Chapter 6

The Hardware You Need for Streaming


Bullet Choosing a TV for media streaming

Bullet Learning the difference between a set-top box and a dongle

Bullet Choosing between a set-top box and a dongle

Bullet Checking out smart TVs

Bullet Setting up your streaming hardware

By necessity, streaming media over the Internet is a some-hardware-required exercise. At the very least, you need a screen to watch the incoming media stream. And that screen might be all you need for hardware if you're watching the media on a mobile device using a cellular connection. If that scenario doesn't apply to you (and it almost certainly doesn't), your hardware investment will be more substantial. I'm talking a TV or smart TV; a streaming media device, such as a set-top box or a dongle; perhaps a digital video recorder doohickeys I talk about in Chapter 5. You might also need to beef up your Internet-access hardware and your Wi-Fi network equipment. Then, of course, you have to wire everything together so that you and yours can actually watch stuff.

Fortunately, getting and setting up your streaming hardware is nowhere near as daunting as it might seem. In this chapter, you explore all the hardware possibilities associated with streaming media, from smart TVs to streaming media devices and beyond. (Internet and Wi-Fi devices are the subject of Chapter 7.) I take you through what's available for each type of hardware, give you tips for deciding what to get, and show you how to put it all together.

Let's Talk TVs

I assume that since you once had a cable overlord, you still have the television you used to watch cable programming. If so, and you’re happy with your set, there’s probably no reason to hang out in this section any longer.

Why “probably”? Well, since you've gone to the trouble to cut your ties with the cable company, you owe it to yourself to create the best post-cable experience you can (within your budget constraints, of course). You might think that just means getting the most suitable streaming media player, but before getting to that, take a closer look at your existing TV. Is it really going to give you the best experience with streaming media? Is it the right size? Does it have the optimum resolution? Does it have the ports you need?

Good questions, all, and the next few sections provide the answers.

Screen size

You might think “the bigger the better” is the only rule you need when it comes to choosing a screen size for watching streaming media. You wish! Sure, a 75-inch set would be awesome, but if you’re sitting four or five feet from that behemoth, your eyes will give out before you’ve finished your popcorn.

You’ll get the best media streaming experience if you tailor your TV’s screen size to the room where the TV will reside. In particular, you need to match the screen size to the distance you'll sit from the screen while you’re watching. In general, the farther away you sit, the bigger the screen you can rock. Here’s a procedure that will help you decide:

  1. Measure the distance, in feet, between where you sit to watch TV and where the TV will be set up.
  2. Multiply the distance in Step 1 by 12 to convert it to inches.
  3. Multiply the distance in inches by 2/3 (or 0.67). The result is the maximum screen size you should buy.

Here are some examples:

Distance (feet)

Distance (inches)

Maximum screen size (inches)




















The resolution of the TV refers to the number of pixels it uses to display the picture. As I explain in Chapter 3, the more pixels (that is, the higher the resolution), the sharper the image. These days, you should consider three main formats when looking at TVs for streaming media:



Also known as


1920 x 1080



3840 x 2160



7630 x 4320


First, although 8K TVs are available, you won't find any streaming media (or streaming devices) that support 8K, so you can rule out that format for now. (Let's talk again in a few years.) That leaves HD and 4K to consider:

  • Your TV and your streaming device should support the same format. You're over-buying if you purchase a 4K TV when your streaming device supports only HD. Conversely, you're under-buying if you purchase an HDTV when your streaming device supports 4K.
  • The larger the screen size, the greater the need for 4K. On relatively small screen sizes — say, 42 inches or less — the HD format looks amazing. But as the screen size increases, those pixels have to cover a bigger area, so the picture quality diminishes. Consider 4K if you're buying a TV with a screen size of 50 inches or more. However …
  • The closer you sit to the TV, the greater the benefit of only 4K. Human eyes (even ones with 20/20 vision) can resolve so much detail on the screen, and the farther away you are from the screen, the less detail your eyes can detect. Depending on the screen size, you need to be within three to five feet of a 4K screen to notice the extra detail. If, like most people, you sit eight to ten feet away from the screen, don't bother with 4K because you won't be able to resolve the extra pixels (unless you get an 80-inch screen!).

HDMI ports

Almost all streaming devices and digital video recorders connect to a TV using an HDMI cable. That means you need a TV that has one or more (almost certainly more) HDMI ports. Really old TVs don't have HDMI ports, so if your TV is that old, it's definitely time to upgrade.

On most TVs, the HDMI port is labeled HDMI. If your TV has multiple HDMI ports (as most modern TVs do), the ports are usually labeled HDMI 1, HDMI 2, and so on, as shown in Figure 6-1. Newer TVs usually have all their HDMI ports on one side of the TV’s back panel (refer to Figure 6-1), while on older TVs it’s common to have one HDMI port on the bottom of the TV’s back panel and a second HDMI port on the side of the back panel.

Photo depicts the Modern TVs have all their HDMI ports together on the back panel.

FIGURE 6-1: Modern TVs have all their HDMI ports together on the back panel.

Tip When you're buying HDMI cables, don't go cheap, if possible. Higher quality HDMI cables can make a big difference in the quality of the image you see onscreen. For best results, buy cables that support HDMI 2.0 or, even better, HDMI 2.1.

Streamers: Set-Top Box or Dongle?

Streaming media players — often just called streamers by folks in-the-know — come in all shapes and sizes. However, you can simplify things by understanding that almost all streamers fall into one of the following two categories: set-top box or dongle. The next few sections examine each type.

Remember A third category of media player is the streaming soundbar. A streaming soundbar is a device that combines a streaming media player with audio hardware, usually including speakers and subwoofer. Examples include Amazon Fire TV Edition soundbars from Nebula and TCL, and the Roku Streambar.

Set-top box streamers

A set-top box streaming player is a box-like device that's meant to sit on a shelf or table and connect to your display device using an HDMI cable. Figure 6-2 shows three set-top box streamers: a Roku player (left), an Android TV box (middle), and an Amazon Fire TV Cube (right).

Photo depicts three examples of set-top box streaming players: Roku player (left), an Android TV box (middle), and an Amazon Fire TV Cube (right).

FIGURE 6-2: Three examples of set-top box streaming players: Roku player (left), an Android TV box (middle), and an Amazon Fire TV Cube (right).

Set-top box streamers have a back panel that includes an HDMI port and one or more other ports for connecting devices, as shown in Figure 6-3.

Photo depicts Set-top box players have multiple input ports.

FIGURE 6-3: Set-top box players have multiple input ports.

Dongle streamers

In computing lingo, a dongle refers to any device that plugs directly (that is, without a cable) into a port on another device, such as a computer or TV. So a dongle streaming player — in some cases, also called a streaming stick — is a device that connects directly to an HDMI port on a TV or display to provide streaming media services. Figure 6-4 shows three dongle streamers: a Roku (left), a Google Chromecast (middle), and an Amazon Fire TV (right).

Photo depicts three examples of dongle streaming players: a Roku (left), a Google Chromecast (middle), and an Amazon Fire TV (right).

FIGURE 6-4: Three examples of dongle streaming players: a Roku (left), a Google Chromecast (middle), and an Amazon Fire TV (right).

Set-top box streamer versus dongle streamer

Which type of streamer should you buy? The answer depends on the features you want and how much you want to spend. In general, set-top boxes

  • Are larger than dongles.
  • Require access to a power outlet (dongles get their power from the HDMI port to which they're connected).
  • Are a bit messier than dongles to use because they take up more room and require both an HDMI cable connection to the TV or display and a power cord connection to an outlet.
  • Usually offer more features than dongles because they can fit extra electronic wizardry into their more expansive interiors.
  • Are faster than dongles because one of the internal features you get in a set-top box is a larger and faster microprocessor.
  • Offer multiple ports, such as one or more USB ports, an audio output jack, and an Ethernet port.
  • Tend to be more expensive than dongles, which isn't surprising given the extra features and hardware.

What to Look for in a Streaming Media Player

Whether you're in the market for a set-top box or a dongle, there's a wide range of features to furrow your brow over. Here, listed alphabetically, are the main features you might want to consider when doing your research:

  • 4K support: Gives you the best image quality when streaming media if you also have a 4K TV.
  • AirPlay support: Enables you to beam media from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac directly to the streamer.
  • Audio output jack (for headphones): Enables you to watch streaming media without bothering anyone within earshot.
  • Bluetooth support: Enables you to wirelessly connect a Bluetooth device to the streamer and then either access the media via the Bluetooth device (for example, audio via Bluetooth headphones) or play Bluetooth device media via the streamer.
  • Compatibility with your existing stuff: Gives you the easiest setup and the most reliable performance. Streamers from Amazon, Apple, and Google tend to work best with their own devices. For example, Amazon Fire TV streamers connect seamlessly with Amazon Echo smart speakers; Apple TV devices work best with Macs, iPhones, and iPads; and Google Chromecasts connect well with Android mobile devices. If your house is an Amazon, Apple, or Google shop, consider a streamer from the same company for best compatibility.
  • Ethernet port: Enables you to connect the streamer directly to your Wi-Fi router for better performance. See the sidebar titled “Wired streaming,” a bit later in this chapter.
  • High dynamic range (HDR): Gives you the best picture quality. Note that you need a TV that also supports HDR.
  • Input ports: Ensures that you have enough ports if you plan on expanding your system with an external USB hard drive (usually used for DVR storage) or some other external device.
  • Remote features: Ensures that you select a remote that matches your needs. Some streamer remotes are extremely simple and offer just a few buttons for navigating and playback. Other streamers take the opposite tack and offer remotes bristling with buttons for controlling not only the streamer but other devices such as your TV.
  • Voice control: Enables you to use voice commands to navigate the streamer interface, search for content, and play media:
    • Amazon Fire TV: Works with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant. Depending on the device, it will have Alexa built in, come with an Alexa voice remote (see Figure 6-5), or connect to an Alexa-enabled device such as an Amazon Echo. You can also use the Alexa mobile app to send voice commands to your connected Fire TV device.
    • Apple TV: Works with Apple's Siri voice assistant. The Apple TV Siri Remote comes with a Siri button (microphone icon) that you press and hold to issue voice commands.
    • Google Chromecast: Works with Google Assistant for voice control. Depending on the device, you can access Google Assistant via the Chromecast voice remote, a Google Assistant-powered smart speaker, or the Google Assistant app on a mobile device.
    • Roku: The Roku Voice remote (which comes with players such as the Roku Ultra and the Roku Streambar but is also available separately) lets you use voice to control most Roku streaming devices.
Photo depicts the Alexa voice remote includes a voice button for sending voice commands to a Fire TV device.

FIGURE 6-5: The Alexa voice remote includes a voice button for sending voice commands to a Fire TV device.

Smart TVs for Streaming Media

An increasingly popular way to do the streaming media thing is to smush together a TV and a streaming device into a single gadget called a smart TV. It's smart because it has computer hardware that runs essentially the same software as a streaming set-top box or dongle. This combination of hardware and software means that as soon as you turn on the set, you see an interface for your streaming apps and shows, as shown in Figure 6-6.

Photo depicts turning on a smart TV and you see your streaming apps and shows right away.

FIGURE 6-6: Turn on a smart TV and you see your streaming apps and shows right away.

Why bother with a smart TV when a streaming player will do the same job? Here are a few reasons:

  • You're buying a TV anyway. If you're in the market for a new TV, consider a smart TV because the quality and features can be just as good as a regular TV and smart TVs don't cost much more.
  • The hardware setup is easier. Because the streaming player is built into the set, you don't have to worry about connecting devices together.
  • You get more expansion options. A smart TV has more connectors than any streaming player, which means you have more options for expanding your entertainment system for audio, video, and gaming.
  • You use one remote. Instead of separate remotes for your TV and streaming player, you get everything in a single remote.
  • OTA access is easier. If you have an antenna connected to your smart TV, most interfaces also include a way to view your over-the-air TV channels directly (that is, without having to switch inputs).

Here are some smart TV types to consider:

  • Amazon Fire TV Edition: Runs a version of Amazon's Fire TV software that includes extra TV-related features. Fire TV Edition sets are available from Insignia and Toshiba.
  • Android TV: Runs a version of the Android operating system that includes features for streaming media. Android TV sets are available from Hisense, Sceptre, and Sony.
  • LG: Offers streaming apps via LG's web OS operating system.
  • Roku TV: Runs a version of Roku's streaming software. Roku TV sets are available from Hisense, RCA, and TCL.
  • Samsung: Offers streaming apps via Samsung's Tizen operating system.

Setting Up Your Hardware

If you’re a certain age, you may remember when devices were advertised as being plug-and-play, which meant, at least in theory, that you simply connected the device and it would configure itself automatically, meaning you could then play with the device (whatever that meant) after a minute or two. (In practice, such devices were better described as plug-and-pray.)

I’m sorry to report that your streaming player does not fall under the plug-and-play rubric. Instead, after you plug in your device, you must run through a nontrivial setup process before you can play with it. That process includes crucial steps such as plugging in the device, connecting to your Wi-Fi network, and signing in to your account. Lucky for you, the entire process usually takes only a few minutes.

Connecting a set-top player

If you have a set-top streaming player, you need to position the device optimally, connect the device to your TV, and then trudge through the setup procedure. The next few sections explain all.

Positioning the set-top box

After you’ve liberated your streaming player from its packaging, one obvious question arises: Where the heck do you put it? Somewhere near your TV seems like the obvious answer, but choosing the best location is a bit more complicated. Here are some things to consider:

  • Your streaming player requires full-time power, so make sure the device is close to an outlet.
  • Your streaming player connects to an HDMI port on your TV, so make sure that the player's HDMI cable is close enough to reach the TV.
  • The streaming player must be within range of your Wi-Fi network.
  • Don’t store the streaming player inside a cabinet or other enclosed location.
  • If the streaming player can recognize voice commands, TV or sound system speakers can befuddle the streaming player’s built-in microphone. So make sure all speakers are at least 1 to 2 feet away from your streaming player. Also, make sure the device is close enough that you can give your voice commands without having to yell. Depending on the ambient noise in your environment, this usually means being within 15 to 20 feet of the device.

Connecting the set-top box to your TV

Your streaming player connects to your TV’s HDMI port (see Figure 6-7), which on most TVs is labeled HDMI (or HDMI 1, HDMI 2, and so on).

Photo depicts using an HDMI cable to connect your streaming player to your TV.

FIGURE 6-7: Use an HDMI cable to connect your streaming player to your TV.

With your streaming player connected to your TV, grab the power cable that came with your streaming player. Connect one end of the power cable to the power port on the back of the streaming player and plug the other end of the cable into a power outlet.

Turn on your TV and change the input source (as I describe in Chapter 5) to your streaming player’s HDMI connection.

Connecting a streaming stick

Your streaming stick connects to an HDMI port on your TV. I mentioned earlier that HDMI ports reside either on a side panel of the TV or on both a side panel and the back panel, as shown in Figure 6-8.

Photo depicts the older TVs often have their HDMI ports in multiple locations on the back panel.

FIGURE 6-8: Older TVs often have their HDMI ports in multiple locations on the back panel.

The location of the HDMI port is important because the length of the streaming stick often means there isn’t room between a bottom HDMI port and whatever surface the TV is sitting on for the streaming stick to fit. If that’s the case for you, here are three possible solutions:

  • Plug the streaming stick into a side HDMI port, if one is available.
  • Mount the TV on the wall (which gives the streaming stick plenty of room because there’s no longer a surface immediately under the TV).
  • Use an HDMI extender cable. Insert the smaller end of the extender cable into the HDMI port on your TV, and then connect your streaming stick to the larger end of the extender cable (see Figure 6-9).
Photo depicts a streaming stick with an HDMI extender cable.

FIGURE 6-9: A streaming stick with an HDMI extender cable.

With your streaming stick connected to your TV, grab the USB cable that came with your streaming stick. Connect one end of the USB cable to the port on the side of the streaming stick, plug the other end of the USB cable into the USB port on the power adapter that came with your streaming stick, and then plug the power adapter into a power outlet.

Turn on your TV and change the input source (as I describe in Chapter 5) to your streaming stick’s HDMI connection.

Configuring your streaming player

When you change the input source (see Chapter 5) to the streaming player's HDMI port on your TV, the streaming player starts up for the first time and takes you through its setup process. This process varies from player to player, but usually includes some or all of the following tasks:

  • Connecting the streaming player to your Wi-Fi network
  • Creating or signing in to your account (such as your Amazon account if you're setting up a Fire TV device)
  • Configuring the player's initial settings
  • Connecting to the streaming player's remote

When you're finished, you're almost ready to dive into the world of streaming. First, however, you might want to see if your Wi-Fi network and Internet access are up to the task. If so, Chapter 7 is the place to be.

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