In times past, cord-cutting was a difficult and time-consuming process that involved setting up sophisticated routers and antennas. Today, whether you are looking to become a partial or a fully committed cord cutter, there are much easier options available. We hope this list has helped you choose a streaming device that suits your unique viewing needs.