While you can find plenty of similarities in the range of app-based streaming TV services available, they aren’t created equally. Some excel in original programming (Netflix), while others are strong with current programming (Hulu). Others, like Disney Plus, give viewers exclusive access to specific movie franchises such as Star Wars.
After you’ve figured out which platform or combination of platforms you want—and our handy streaming TV recommendation tool will get you started—it’s time to go deeper into the weeds before making a commitment. Here is a checklist of important questions to ask when choosing a streaming TV service.
1. Channel lineups
What good is TV if nothing good is ever on? Isn’t that why you’re giving up traditional TV in the first place? Well, the streaming world is full of options and packages created to satisfy your niche viewing needs. Common packages include sports specialty add-ons that feature a range of channels with year-round live sports and commentary, but some even have foreign-language bundles and other options.
2. Local news and live sports
News and sports are the biggest reasons viewers hesitate to cut the cord. It used to be you had to say goodbye to local channels, or try your luck with an antenna, after canceling cable. Not so anymore. Streaming services like YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV carry local channels according to your zip code.
Not all streaming services are available on every type of streaming device or smart TV. Before you sign up, it’s worth a look to see what devices are compatible with their app before purchasing one sight unseen. Also check for app availability on your smart phone, as well as a browser-supported desktop PC version.
4. Number of screens allowed
You thought you were done needing a separate box or device for each TV, but not so fast. Even with streaming TV, you’re limited to the number of screens that can be used at the same time. You may overlook this information—it’s not something they want to advertise—so remember to ask. Oh, and yes, you’ll need a streaming device such as an Amazon Fire TV Stick or Apple TV for each TV you want to stream on.
5. Included user profiles
Having separate user profiles for each member of your household comes in very handy, like when you’re all about “The Walking Dead” while “Barney the Dinosaur” may be more your kids’ speed. You don’t want them served with suggestions of shows you watch, and you don’t want to sift through all the kids’ programming to find your shows. There is a profile limit, of course, so get that up front.
6. Cloud DVR
When you give up your traditional cable TV service, you also lose that bulky set-top box that stored all your DVR shows. But fear not. Streaming TV services also give you the ability to save content so you can watch it over and over. But instead of saving to a box in your house, it lives on a remote cloud server. However, there are differences in the amount of content you can save. Ask how many hours come with a standard subscription. Some will allow you to upgrade to more DVR hours for a fee.
For many of us, the bottom line is the bottom line. There has been some leveling of prices in the streaming world, but you can still find differences of $20 or more between some streaming TV services. That’s enough for pizza, popcorn and sodas while you settle in for movie night.
Ready to get started? Check out our streaming TV recommendation tool to help you determine which streaming app or combination of apps best match the content you want to watch.