Streaming services are awesome. The public has spoken on that one. Millions in Australia are have taken up subscriptions to Netflix, Stan, Foxtel Now and smaller services like Hayu and DocPlay in an incredibly short span of time. Streaming TV is now mainstream, and we’re all enjoying the freedom and choice it provides. But what if you want to watch on the big screen and don’t have a smart TV? No worries, there are a few other ways to go.
There’s only one potential annoyance about streaming. It’s an internet-connected thing. And for many people, the very thing they want to watch TV shows and movies on – their TV – isn’t an internet-connected device.
Modern “smart” TVs are basically broadband-connected computers with a great big screen at the front. They do a great job of running apps to stream Netflix, Stan and other services with ease as long as you connect them to your home internet. Which is almost always easy thanks to built-in Wi-Fi.
But what if you’re one of those people that’s got a superb big-screen TV that still does the job perfectly? After all, a really good big-screen TV can cost thousands of dollars. It’s not a throwaway purchase, and if you’re perfectly happy with it for high definition free-to-air and Blu-ray then there’s really no point in wasting your investment just to go “smart.” Especially not when you can be smarter and use one of the many low-cost alternatives to get your streaming services onto your screen in pristine HD.
So, what options do you have, and how much are they going to set you back? Let’s look at some of the best options currently on the market.
If your desktop or laptop PC has a HDMI socket on it, this is your ticket to easy streaming to your TV. Simply buy a cable long enough to get from your computer to your TV. Then, use either the streaming service apps (Netflix and Stan, for example, have free apps on the Windows store) or your web browser to send your computer’s video to your big-screen TV. It does lack some of the niceties of devices – such as remote controls, but a wireless mouse can go some way towards solving that. However, it’ll cost you only $10-20. Practical and low-cost.
Arguably the king of the low-profile streaming device for years now, Apple TV is popular because it just works, and works well. This tiny box is now in its fifth generation, which added 4K and HDR streaming to the device. You can also download apps just like you would on your phone. And that means almost every major streaming service is supported. Including Netflix, Stan, DocPlay, YouTube, Hayu – the list is long, with more streaming services regularly arriving on the platform. It’s a slick, fast device that’s only let down slightly by its touch-sensitive remote control, which is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition.
Branded as Telstra inside and out, the Telstra TV is a Roku box – a brand beloved by people in its USA home. And there’s a reason people love it so much: it’s simple, small, easy to use, has a great remote, and it’s very practical. Telstra’s version of it is locked down to the apps the telco chooses to provide. Hence, you get Netflix, Stan, Foxtel Now, DocPlay, Bigpond Movies and a handful of other options. But at $109 – and free if you take up some Telstra plans – it’s a bargain, and will get your big screen TV hooked up to HD streaming with almost no fuss at all.
This amazing little device started off life as something that looked like an oversized USB stick. It now comes in two options for streaming video, both in the form of tiny plastic discs with an HDMI connection linking them to your TV. You can choose from the standard Chromecast or the Ultra version – the difference is that the Ultra handles 4K video.
Once plugged into a spare HDMI port and connected to your Wi-Fi network (or ethernet with the Ultra if you prefer), the device can be reached over your home network by a vast range of apps to stream video, audio, photos, and even mirror your PC or phone screen onto your TV. It’s not as seamless as using a dedicated device – you’ll always have to use your phone, tablet or PC to send video to your TV – but it’s far more versatile.
If you’re like millions of people out there, you may already have a game console plugged into your TV. But that innocuous game-playing device is also a compact computer that can download and run streaming apps. Exactly what’s available depends on which console you own, but Netflix and Stan are going to be there alongside Foxtel Now, YouTube and a bunch of others. The only hold-out right now is the Nintendo Switch; expect to see streaming apps on it soon with Netflix leading the charge.
There’s an increasingly large range of Android-based streaming boxes available, and many of them are worthy of attention. The only problem? Many of the best aren’t available in Australia directly. You can easily order them online, as long as you’re willing to deal with the hassles of having to find a power adapter appropriate for Australia. And because of that, these devices really are best for tech enthusiasts. The Android TV platform they run is solid, fast and great to use – Sony and Philips TVs in Australia have it built in and nobody is complaining. But be aware that when buying one these boxes you’ll likely have to do some research first to make sure you can buy the right adapter to power it up.
Foxtel is gearing up to launch its very own streaming device, which will likely come integrated with Foxtel Now and allow you to stream other services as well. This article was updated in October 2017.
What can you watch on what?
Both of the big streaming services – Netflix and Stan – are available on almost all platforms now. Stan added Android TV to their app line-up recently so that no matter which device you choose, you’ll be good to go.
The rebranded Foxtel Now is still expanding its app line-up. You’ll be able to send video from its phone and tablet apps to your big-screen TV if you use Chromecast. Otherwise, you’ll want to grab a Telstra TV or PS4 for the service, where it’s slickly implemented and actually faster to browse channels than it is on a hardware Foxtel box.
For overall coverage of streaming services on your TV, the Chromecast is where it’s at – unless you’re using the free-to-air streaming apps. Most of those don’t support Chromecast, so if free-to-air catch-up is important to you, head for the Apple TV or Telstra TV.
Streaming TV – whether it’s subscription-based like Netflix, Stan and Foxtel Now, or free with YouTube and the free-to-air services – is the future of television. Better, it’s already here, and it won’t cost you a fortune to get in on the action, either. With the Chromecast available for only $59 (frequently discounted), the Telstra TV at $109 (or free with plans) and the Apple TV recently discounted to $209, it’s easy to jump into the new world of TV when you want it.