Back in 2009, my TV cable bill went over $100 a month and I decided enough was enough. I cut my cable.
It wasn’t easy then. The internet streaming devices were primitive and my choices were few. Today, Netflix is more popular than conventional TV, more teenagers watch YouTube than the networks, and rival streaming services Amazon Video, Hulu, and Sling TV are growing by leaps and bounds. As for devices, we have an embarrassment of choices. Here are my picks for your viewing pleasure this holiday season.
First, these days almost all TVs are “smart TVs.” Most come with a variety of built-in streaming services. So, if you’re on a tight budget, you may want to just upgrade your TV and forget about adding another gadget.
All my TVs are smart and I’m still adding devices. The reason I do this is simple. Smart TVs are still pretty dumb. Their user-interfaces — even on the best-of-breed LG WebOS-powered OLEDB6P and 65UH9500 — simply aren’t that good.
In addition, they’re not updated on a regular basis. For example, the new TCM and Criterion streaming service, FilmStruck, isn’t supported on any smart TV. If you want to watch it, as I do, you’ll need a streaming device.
That said, here’s what to buy this year.
Roku Premiere+: This is the best of the best. Roku has long defined what a great media streamer should be and they’ve done it again with their new models. In the $99.99 Roku Premiere+, you get Roku’s 1,800 plus streaming services, its simple-to-use interface, and its built-in cross-service searching.
In this new model you also get 4K video and High dynamic range (HDR) color. You’ve heard about 4K, and it is neat. But, HDR actually makes a bigger difference. It’s not, I repeat, not the same thing as camera HDR. On your HDR-compatibile TV, it gives you is superior contrast and color.
Of course, to get the most from this, you’ll need 4K and HDR shows, and there aren’t many of them. There will be soon, though. And, of course, you’ll need a TV that supports both. With the right gear and the right show, it’s eye-poppingly good. Try Netflix’s Marco Polo series and you’ll see what I mean.
There is also a still more expensive Roku, the Roku Ultra. It comes with Dolby Digital Plus audio decode, voice search and lost remote finder. Those are all nice, but I don’t think they’re worth $30 more. The Ultra lists for $129.99.
Samsung UBD-K8500: What’s that? You like streaming but you want to own your favorite movies? If that’s you, you’ll want this high-end 4k and HDR Blu-Ray DVD player. With a $199.99 price-tag it’s affordable.
Besides displaying some truly breath-taking video from the handful of 4K Blu-Ray discs currently available, this Samsung does an excellent job of upscaling Blu-Ray and even ordinary DVD discs playback.
As for streaming, it also does well with upscaling these. It currently supports Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and YouTube.
Apple TV: In the early days, Apple TV was the first truly easy to use media streamer. It’s still easy to use, and if you’re tied at the hip to iTunes, it’s still worth getting. But, otherwise, I can’t recommend this $149 to $199 streaming device.