Sticks and Rokus Won’t Break Your Bones

If you like to watch TV, you may have seen the commercials with Nick Nolte talking about the Fire Stick. This is the latest gadget designed to bring internet-based TV from your laptop to, well, your TV, to hit the market. However, it is not a “new” item in terms of gadgets designed to work with your TV to show content that comes from the internet, whether it be YouTube videos or paid programming through services such as Hulu or Netflix. Gadgets that do that kind of work have been around almost since the streaming video services started, but now that more people choose to stream online and do not want to be tied to their small laptop or tablet screens, the gadgets have become more plentiful and easier to use.

Almost any video you can get online can be streamed in some way to your TV. This includes the library’s hoopla service. But, the device you use will depend on what it is you would like to stream, so it is important to choose which device(s) you select based on what you wish to accomplish. Keep in mind that aside from the devices listed below, many TVs, game consoles and Blu-ray players are now also smart devices and will have built-in WiFi and apps that you can download to use the most popular services, such as Netflix and Hulu.

Chromecast – The little Google dongle can be plugged into any TV and used to transfer videos that you call up on your computer (or Android device) to the TV. All you need is a WiFi network in your house and about 15 minutes to set-up a free Google account and the computer you will use to call up the telecasts. Keep in mind that the computer does not have to be WiFi or in the same room as the TV, it just has to be on the same network. So, for example, you could have a desktop computer connected to your home router via a cable and still use it with Chromecast. On the TV, you plug the Chromecast into an HDMI port (or see note below about extensions and couplers) and set the TV to that device (usually by hitting the source button on the TV remote). On the computer, it is a good idea to install the Chrome browser first, then go to the website printed on the Chromecast box. The website will ask if you want to set-up a new Chromecast and then search for it for you. The next step is to install the Chromecast plug-in for the Chrome browser or the Chromecast app if you are using a different browser. Once that is done, you can go to any website showing a video and click on the Chromecast plug-in or app and tell it to cast to your TV. One tip, if you click on a video that opens in a different window on the computer and you do not see the Chromecast plug-in icon, you can still cast by copying the address and going back to the browser and pasting that address in a new tab, then the video will show as a browser tab and you will see the Chromecast icon. Also, don’t forget to go full screen on the computer video to see it full screen on the TV. In addition to the ability to transfer video from a computer to TV, Chromecast also has apps for popular subscription services so it can be used for Netflix, Hulu, etc. The advantage of Chromecast is that you can play content on your TV from services that do not have apps for the other devices or a smart TV. This would include hoopla and the “extra” channels that you can access online with certain cable subscriptions, such as ESPN3 or the streaming video on the NBC Olympic websites. The disadvantage is you need to use a computer or Android device to telecast and can’t just access content on the TV by using the Chromecast stick and a remote control.

Roku Boxes and Stick – Roku is another option for using the streaming services, but does not have the ability to stream items called up on your computer. The advantage is that it does cut out the need to call up the video on a computer first, so the stream goes directly to the Roku, making set-up a little easier since you just use the included remote control to navigate a set of menus on the TV to make your selection. In this case, you plug the Roku box or stick into an HDMI port on the TV and go through the on-screen set-up. You do need to set-up an account, but once started, you can connect to any of the Roku channels or the streaming services and only need to pay for the ones you intend to view.

Amazon Fire TV and Fire Stick – The Amazon Fire TV line is very similar to the Roku line in terms of what they can do and in how they are set-up. The main difference is, the Amazon product is geared toward people who subscribe to the Amazon Prime membership. If you have Amazon Prime, then any TV shows or movies that are free on your computer will also be free to watch on the Fire Stick or Fire TV box. Like the Roku, it cannot transfer something shown on your computer to the TV, but it also has the same advantage Roku has over the Chromecast, it does not have to filter content through a computer first, you can stream directly to the Fire TV device.

Apple TV – For Mac, iTunes and iOS fans, there is Apple TV. This little box works along with iTunes to stream your collection of music or videos from either your device or iCloud. Since it works with iTunes and the iTunes Store, additional content can be purchased there without having to subscribe to a streaming service. Set-up with a PC is similar to setting up a Chromecast, but if you have an iOS device or Mac, you can use Bluetooth to let the device set-up Apple TV for you. Like the Chromecast, Apple TV will let you stream anything from your iOS device to your TV, so you can play games or watch videos from Facebook, etc.

One note of caution for all of these devices, be mindful of cables. All of the devices come packaged with the necessary cables to get started right away, but many people find the cables rather short. The stick in particular can be a problem if you have limited HDMI ports and will be swapping out a Blu-ray player, cable box or game console. In both cases a longer HDMI cable will solve the problem. For sticks, it might be a good idea to pick up female-to-female HDMI coupler that will let you plug the stick into the cable. Almost all sticks and HDMI cables have male ends since the female ends are on the TV and devices, so the coupler acts as a bridge between the two male ends. The good news is, HDMI cables do not need to be expensive to get the job done and couplers are not that expensive either, so you are looking at less than a $20 investment.

Laura N.


  1. Isn't it Gary Busey that does Amazon Fire Stick commercial? :)


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