Streaming boxes have seen a surge in popularity over the last couple of years as more viewers opt to “cut the cord” and shirk traditional pay-TV contracts. These devices which give you on-demand access to a vast range of fantastic media content along with all kinds of popular apps and games.
In this guide, we’ll take you through exactly what a streaming box is and what you’re able to get out of it so you can properly decide if it's the right option for you.
What is a streaming box?
A device which allows you to stream video content on your TV via an internet connection.
They plug easily into your TV like a traditional set-top-box would and are available independently of major providers like Sky or Virgin Media, making them an excellent option for anyone who’s not looking to commit to a long and potentially expensive contract.
What’s the difference between a streaming box and a streaming stick?
Streaming boxes like Apple TV or Roku Express tend to have much more memory, a bigger library of apps and so a considerably higher price tag than something like the Google Chromecast which only allows you to stream content from your mobile device to your TV.
Can I watch live TV with a streaming box?
Yes, you can watch live TV with the TV Player app or the NOW TV Smart Box.
The TV Player app, which is available on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku Express and EE TV, gives you free and legal access to all of the 66 standard Freeview channels like BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4, ITV2, ITVBe, Dave and CBBC.
TV Player Plus, which is only currently available on Fire TV, awards you with an extra 25 channels like MTV, Comedy Central, SyFy, Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. on top of these existing 66 for just £5.99 a month.
Similarly, all of these 66 Freeview channels can be enjoyed with the NOW TV Smart Box and then supplemented for a small monthly fee with the Entertainment, Sky Cinema, Kids and Sky Sports passes.
Each pass comes with a relevant selection of premium channels some of which can be quite difficult to legally find elsewhere unless you’ve signed up for contract with a major provider.
The Entertainment pass for example, gives you to access Sky Atlantic where you’ll find critically-acclaimed series like Westworld and Game of Thrones.
Can I watch Netflix and Amazon Prime Video on a streaming box?
While it's been announced that a Netflix app is set to arrive sometime in 2018, there’s still no confirmation on whether an Amazon Prime Video app will follow.
Can I access catch-up services on a streaming box?
Most streaming boxes allow you to enjoy catch-up services like ITV Hub, All4 and My5 simply by heading into or downloading the respective app.
Apple TV is the notable example of a popular model which works a little differently, currently only featuring BBC iPlayer and its very own aggregator app.
Also titled Apple TV, the app works to bring the libraries of all of the above catch-up services (sadly excluding 4OD), Itunes and handful of other popular streaming platforms like Shudder and Amazon Prime Video, which require a paid subscription to be of any use here, together in one convenient place.
Netflix and NOW TV’s extensive libraries also don’t feature in Apple TV so you’ll need to separately visit these apps for their exclusive content.
What other apps can I access on my streaming box?
A staggeringly huge number of apps across all of the usual categories like entertainment, fitness, games and music come pre-installed with or are available to download across the various streaming boxes.
All of the popular ones are present including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (save on Amazon Fire TV) Spotify, DailyBurn and Sky Store as well as some excellent alternatives to Netflix like Shudder, Hopster, CuriosityStream, MUBI and Hayu.
A few decent games like Minecraft are available on the majority of these boxes, but if you’re serious about gaming in this way the NVIDIA Shield is a must-buy, allowing you to cast directly from your PC and enjoy a huge back catalogue of games with GeoForce Now.
How fast does my internet need to be for streaming?
You’ll need a speed of around 3Mbps to stream in SD and 5Mbps to stream in HD.
Netflix and Amazon Prime Video for example, require 3Mbps and 1.5Mbps respectively to smoothly stream in SD and 5Mbps each for HD while you’ll need a speed of 2Mbps to enjoy YouTube and 1.5Mbps for BBC iPlayer.
2.5Mbps is enough to stream an SD film you’ve bought or rented from a platform like Itunes, a figure which rises to 6Mbps for the 720p HD and then 8Mbps for the Full HD 1080p.
Can I watch 4K content on a streaming box?
You’ll need a 4K streaming box like Roku Ultra or Apple TV 4K, a 4K enabled TV and a download speed of around 25Mb in order to enjoy 4K content.
The availability of 4K content is steadily increasing so you’ll find a good amount available across services like Netflix and Itunes along with slightly-lesser known ones like Ultraflix and Fandango Now which have been specifically created to house 4K films and TV series.
Although different download speeds are recommended for 4K streaming, Google Play advises 15Mb while Netflix state 25Mb, you should ensure you’re able to achieve a speed on the higher end of the scale so you’re stream will definitely appear smooth.
Overview: What is a streaming box?
A device which allows you to stream video content to your TV via an internet connection
You can watch all of the Freeview channels live with the NOW TV Smart Box or through apps like TV Player on other streaming boxes
Netflix and Amazon Prime Video come as standard with every streaming box apart from the NOW TV Smart Box
Catch-up services like BBC iPlayer and All4 are also widely available
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Spotify and other popular apps can also be downloaded
You’ll need a download speed of 3Mbps to stream in SD, 5Mbps to stream in HD and 20Mbps to 25Mbps to stream in 4K