The pandemic has catapulted us into a brave new world of TV watching. Trying to wrap your brain around all the things we can watch on TV and all the different ways we can watch them can give you one huge headache.
We’ll try to make it simple because watching TV can – and we emphasize can – be much more than turning on your set with more than the remote from your cable or satellite company. It all depends on what you want to watch, how you want to watch, and, increasingly, how much you want to pay for it.
Before we dive into the weeds, we should let you know that we are not touting one way of watching TV or any specific system for adding TV choices. If you have a cable or satellite package that you like, stay with it, by all means. But if you want to augment or enhance what you have, we can point out some of your options.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you’ve seen a slew of non-broadcast, non-cable programmers challenge the cable industry – with its hundreds of channels – and broadcasters for eyeballs. They include Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Apple+, Disney+ and countless other specialty programmers, including a universe of YouTube videos.
If you have cable TV with a voice remote, you can call up Netflix and Amazon programming and watch whatever they offer. That is, of course, if you’ve paid the subscription fees. But for all the others, you need to “stream” their content over the internet. And again, you’ll need to pay any required subscription fees.
A major benefit of streaming is that you can watch “TV” on any kind of device that can connect to the internet. That includes a smart TV or TV that can use a streaming device (Roku, Amazon Fire TV or Google Chromecast). Streaming also includes watching on a computer, tablet or mobile phone.
This is the technical part – your gateway to the brave new world of TV watching. Conceivably, you can carry your TV watching with you anywhere in the world. For this, we’ll stick close to home.
To take advantage of streaming, your home must have a Wi-Fi network that delivers a strong signal to the farthest corners of your home. If you have bundled cable TV, internet and landline telephone service from Comcast (Xfinity), AT&T (U-verse) or Charter (Spectrum), you likely have a combination modem/router. The modem part brings the internet into your home, and the router distributes Wi-Fi signals.
If you have an older system, you should request their latest equipment or purchase your own – as long as it’s compatible with your cable company. The technology has advanced considerably in the past five years, and you need to be able to handle the internet speed required to deliver the video signals to the device you want to use, wherever you want to use it.
Larger homes and homes with older, thicker walls may require a mesh network. More than just an extender, mesh network components (called nodes) have the ability to “talk” to all devices connected to your network and manage the efficient delivery of Wi-Fi signals to each device on the network.
Your Internet Service
With a sufficient network, you should be able to handle the internet service required for watching TV on multiple devices simultaneously. The devices include smart TVs, computers, tablets and smartphones.
Streaming companies such as Netflix, recommend a minimum of 25 mbps (megabits per second) to smoothly download and watch movies with 4K resolution and HDR color. Those are the highest specifications for picture clarity and color vividness.
We recommend a minimum service of 100 mbps – along with an up-to-date router/mesh network. Without a strong signal to the device you are watching on, you’ll get interruptions while the video and sound signals download to your device.
One other related point in this brave new world of TV is that internet providers are starting to monitor and cap how many megabits of data you use during a month. When you watch TV on the cable system, you don’t use data. But when you stream TV, you use data.
However, most caps right now are running at 1 to 1.2 terabytes (TB) per month. To hit that limit, you’ll need to watch an awful lot of shows and movies and ballgames. Your internet provider will likely have packages of internet speed and data use that will meet your needs and budget.
Your TV and Streaming Device
Not all smart TVs and streaming devices are created equal. TV manufacturers and streaming providers have their own arrangements that determine what you can see on the TV. Most product descriptions – online and on the box in the retail store – will provide that information.
But you don’t need a smart TV to stream. If you have a TV that has an HDMI cable connection port, you can use a Roku, Amazon or Chromecast streaming device. Essentially, it turns a dumb TV into a smart TV. However, you need to look at the product description to make sure the device carries the programming you want to watch. The device manufacturers and the programming providers have their deals, too, but don’t despair.
In the brave new world of TV, you can mix and match just about everything. You can keep your cable TV service and add any streaming channels you like. With that same HDMI cable, you can connect your computer to your TV and watch anything you can find on the internet. And you can also use Bluetooth technology to “cast” programming from your smart phone or tablet onto a Bluetooth-capable TV.
On the other hand, you can chuck it all and hook up an antenna to your TV. In today’s world of digital TV signals, you can get more than just handful of channels. Broadcasters now have side channels, which give them to opportunity to expand their over-the-air offerings. You can find some of the same specialty channels carried by internet-based programming providers.
The good news is that once you get through all the brain-wrenching choices, you should be able to the brave new world of TV on your own terms.a