Cable TV used to be the best and most reliant method of getting good content on your TV screen. Now it is practically outdated and overpriced, streaming is the new cable.
If you are planning to ditch your cable contract and go for IPTV or internet content, you should at least have a good internet connection with a reasonable data package, 6 Mbps and higher is recommended although a 4 Mbps connection could work if you are content with a little lower image quality.
Now you have to decide how.
I am personally not a big fan of smart TVs, because I haven’t yet seen one that does the “smart” job properly, what streaming and online content is concerned. They are good for the occasional Youtube clip, but like branded smartphones, the manufacturer’s choice of software is not always the best.
Set Top Boxes
There is a whole array of streaming devices on the market. The advantage of set top boxes is that they are designed for plug and play, you just take them out of the box, plug them in and everything should work fine. This advantage can also be a disadvantage , because like most devices, when you buy hardware and software in a package you are at the mercy of the company that configured it on what you may or may not see - Apple wants you to use Apple products, Amazon wants you to use Amazon products and so on. Also you pay a little surcharge for the hardware, no idea why.
Here is a list of the more popular devices, although Chromecast is not exactly a set top box but close.
The Good: Cool design, small and inexpensive.
The Bad: Limited possibilities, no remote, no Amazon .
The Good: plays up to 4K resolution, good integration into the Amazon ecosystem. Solid quality.
The Bad: limited to the Amazon ecosystem.
The Good: Good hardware, 2-in-1 Game console and TV box
The Bad: Expensive, Android TV limitations regarding Amazon products.
There is also Apple TV and Roku, that are technically similar to Fire TV and in a similar price category, but as mentioned above, Apple is for Apple products, Fire TV for Amazon …The other down is that some devices are limited to the USA and usually they all require you register with a provider.
I like the PC option the best, not because I am a particularly big fan of Windows, but because all the content on the internet will work on a PC´. If it’s on the internet you can see it with a Windows computer and if there is a problem there is nearly always a solution to be found somewhere. The main argument against a PC is the aesthetics of having a desktop or laptop attached to your TV.
The PC solution for watching TV is/was an HTPC ( Home Theatre Personal Computer)
The inside of an HTPC
Not so long ago HTPCs were usually DIY projects, enormous in size, they needed relatively a lot of computer know how and you had to invest at least a $1000 to get a reasonable device put together. But today nearly any computer with an hdmi output will do the job.
For my HTPC I chose a mini PC, the Voyo V2 to be exact, to see if it will do the job. I must admit I was a sucker for the looks, but the specs are good too and the Windows 10 full version caught my attention. I bought it at Gearbest for a little over $100, Amazon didn’t have anything comparable in price (and looks)
GPU: Intel HD Graphic
CPU: Intel Baytrail T Z3735 Quad Core
WIFI: IEEE 802.11 b/g/n
HDMI, USB2.0, Micro USB, RJ45
5000mAh Lithium Battery, SSD Storage Function
The only thing you need to get the Voyo V2 going is a USB input device, I had an old mouse lying around, I used the built in onscreen keyboard to do the rest.
I must admit I was initially sceptical, but everything worked fine and the Windows version is a full version that started working without any extra registration.
The Software: Kodi
With a fully functional PC you have endless possibilities regarding how and what content you want to watch, that’s the big advantage of a HTPC over a pre-configured set-top box, you have the choice.
In this specific case I was looking for an all-in-one solution that could compete with the simplicity of a set-top box. A very good solution is Kodi, a free, open-source media player software application developed by a non-profit technology consortium, the XBMC Foundation. The software can be used on a number of platforms and it is essentially the same on all platforms.
When you install Kodi there is no content on it, the software is a tool and has to be configured with add ons to be able to get content on your device. The process seems a little intimidating and complicated at first but thanks to the open source nature of the software lots of developers have made life easier, and more entertaining for you. You can find an abundance of add ons listed on Kodi’s website with well documented step by step installation guides.
FreeTelly: a one-click solution
For those of you who do not want to go through the process of installing add ons and customizing Kodi, the guys at TVaddons.ag have made their own custom version of Kodi, FreeTelly, with all popular add ons preinstalled and a built in installer to easily add any other resources you might want.
I have to give them credit for the job they are doing.
The community is huge and exploring all of Kodi’s possibilities will take too long but there is hardly anything you can’t do.
The whole process of starting the Voyo V2 Mini PC and installing FreeTelly(Kodi) was surprisingly simple with no surprises. The software works smoothly and there is a lot of content to choose from, be careful that you do not accidently stream any illegal content, use common sense.
You can use any input device to control the software, the easiest method is downloading a Kodi remote for your smartphone. There is an official remote from Kodi for the main mobile platforms, and third party solutions that usually have a few extra features. If you use Apple devices make sure you have Apple’s Bonjour service installed too.
The Voyo V2 did a good job and easily streamed HD videos over Wifi, you can use LAN if your router is not up to the task. I noticed that the Voyo does get quite warm when streaming HD movies but I let it stream HD content for 8 hours with no apparent problems.
The built in Bluetooth is a plus, paired to a speaker you can stream music (without the annoying peeps when you receive a message) and easily control the player with the remote on your phone.
The combination Voyo mini-PC and Kodi covers nearly all of your needs and has potential for lots more. Since the software and the apps are free you only have to invest around $110 in the hardware. Android set-top boxes starting at around $30 (available at Gearbest and Amazon) will do the job too but you are limited to what Android can do.
VPN: If you watch a lot of online content, a VPN(Virtual Private Network) account could come in handy, for security reasons or if you want to watch geo blocked content. There are a few black sheep out there so be careful and keep in mind that nothing is really for free, you have to pay a price one way or the other. You should look around and find the right one for you. I personally liked one called HideMyAss, you can read the review here on Anonymweb, I liked the name.