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What is Streaming TV? Your Guide to On-the-Go Entertainment.

Learn what streaming TV is, how it works, and how to get started. Plus, find out why traditional cable providers may be your best streaming option.

Streaming has revolutionized the way we consume entertainment. From its inception in the 90s, streaming has come a long way, allowing us to enjoy TV, movies, music, live events, and more. Below, we’re going to explain all the ins and outs of TV streaming, including the benefits, challenges, and how to get started.

What Does Streaming TV Mean?

TV streaming refers to the process of viewing video content via the Internet without needing to download it first. It gives you the ability to enjoy your favorite TV shows, movies, and video content without being restricted by wires and plugs — you can watch right from your phone, tablet, computer, or smart TV. As long as you have Internet access, you can stream content.

Types of Video Streaming

When it comes to video streaming, there are essentially two types: Live TV streaming and on-demand streaming.

  • Live TV Streaming: It used to be that in order to watch live TV, you had to have a cable connection. While a cable connection is a great way to watch live TV, you can also stream live TV. Whether it’s through streaming services like Hulu + Live TV or through cable companies that offer streaming options (Spectrum, Optimum, Cox, etc.), getting access to live TV is easier than ever.
  • On-Demand Streaming: The most commonly known streaming services (Netflix, Disney+, Max, etc.) offer on-demand streaming. This means there is a library of movies and series to choose from, none of which are broadcasted live.

Streaming vs. Cable

On a basic level, streaming differs from cable by the fact that streaming transmits content via the Internet, while cable does so through an actual cable connection. Beyond that, the differences are not so distinct.

It used to be that in order to watch live TV, you had to have a cable subscription. And in order to watch what you wanted, when you wanted to watch it, you had to sign up for a streaming service. Today, those lines are blurred. Many cable providers (Xfinity, Mediacom, Fidelity Communications, etc.) now offer the same traditional cable channel packages via streaming. Providers often have their own streaming apps available for download on any device, so subscribers can enjoy their favorite channels on the go. Plus, those cable providers often provide access to libraries of on-demand shows and movies, so you also get the benefits offered by on-demand streaming services.

On the other hand, some on-demand streaming services, like Hulu, now offer live TV packages in an attempt to compete with cable companies. However, they may not be able to match the amount of channels offered by the cable providers.

Related article: Cable TV is Getting in on Streaming: What You Need to Know

How Exactly Does Streaming Work?

Streaming involves a complex process in which the shows or movies you’re watching are divided into small chunks and continuously sent to your device via the Internet. As you’re watching one chunk of content, the next is being sent over. This process allows you to seamlessly watch content as it’s being downloaded, ensuring you get a smooth, buffer-free experience. However, unlike typical downloaded files, those chunks of content are immediately removed from your device. Whether you’re streaming through a cable provider, like Spectrum or Cox, or using a mainstream service like Netflix or Disney+, it follows this same process.

What Equipment is Needed to Stream TV & Movies

Streaming equipment has rapidly evolved through the years. In the early 2000s, streaming was only available on computers connected to the Internet. With the introduction of the smartphone and smart TV, streaming became accessible on many more devices. But even then, streaming on some TVs still required the use of an HDMI cable. Today, the equipment is much simpler and far more powerful. Here’s what you need:

A Compatible Device

This can be a smart TV, a computer, a smartphone, or a tablet. Even if you don’t own a smart TV, you can still stream TV and movies on your television set using streaming devices, like a Roku Streaming Stick, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV 4K device, or Google Chromecast.

A Reliable Internet Connection

Streaming requires a stable and reasonably fast Internet connection. The speed you need depends on the streaming quality you want (like HD or 4K). Generally, the faster the Internet speed, the better the streaming quality.

Fiber Internet is considered the best type of Internet. However, options like cable — and in some cases, even satellite Internet — can provide enough speed to enjoy your favorite shows and movies.

Along with a strong connection, you also need the right hardware (router and modem). You can often buy your own modem and router or rent hardware directly from your Internet provider.

Related article: A Complete Guide to the Best Routers for Streaming TV

Benefits & Challenges of Streaming

Streaming has fundamentally changed our media consumption, offering unprecedented convenience and variety. That said, it's not without its challenges. Let’s dive into each one:


  • Convenience: You can watch what you want, when you want, anywhere you have an Internet connection.
  • Variety: Streaming provides access to vast libraries of content, including live TV depending on your streaming provider.
  • Personalization: Streaming services often use AI to learn your viewing habits and recommend content based on your preferences.
  • Cost-Effective: Depending on your needs, streaming can be more affordable than other options.


  • Requires Internet: A stable, high-speed connection is needed for a smooth streaming experience.
  • Data Consumption: Streaming can consume significant amounts of data, which can impact your Internet bills and even your speed.
  • Decision Fatigue: With traditional live TV, you are limited to whatever programs are on at the time. With streaming services, there are hundreds (sometimes thousands) of options, which can make it hard to decide what to watch.
  • Multiple Subscriptions: Not every show and movie is available on every streaming service. Therefore, you may need to subscribe to several services in order to watch what you want, driving up the overall cost.

Related article: The Pros and Cons of Streaming

Levels of Streaming Quality

Streaming quality can significantly impact your viewing experience, with options ranging from the basic Standard Definition (SD) to the ultra-crisp 4K Ultra HD. Each level offers a different visual experience, suited to various Internet speeds, screen sizes, and data plans.

Standard Definition (SD)

SD is the most basic level of quality in streaming, offering a resolution of 480p. SD consumes less data and bandwidth, making it a good choice for slower Internet connections.

High Definition (HD)

HD steps up the quality to either 720p or 1080i, providing a much clearer and sharper image than SD. It's ideal for most modern TVs and is the standard quality for many streaming services.

Full HD (1080p)

Full HD delivers even more detail and clarity. It's great for larger screens and requires a relatively fast Internet connection for smooth streaming without buffering.

4K Ultra HD

4K, or Ultra HD, boasts the highest resolution at 2160p. It provides stunning detail and depth, perfect for large, high-quality screens. However, 4K streaming requires a very fast Internet connection and more data usage.

Most Popular Streaming Services

There are hundreds of streaming options, which means choosing the right streaming service can be difficult. While many cable companies offer streaming TV packages, the list of the top streaming services below is limited to on-demand streaming.

These are the most used streaming services, according to Statista:

  1. Netflix
  2. Amazon Prime Video
  3. Disney+
  4. Hulu
  5. Max (HBO)
  6. Paramount+
  7. Apple TV
  8. Peacock

FAQs About Streaming

How Much Does Streaming Cost?

The cost of streaming ultimately depends on your choices. If you opt for streaming through a cable provider like Spectrum or Cox, the cost might be bundled with other services, like Internet or phone. On the other hand, individual streaming services like Netflix or Disney+ have their own subscription fees, which can add up if you subscribe to multiple services. Each service offers different plans, some with options like no ads or commercials, which also affect the price. So, the total cost depends on the combination of services you choose.

Do Cable Companies Offer Streaming?

Yes, many cable companies now offer streaming options. These providers typically allow you to stream both live TV (including local channels) and on-demand content. This offers subscribers an unprecedented combination of flexibility and convenience.

Find a TV provider in your area that offers TV streaming.

How Can I Improve My Streaming Quality?

To improve your streaming quality, try these steps:

  • Upgrade your Internet plan to a faster speed, especially for HD or 4K streaming.
  • Use a wired connection (ethernet) instead of WiFi for a more stable connection.
  • Close other applications and devices that are using your network to reduce traffic.
  • Update your streaming device’s software and use a modern device capable of high-quality streaming.
  • Adjust the streaming service’s quality settings, if possible, to match your Internet speed.

Related article: 10 Ways to Increase Your Home Internet Speed.

What Will Streaming Look Like in the Future?

The future of streaming could include many different scenarios. Major platforms might maintain market dominance, possibly leading to fewer options, or the industry could become more diverse, with competitive pricing and more choices. Changes like ad-supported tiers in leading services are also likely to become more common. Regardless, the streaming market is expected to remain vibrant due to the high demand for accessible entertainment.

Is Streaming Safe?

Streaming is generally safe, especially when using reputable services like cable companies (Optimum, Spectrum, Xfinity, etc.) or mainstream services, like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. These services and providers employ high security standards to protect your data and privacy. However, it's important to be cautious with lesser-known or free streaming sites, as they might not have the same security measures and could potentially expose you to malware or other risks.

Related article: Is Streaming Illegal? All Your Streaming Questions Answered.

How Much Internet Speed is Needed for Streaming?

The amount of Internet speed you need is dependent on several factors, including:

  • Your location
  • The number of connected devices in your household
  • Your desired streaming quality
  • Other simultaneous Internet activities

High-speed Internet is more affordable than ever, which means you can get the speed you need to stream at a high quality. If you’re not sure of your current Internet speed, try our instant, online Internet speed test.

Related article: How Much Upload Speed is Enough for Live Streaming?.

How SmartMove Can Help You Start Streaming

If you’re looking for a premium TV experience, SmartMove is here to help! We partner with some of the top cable TV providers across the country. Not only do those providers offer reliable service, they offer streaming as well. If you want all your local channels paired with the top networks, on-demand content, and the ability to add your favorite mainstream streaming services, we can get you connected.

Find a TV provider with SmartMove today.

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