How to find the best streaming TV

Via Flickr by espensorvikon

Roku Box? Netflix? Hulu? iTunes? So many choices. Not much convergence.

There’s a certain joy and angst that comes from being a modern TV viewer. Joy at the choices of quality television shows and movies that we can access without leaving our cozy living rooms. Angst that we don’t know where or how to best spend the money to get that content.

To help you cope, The Verge editor-in-chief and co-founder, Joshua Topolsky, recently walked Kim Masters, host of KCRW’s The Business through devices and services that can help you find the best entertainment.

Topolksy said no one has solved the essential problem, which he defines as this:

“We’re not really that happy with cable. We pay a lot of money and we get a bunch of stuff we don’t want. And since our viewing habits have changed thanks to things like the DVR and thanks to stuff like streaming on these boxes, and binge watching from Netflix, we now have this different relationship with content.”

He asked: ” Can we solve that big problem of: I get all the stuff I want and none of the stuff I don’t want, and I pay a reasonable price every month, and I don’t have to go fishing around on four different boxes or in four different services to enjoy that? And no one has that solution yet.”

In the meantime, here’s what’s out there.

The hardware:

Roku Box:

Compatible with Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, HBO GO, Hulu Plus, VUDU, and YouTube. Topolsky says it’s “easy to build applications for Roku so content creators can easily make channels for the Roku Box.”

Apple TV:

Compatible with Netflix, iTunes, Hulu Plus, Airplay (which enables you to stream HBO GO via the app on your phone), YouTube and Vimeo. Topolsky says it’s “easy to use and easy to figure out.” Note: The remote that comes with the Apple TV is really weak and frequently can’t connect with the device. But there’s a great Apple TV app on your iphone that works very well.


This is an app that can be used on other streaming devices but VUDU began as its own streaming device. So there are prehaps still some VUDU boxes out there. But now you find VUDU as an app for streaming movies in HD. It boasts that it gets new releases much sooner than Netflix– claiming to get them the day the DVD gets released.

XBox 360:

This is a Videogame system and a streaming box that is compatible with Netflix, HBO GO, Hulu Plus, VUDU. Plus on the XBox360 you can also browse the web and listen to music.

Sony Playstation:

This is another Videogame system (I’ll refer you to videogame bloggers to define the merits of the playstation v. the XBOX 360) which is also a streaming box. It’s compatible with Netflix, Hulu Plus, VUDU.

Nintendo Wii or Wii U:

The new Wii U is similar to XBox 360 and Playstation but doesn’t offer as many games as the other two. As far as what it can stream, it’s compatible with Netflix and Hulu Plus. Downside: It isn’t equipped to handle High Definition content so if you have an HD TV you’re not getting the best picture you could get.

The streaming service:


Stream current and past seasons of HBO series. Downside: It’s only available to people who pay for a subscription to HBO via cable or satellite. So, just because one of the above boxes can stream HBO GO doesn’t mean you can activate it.


By now most people know that it has TV shows and movies available for streaming. Plus it’s become a content creator with its 2013 series House of Cards, Hemlock Grove and a revived Arrested Development. The service is easy to use. And, thanks to the magic of algorithms, it makes pretty good suggestions based to help consumers find new things to watch. Downside: In the movie arena it’s a little lacking. It has plenty of documentaries but some classic films and nearly all new releases aren’t there.

Hulu Plus:

The paid version of Hulu. You can stream current and back seasons of TV shows from ABC, BET, Comedy Central FOX, NBC, MTV, and VH-1. Downside: It doesn’t have content from any other networks.

Amazon Instant Video:

You can stream or buy TV shows and movies. And if you are a cord-cutter– someone who dropped their cable subscription in favor of more affordable streaming options– you can remain in the cultural conversation with this service because current episodes of shows like AMC’s Mad Men are available the day after they air on cable.

VUDU- (see above)

Cable TV:

Cable still brings you more content than any of the above. With the DVR option and video on demand the cable service is pretty comprehensive. Still, it’s expensive.

It is all pretty confusing. But there’s an app to help! Topolsky recommends Fanhattan, a guide to finding the TV shows and movies you want.  It won’t play the content but it will point you in the direction of who will.

Hear the interview with Joshua Topolsky.