Despite the fact that streaming media was a foreign concept to most people only a few short years ago, it has quickly become the norm. Today there are countless ways to stream your movies and music and they come in all different shapes, sizes, and prices. In this article, you’ll find more than just a round up of the various ways you can get the job done – it’s also a guide that’ll help you pinpoint the setup that’ll best suit your needs.
First things first, you need to assess what you’re going to stream. Do you only want to stream audio or do you want both audio and video streaming capabilities? For audio only, keep reading. For both audio and video, jump to the Audio and Video section.
You should also consider how you’d like to stream things. If you’re streaming video, you’ll need a wireless network in your home. If you’re just streaming audio, you can do it with or without a wireless network, but each method has it’s pros and cons.
If you don’t want to stream video to your TV, but you’d still like to wirelessly beam tunes to your speakers, you can sometimes save a bit of money by installing an audio-only streaming solution. Just how cheap it’ll be depends on what streaming method you intend to use. Essentially, you have two choices: you can stream via a wireless network, or via Bluetooth.
Bluetooth wireless streaming is good for short distance streaming, so it’s better suited for users who won’t travel too far from the receiver or those who don’t have a wireless network in their home.
- Bluetooth-enabled speakers and docks. As this tech has improved, we’ve seen plenty of Bluetooth options enter the market. These are ready to go right out of the box, so there’s little to no configuration required before you can walk around your house and play tunes from any Bluetooth device. A few notable examples include the Samsung DA-E750, JBL OnBeat Xtreme, and the Braven 600.
- Bluetooth adapters. If you like the idea of streaming with Bluetooth, but already have a speaker system or dock that you know and love, then consider a Bluetooth speaker adapter. These plug into your receiver and enable you to stream stuff right from your phone, tablet, or computer. There’s a bit of setup required, but in most cases, it’s not very complicated. If you’ve got a speaker array, check out Logitech’s wireless speaker adapter. For iPod speaker docks, give Auris a look. For everything in-between, check out Aluratek’s universal Bluetooth audio receiver.
Streaming audio over your home wireless network allows you to stream over longer distances without experiencing a large drop-off in quality you get when using Bluetooth. If you’ve already got a wireless network running in your home, this is typically the best option.
- Apple Airport Express. Apple’s line of AirPort wireless base stations first debuted in 2004 and was one of the first pieces of hardware that allowed users to stream music to their speakers over a wireless network. Over the years, they’ve not only gotten more sophisticated, but their price has dropped considerably. You can get your hands on a new one for $99.00, or find a used/refurbished one for even less. It works with any device that uses 802.11a/b/g/n, so no matter what device you’re using, it’ll play well with AirPort Express.
- Google Nexus Q. The Nexus Q is Google’s first jaunt into the streaming box world, and as you’d expect, they decided to give it some neat features that you won’t find in other boxes. Google describes it as a “social streaming media player” because it’s able to stream content from multiple devices and handle playlists created by multiple users. The only problem is that it’s currently only capable of working with Android devices, so iOS and Windows users will be out of luck. It’s designed to stream locally-stored media, but Google has made a point to emphasize the hackability of the device and there are a handful of easy tweaks that allow it to run apps like Netflix, Hulu, and others. Note: sale of this device has been suspended indefinitely by Google.
Audio and Video
For the full streaming experience, you’ll need to get your hands on some more sophisticated equipment.
- Boxee TV – This is a top-tier streaming box that allows you to stream both audio and video in your home. It’s great for home theater setups and a great choice if you’re considering ditching cable. In addition to a wide range of connectivity options, this is the first and only box (currently) that has built-in DVR functionality.
- Apple TV – For Apple users who want seamless compatibility with other Apple devices, look no further than Apple TV. It plays with non-apple devices just fine too, but you’ll have to install iTunes if you haven’t already. Much like other streaming boxes, this one will allow you to stream things from your local network, or pull content from the Internet via services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
- Vizio Co-Star – Despite being a bit late getting into the game, Vizio’s entry into the streaming box market is no slouch. Instead of taking you away from your cable, this box allows you to open menus and browse the web alongside whatever you’re watching. It essentially turns your TV into a Smart TV by letting you run apps and stream content from the web. It can play a wide range of file formats and has a solid selection of connectivity options than many other boxes lack.
- PS3, Xbox 360, or WiiU – Every mainstream gaming console you can buy these days will be capable of streaming audio and video. They’re a bit pricier than almost any streaming box you’ll find, but you can also use them to play DVD’s and video games. Already have a console, but wondering how you can use it as a media server? Check out our guides for Xbox 360 and PS3 media server setups.
- Roku products – Roku was one of the first companies to produce video streaming boxes, and over the years they’ve developed a diverse range of products that will fulfill the needs of just about any consumer. If you just want to stream Netflix, Roku is definitely one of the cheapest options that’ll get the job done. Check out their website for detailed specs on their whole line.
For other good options and more detailed descriptions, check out our roundup of the best media streaming devices.