The convenience of on-demand content is the rage today. OTT players like Netflix, Prime Video, Hotstar, Voot, Alt Balaji, Sony Liv, Zee 5 and others are leaving no stone unturned in adding so much content to their always available libraries that you no longer wish to turn on the traditional DTH connection. We may very well have reached an infliction point, and if a count were to be done of those buying a new connection, there would be more people sticking to the online only life than those still knocking on the doors of companies like Tata Sky and Dish TV.
While our trusted smartphones and tablets have compatible apps that these services provide, enjoying them on the big TV screens in our homes can still be a challenge unless you have a new Smart TV that supports all key DRM (Digital Rights Management) software. New Smart TVs from budget players like Vu and Xiaomi may run Android and give the impression that you can install any app you want from the PlayStore, but in reality, they may still not be able to run some streaming service as they’ve not licensed the DRM software.
Enter streaming devices. The relatively cheap pieces of hardware when connected to the HDMI port of your TV turn it into a full-fledged streaming powerhouse that can run almost anything. So if you’re looking to jump on the streaming bandwagon, here are the best options available:
Amazon FireStick: It is hands down the best streaming solution today. While it obviously supports Amazon’s own Prime Video; Netflix, Hotstar and others run just as well on it. It comes with an Alexa-powered voice remote that can play movies and TV shows with a simple voice command. Alexa is good at understanding the Indian accent. The interface features a unified homepage highlighting new content from across various streaming services, and not just from Amazon’s own stables.
One of the biggest weaknesses of the FireTVStick, also called FireStick, was the lack of a YouTube app, but with Google and Amazon burying the hatchet, YouTube now even has an official offering available.
The device is available in two versions — the traditional 1080p and the 4K version. The core functionality is the same, but if you own a 4K TV, then it makes sense to spend a little more and get the best picture quality possible. Amazon usually discounts FireSticks during its sale. Being a little eagle-eyed can get you substantial savings.
Price: Rs 3,999 for the 1080p unit. The 4K version is available at Rs 5,999.
Chromecast 3: Google’s offering is different from Amazon or Apple. The Chromecast does not function like a standalone unit that has its own UI and remote control, but relies on the user to ‘cast’ something from the smartphone or tablet, to the TV. This makes it less than ideal for those who are not digital natives, but does enable Android users to mirror their smartphones and streaming video from apps like Netflix, YouTube, Photos, etc.
Price: At Rs 3,499, it is slightly cheaper than the FireStick, but definitely less capable.
If shopping abroad, two options worth considering are the RokuUltra and the NVIDIA Shield. Roku has been making streaming sticks long before Amazon jumped into the fray, and they still make quality and capable hardware. The NVIDIA Shield, priced at $179 for the remote only version and $199 for the remote and controller variant, is a streaming box made for gamers. It is versatile enough to be a streamer, game console, media server, and smart home hub.
While there are companies aiming to take over the TV sets through these small ubiquitous devices, players like Netflix aim to boost their subscribers in India are going towards the other extreme with mobile only plans. As per CyberMedia Research, the company has a present estimate of 1.3 million viewers. Netflix is India’s most expensive OTT player, with Rs 500 a month subscription only letting you play content on only one screen at a time in HD resolution, whereas the Rs 650 a month plan permits two simultaneous HD streams. It is only the Rs 800 a month plan that permits four parallel streams in 4K resolution. Hotstar, on the other hand, is the king of mobile penetration in India, thanks to its control over IPL streaming rights. While it remains to be seen how well does the mobile only plan work for Netflix, with these devices plugged to your TV, you’re sure to be covered on both fronts.
How to choose the best device
1 If you own more than one Apple device, then shortlist the Apple TV. Some variants cost more than three times the price of a FireStick, so its still hard to recommended as default choice. It really boils down to two things, one if you enjoy watching the video and photos you’ve shot on the large screen, then the Apple TV is the best and easiest way to do so. If you want a poor man’s gaming console, then the Apple TV again is a contender. But in case you are only streaming Netflix and the like, just get the FireStick instead.
2 If you don’t use Apple devices, the FireStick is a universal pleaser and very safe choice. As an Android user, casting photos and video is easier with the Chromecast; but newer versions of the FireStick let you mirror your Android device via Miracast, so Chromecast’s advantage is minimal.
3 However none of these options is great if you have a number of downloaded movies and other videos that you want to stream to your TV locally, without an internet connection. If that is what you want to do, either buy a NAS (Network Attached Storage) solution from a company like Synology; or get the NVIDIA Shield which can not only play Netflix and the like, but also let you attach your local media drive to it. Once you have this setup, unlike a NAS which cannot help you stream from any service, you’ll be able to get the best of both worlds. The NVIDIA Shield is powerful enough to run media management software like Plex, and unless you need to transcode large files, you’ll be just fine.
Apple TV: The second solid option comes from Apple, and like all things from the Cupertino giant, it isn’t cheap. The Apple TV 4K 32 GB version is priced at Rs 15,900, whereas the 64 GB variant retails for Rs 17,900. The 1080p version of Apple TV costs Rs 12,900.
While the Fire Stick and the Apple TV largely accomplish similar tasks, it is an Apples to Oranges comparison. The Apple TV is a much better gaming platform, and the App Store has a much wider and higher quality catalogue of games and apps to choose from. It also supports the usual suspects like Netflix, Prime Video, Hotstar and the like.
Another USP of the Apple TV is the support for AirPlay, which lets you mirror your Mac or iOS device, and stream audio or video locally from your Apple devices. It works really seamlessly, but is only of concern if you are already deep in the Apple ecosystem.
Mobile Only: Rs 199
Basic: Rs 499/mo (1 device, SD available)
Standard: Rs 649/mo (2 devices, HD available)
Premium: Rs 799/mo (4 devices, 4K UHD available)
Pricing: Rs 129 per month or Rs 999/year, part of Amazon Prime Membership.
Premium: Rs 299/mo, First month free
Rs 999 (for 12 months)
Free for Jio Customers
Rs 89/month, Rs 450/year
Some ad-supported content free, plans starting at Rs 29. It currently offers four subscription plans: a weekly plan at Rs 29, a monthly plan at Rs 99, a half-yearly plan at Rs 299 and a yearly plan at Rs 499.
Free: Unlimited songs & music videos.,
Plus: Rs 49/mo (includes unlimited movie streaming), Premium: Rs 99/mo (includes offline playback of content)
Rs 99 per month and Rs 999 per year. Zee5 also offers users a bundle pack with Gaana+ monthly at Rs 198 per month. Also has monthly regional packs starting at Rs 49 per month.
The quarterly plan costs Rs 100, the yearly subscription
costs Rs 300.