Your streaming TV options have gotten better and cheaper. Features that once required a $100 device can now be had for as little as $30. A cheap device is fine for getting TV shows and movies from most popular services onto a big-screen TV — as long as it’s a regular, high-definition set. Of course, it’s possible to simply watch video on a phone or tablet, but it’s not as satisfying from a living-room couch.
Here’s a holiday buying guide for the TV-streamers in your life.
Smart TVs, game consoles and the TiVo digital video recorder all have streaming apps, and if all you watch is Netflix and Hulu, you’ll be fine with those. But apps for individual channels such as The CW and FX won’t work with every device.
The exceptions are TVs running Roku software or that have Google’s Chromecast technology built in; they tend to have wider app selections.
Devices vary in how easy it is to access apps and video. While many devices are getting voice features that let you search multiple services at once, you’ll still need to navigate on-screen menus with a remote.
The exception is Chromecast, which has no menu or remote at all. Instead, you start video on an iPhone or Android phone and send it to the big screen with a tap of a cast button. With some video services, the phone is freed up for other things, though you’ll need to use the phone as a remote for pausing and rewinding.
Devices running Google’s Android TV come with Chromecast features and pack their menus with video from Google’s YouTube service. Amazon’s Fire TV device has traditionally favored Amazon video over others, though that’s changing as Netflix, HBO and other leading services get prominence on the home screen. Roku is the most service-agnostic of the…