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Issue #627: July 28 – August 3, 2019

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Q: I am debating whether to get a DVR to watch movies or using a streaming service to get my fix. The influx of choices has made it very confusing? And what exactly are Fire Sticks and Roku? Thank you.

– Alicia P.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A: Oh, sweet! A non-computer, non “my tech doesn’t work” question! No Windows issues, no driver incompatibilities, no Registry errors; just simple information seeking about technology. I don’t get to answer these very often!

So, you want to upgrade your entertainment options. Well, if you like to watch shows or movies, or listen to music or news, this is a great time to be alive, because there has never been more content available than there is right now, and it’s growing daily.

I don’t think you are looking for a DVR though. A DVR, or Digital Video Recorder, is a device that records content – usually from a cable or satellite provider – for later viewing. It’s a lot like a VCR, but it uses a hard drive instead of tapes. There are a few stand-alone products around, but generally, DVRs are part of a package deal from a cable or satellite provider, or from a company like Tivo that sells both the hardware and a subscription service that allows you to schedule content. I’m pretty sure that’s not what you’re talking about.

You mentioned Fire Sticks, and Roku. Both of these are a type of device known as a streaming media player. They plug into an HDMI input on your TV, and connect not to cable or satellite, but to the Internet. Using one of many services available, they allow you to watch high-quality Internet-based content right on your television set – no computer needed. Fire TV is a product line made by Amazon that includes several different types of device, while Roku is a company unto itself. With these devices, you have at your fingertips more entertainment content than one could possibly experience in a lifetime. Providers include Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Crackle, CBS All Access, Amazon Instant Video, Spotify, and countless more, and the list is growing. While some of these are subscription services, there is plenty of free content as well. There is a trend among millennials toward ditching cable and satellite in favor of these streaming services, but even for the TV-generation, the learning curve is not too steep. The devices are all menu-driven from the comfort of your couch via a simple remote control.

It should be obvious that besides the streaming device itself, you are also going to need a good TV to best enjoy your content. In this Geek’s opinion, the largest set that will fit comfortably in your intended viewing area (and within your budget) is best. The current class of Smart TVs are fully capable of running the same apps directly on the TV that run on the Roku and Fire devices, so you might not even need a separate streaming device. See my previous column on Smart TVs (Geek Note: I.G.T.M. #615, May 5-11, 2019) for more information. You will also need a reliable high-speed Internet connection. If you think pictures and web pages are slow to load, imagine streaming High Def content. 1080p, for example, is a reasonably high-quality HD picture, but by no means the best available. 1080p resolution is 1920×1080 at 24 or 30 frames per second, so it takes a speed of at least 5 megabits per second to smoothly stream the content. You might need even higher speeds if your connection is being simultaneously used by other family members. It is not uncommon for people to find room in the budget to purchase faster Internet service by dropping the cable or satellite, as they discover they are watching them less and less.

 Final thoughts: It strikes me that in your question that when you said “get a DVR to watch movies” that you might have meant DVD player. Same basic concept, but Blu-Ray has a vastly superior picture quality. As a media format, DVD has pretty much been supplanted by Blu-Ray, but even Blu-Ray is a waning format, as people just like you discover streaming content. Don’t give-up on those Blu-Ray players just yet though. They can play old DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, and many advanced Blu-Ray players and even some base models come with the ability to stream Internet content, giving you yet another potential device for streaming.

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