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What Is Streaming TV?

Let the experts at CableTV.com guide you through the world of streaming TV to find the best services, devices, connections, and more.

How does streaming TV work?

Streaming TV is simply video content delivered over the internet instead of a cable in the ground or a dish on the roof. Watch on a TV, tablet, phone, laptop, or wherever you want, no muss or fuss—if you have a decent internet connection, you’re ready to stream.

The majority of streaming TV providers follow the on-demand model of Netflix, while a handful have jumped into live TV streaming, which replicates the cable/satellite viewing experience. Not to brag, but we’ve reviewed (almost) all of them in our Best TV Streaming Services guide.

What is live TV streaming?

Live TV streaming looks a lot like what you’d get with cable or satellite: live local and cable channels, channel guides, and programmable DVRs. What’s different is the selection of channels (which varies between services), the number of channels (usually fewer than cable), how the channel guides function (no channel numbers in most cases), and where the DVR stores your shows (in the cloud, not a physical box).

Top live TV streaming services

  • YouTube TV: $64.99/mo. (100+ channels)
  • Hulu + Live TV: $64.99–$70.99/mo. (70+ channels)
  • Philo: $25.00/mo. (63+ channels)
  • fuboTV: $64.99–$74.99/mo. (109–156+ channels)
  • Sling TV: $35.00–$50.00/mo. (30–50+ channels)
  • AT&T TV: $69.99–$139.99/mo.

What is on-demand TV streaming?

On-demand streaming TV is content that’s available to watch whenever and wherever you like. It’s not “live,” so you can’t miss it (though there’s little live programming that isn’t available on-demand eventually anymore).

YouTube was among the first major on-demand video platforms, and Netflix essentially invented the on-demand streaming TV monthly subscription model in 2007 when it pivoted from renting DVDs by mail (which it also still does, BTW). Since then, hundreds of on-demand streaming services have launched, both paid and free (with ads, of course).

Top on-demand streaming services

Which internet and streaming devices do I need?

To stream live or on-demand TV, you’ll need an internet connection. Most services recommend at least 3–7 Mbps (megabits per second) of internet speed to stream content without buffering or glitches, but we say 25 Mbps is the baseline.

Why? We’re all online multitaskers: web browsing, gaming, streaming music, watching TV, and more are happening under one roof, through one router, every day. You know, like scrolling Instagram, cranking Spotify, and watching Love It or List It while “working from home”—multiple devices and connections require more speed. Happy households don’t skimp on internet plans.

Streaming devices are also important. Sure, most smart TVs and Blu-ray players can stream some services, but the interface and app selection can be frustrating. We recommend a standalone, dedicated device, like Roku, Amazon Fire TV, or Apple TV—they’re designed for streaming, and they just work better. Remember TV/VCR combos? It’s the same logic.

Top streaming TV device brands