TV Evolution Image Gallery
TV Evolution Image Gallery

What's the best streaming option for you?

Steven Puetzer/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

In 2007, the already popular movie rental mail service Netflix introduced streaming capabilities, allowing subscribers to watch select movies and TV shows directly through their computers. It wasn't long before the Web site Hulu.com became popular for its own streaming content, including the latest episodes of popular TV series. With the right equipment, users can also send these Internet feeds through to their television, thereby adding a vast library of content to their home viewing options. Cable companies have even started to fear that customers are canceling their subscriptions in favor of simply using online streaming media services.

As streaming media has exploded in popularity in the past several years, consumer demand has been increasing for devices that allow people to watch streaming Internet content more easily from their televisions. And we seem to have more choices than ever before when it comes to home entertainment. But with a plethora of choices also comes a great deal of confusion. Those who pride themselves on smart purchases might feel lost in the sea of devices, each one promising the best streaming capabilities.

Part of your decision should rest on which streaming media services you're interested in using. If you're a diehard Netflix user, for instance, make sure to find a player that advertises the ability to stream Netflix content. Luckily, Netflix is one of the most in-demand services, so it shouldn't be hard to find a player with that capability. Devices that can stream Hulu are also relatively easy to find. Another popular service is Amazon Instant Video, with its own vast selection of movies and TV shows. Vudu and iTunes also offer streaming media, but they aren't quite as popular, and you'll have more trouble finding devices that support these services.

Besides films and TV shows, you might also be interested in finding devices that support other media. Some stream YouTube videos or music services, such as Pandora or Last.fm. If you're a sports fan, look for players that offer services like MLB.tv, NFL Sunday Ticket or ESPN3. Many players also stream photo Web sites like Flickr.com.

Once you have a good idea of which services you most want, you'll want to know which types of streaming media players are available. Read about them on the next page.