Sitting down on a Friday night with a date or the kids and watching a movie no longer requires a trip to the local video rental store, let alone a Redbox to pickup a DVD. Instead a couple button taps on a remote is all that's needed to begin watching the latest Hollywood hit.
Between Roku, Apple TV, Google's Chromecast, Amazon's Fire TV, Xbox, PlayStation -- and another half-dozen device names sitting on the tip of my tongue -- streaming video is now commonplace.
After powering on a streaming device for first time, where do you even begin? I recommend setting up the most popular streaming services, beginning with Netflix, followed by four more popular streaming services.
Netflix is a popular service, so it makes sense to start here. If you don't already have a Netflix account, most devices allow you to create one when setting up the service. And since you're new to the service, a free trial (length varies depending on current promotion and device) is usually included. After the trial, a Netflix membership is going to set you back about $8 a month. Make sure to take note of your username and password so you can sign into Netflix on your smartphone, tablet, or another streaming device. If you signed up for Netflix on an Apple TV using an Apple ID, you'll need to visit this page to create a dedicated Netflix log-in.
Hulu Plus may not corner the market when it comes to an extensive catalog of movies, but it owns the market of current TV shows. For those who've stepped away from a monthly cable bill, Hulu Plus is a cheap alternative to keep tabs on your favorite shows. Sometimes you have to wait a day or a few weeks for the latest episodes to be available, but at only $8 a month, it's a steal.
As with Netflix, Hulu typically offers a free trial, followed by a month-to-month subscription. Setting up an account requires creating a log-in, and entering payment information. Apple TV users will need to click on the registration link located in the email you received shortly after signing up. If you deleted it, visit Hulu.com and reset your password using the same email address linked to your Apple ID.
Amazon Instant Video
Amazon Instant Video is one of the many services bundled into an Amazon Prime membership. At $99 per year, Prime members gain access to free two-day shipping, Kindle Lending Library, and some 200,000 titles available for streaming. Before you can sign into Instant Video on a streaming device, you'll need to become a Prime member. The price tag isn't too high, all things considered.
A list of devices that support Instant Video can be found here. Setting up Instant Video on a supported device is as simple as logging in with your Amazon account. To stream Amazon content on an Apple TV, however, you'll need to download the iOS app and use AirPlay. Android users are unfortunately out of luck as Amazon has yet to release the Instant Video app on Google's operating system.
YouTube is full of how-to videos, clips of TV shows, original content, and various other forms of content. Naturally, it's free, and available on pretty much any streaming device you can get your hands on.
There's little setup needed here -- you can sign into your account to keep track of you viewing history and other account stats. Or opt to stay logged out and use YouTube as an anonymous user.
Vudu is another streaming service commonly found on streaming devices. Owned by Walmart, Vudu offers access to movies and TV shows. Instead of offering a monthly subscription, Vudu allows you to purchase or rent content from its catalog. It's not unlike what you'd have access to via Apple's iTunes catalog, although Vudu's pricing is a lot lower. Unfortunately Vudu's content catalog doesn't come close to Apple's offering.
As with Amazon's solution, Vudu isn't available on Apple TV, but unlike Amazon's solution, Vudu also doesn't allow for AirPlay playback.
One caveat to using the abovementioned services with a Chromecast is the lack of apps actually running on Google's streaming device itself. You'll need to install the appropriate iOS or Android app on your smartphone and then push the content to your television using the Chromecast icon (small TV with three Wi-Fi lines) embedded in the app.
Admittedly, these five services don't even begin to scratch the surface when we're discussing the number of services available. Services such as Disney's lineup, HBOGo, WatchESPN, A&E, Lifetime, PBS, and so on are available on most set-top streaming boxes. The setup process for services such as these often requires you to verify your cable/TV service subscription by logging into your account on a special website and entering a specific code. The on-screen prompts will provide you with a URL and short code.