Just as it was once impossible to fully enjoy everything that was available on TV without a cable subscription, it’s now impossible to have a complete high-def home theater experience without streaming video. All that’s required is a high-speed Internet connection and the proper hardware to match your chosen content suppliers. If you’re looking for 4K streaming video, though, the choices are much more limited for the time being.
A home theater with the most modern technology available is one thing. Actually being able to fully utilize it is something else altogether.
Whether you’ve set up your own equipment or had the professionals at DTV Installations do it for you, you probably already have access to high-definition television signals from your cable provider. HD transmissions are the “new normal” for the TV signals delivered to homes.
There are two problems with that. First, there’s an enormous world of high-def video out there that isn’t accessible via cable (or an HD over-the-air antenna). Second, the incredible capabilities of your new state-of-the-art 4K monitor won’t give you the ultra high-def display you were hoping for, if you’re simply watching the normal 1080p high definition signals that cable delivers. (Satellite providers provide 4K signals in some cases and cable companies are working on the issue, but they’re not there yet.)
To take full advantage of your high-def home theater, whether or not it has 4K capability, you need to be able to import streaming video signals from the Internet. Here’s how to do it.
Video Streaming: Technology
There are a number of hardware options for streaming high definition Internet video content to your home theater. We’ll assume that you already have a high-speed wireless Internet connection at home; we’ll list the ways you can use it in order of their simplicity.
- Smart TV: Some high-def and 4K televisions are designed to be so-called “smart TVs,” able to receive streaming Internet signals directly from your home network. In that case, you’re all set.
- Blu-Ray or Gaming Console: Many new Blu-ray players have the ability to tap into your Internet connection and receive streaming video that can be sent directly to your HDTV. Most newer video game consoles can do the same thing.
- Dedicated Boxes or Sticks: There are a growing number of hardware options which connect to high definition TVs to provide Internet streaming content. The most popular are Roku, Amazon Fire and Apple TV in the “set-top box” category and Chromecast in the “stick” category (a simple dongle that plugs into an HDMI connector and is controlled via smartphone or tablet).
Video Streaming: Content
The fight for supremacy in the HD video streaming world is fierce, with several providers battling it out for the right to add popular movies and TV shows to their on-demand subscriber libraries. The key players are Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus; all require monthly or annual subscriptions to watch anything good, and Netflix has become the closest to a must-have service because of their popular, award-winning original programming. Google Plus, VUDU, CinemaNow and iTunes are also in the mix, with the last three particularly interesting to those who want to watch new movie releases in high-def. HBO GO provides all HBO content on demand, and YouTube provides lots of free content but only if your smart TV supports their less-common codec; currently you need a television with an Android operating system (Philips, Sharp and Sony) or a newer LG or Samsung.
There’s one complication, though: not all services can be watched on all devices. For example, iTunes is only available through Apple TV. Be sure to check if your preferred streaming service is supported before committing to a hardware choice.
Video Streaming: 4K Content
As with any new technology still being adopted, 4K streaming is a work in progress. Not all content is available in 4K, of course, and not all content services offer 4K titles. Netflix and Amazon are among the best providers in terms of selection.
Many more services are planning or beginning to roll out options offering 4K streaming video to current subscribers, including Xfinity and DirectTV. It won’t be long until movies and TV shows available in 4K resolution are commonplace, but for the time being you may find yourself relying on Netflix, Amazon and the 4K Blu-ray players due in early 2016.