Streaming without wifi
August 18, 2016 4:21 PM   Subscribe

What device do I need to stream Netflix etc... to my not-wifi-capable TV?

I would like to be able to stream content from Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, and the like, to my TV; I'd also like to use the TV to display my photographs. My TV, however, does not have built in wifi (not my decision, but I was overruled).

I have looked around Ask and the internet at large, but I can't quite figure out what I would need; I have lots of info but can't narrow it down to a solution: Amazon Fire? Roku stick? Some kind of cord connecting my laptop to the TV?

I'd prefer the least expensive decent option, though I'm willing to spend a little more for better function.
posted by Archipelago to Technology (31 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If your tv supports HDMI input, then Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV stick will do you just fine.

How do you choose? You can't stream Google Play on the Fire TV stick, and you can't stream Amazon Video on the Chromecast.
posted by dis_integration at 4:35 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

All of the above will work. I have an old Roku 2 that I've used for 4 or 5 years now and works just fine. The TV doesn't need wifi, that is what the Roku, Fire Stick, etc. are for. The downside of the sticks is I think you need a laptop / Chromebook to stream from. The Roku 3 is less than $100 and self - supporting, you don't need a computer nearby.
posted by COD at 4:37 PM on August 18, 2016

The downside of the sticks is I think you need a laptop / Chromebook to stream from.

Yeah, to clarify: You'll need a smartphone or tablet to get the Chromecast going (you can also stream with the Chrome browser but the Android/iPhone apps are the way to go). The Fire TV stick is entirely self contained, and comes with a remote.
posted by dis_integration at 4:39 PM on August 18, 2016

I really like the Roku. It will do Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, and many more apps on it.
posted by jillithd at 4:40 PM on August 18, 2016

I'd recommend the newest Roku streaming stick(I have one). It's inexpensive, fast, and tends to be a little more open in terms of supported channels than the Amazon products.

With any of these stick products, though, check your HDMI ports in the back of your TV to make sure there's clearance for the stick to protrude. Otherwise, you can get an adapter for a different angle.
posted by selfnoise at 4:40 PM on August 18, 2016

If you want to use lots of services, Roku is the best, as its search results will collate from the different services.

If you are primarily a Prime viewer with some Netflix etc., the Fire Stick is pretty slick, but you have to load each non-Amazon app separately to search for content in it.

The Chromecast is the most flexible (other than Amazon not supporting it) but requires an external device and can still be pretty flaky compared to the Roku or Fire Stick.
posted by Candleman at 4:41 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Note that you can also control the Roku with your phone (as well as the included remote) so it works either way.

I would only get the Chromecast if you want to use your phone/tablet to control it all the time or if you need to stream certain arbitrary content (and even then, Plex via Roku might be better).
posted by selfnoise at 4:42 PM on August 18, 2016

Don't save money by going with a Roku 2- it doesn't have a lot of RAM and several newer apps (including YouTube and Pluto TV) run like shit on mine- slow, unresponsive UI and skippy streaming. Go for a newer model adequate to the apps' demands.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:53 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, one example- you know how Netflix supports multiple profiles, so you and another person could watch stuff without interfering with the other's recommendations? The Roku 2 doesn't have enough RAM for that. Go for the 4.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:54 PM on August 18, 2016

you can also do this with a wii or xbox, if you already have one of those.
posted by katieanne at 4:58 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: you can also do this with a wii or xbox, if you already have one of those.

ps4 will do netflix and youtube though I don't know if it does amazon prime (I think it doesn't?)
posted by juv3nal at 5:01 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I always put in a plug for smart bluray or dvd players at this point. Mine was about $70 and it plays all the streaming services, YouTube and lets me cast from my phone and tablet too. A couple different ways. Plus it plays DVDs and music CDs through my external speakers. And it's super easy with good interfaces.
posted by fshgrl at 5:21 PM on August 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

You can get a used Apple mini and plug it in via HDMI to run any streaming media sites, as well as local media you own. You don't get "jukebox" functionality with the sticks, and they don't run as well and have annoying interface control limitations. With a computer, you just hook up a wired or wireless keyboard and mouse/trackpad and you're up and running.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 5:23 PM on August 18, 2016

Roku is fantastic.
posted by k8t at 5:47 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

You want the Roku 3, unless you have a 4K tv and want to be a bit future proof on that front (then spring for the Roku 4). The Roku 3 does everything you could ask, has a very robust app system, is stupid simple to set up and use, and I've had zero problems with mine in like 3 years.

Get the Roku.
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:16 PM on August 18, 2016

Best answer: DIY Smart TV: I have a $200 Asus laptop with Windows 10 dedicated to the TV via HDMI and I have wireless keyboard and mouse as a remote control. It is great, flexible, fast and endless possibilities for other uses not limited by apps in sticks etc.
posted by neworder7 at 6:27 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I do this with an hdmi cable. That's probably your cheapest option, and then your tv becomes a second monitor. Very simple, as long as your laptop has an hdmi port. Monoprice has hdmi cables for stupid cheap.
posted by irisclara at 7:02 PM on August 18, 2016

Get the newest Apple TV - it has Siri and it's super fast! And you can use it with a Bluetooth keyboard if you feel like typing the name of an obscure movie or song at a reasonable pace.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:07 PM on August 18, 2016

Chromecast, $35. Plus HDMI cable, connected to my PC laptop with Chrome browser. Amazon is flaky though, it's true. Netflix works great.
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:08 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nth-ing Roku, like the Roku 3.

Just make sure your TV has an HDMI inputs available.

I would absolutely never use the Wifi / "smartTV" functions in a TV. Nothing but trouble.
posted by intermod at 8:53 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I always put in a plug for smart bluray or dvd players at this point.

These are worth considering, but as a counterpoint, while my Sony Bluray player has a pretty extensive collection of streaming apps, they're kind of slow and clunky and the user interface leaves much to be desired. Definitely read reviews of the specific models.
posted by Candleman at 9:58 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I do this from a PS3 - works for Netflix, Amazon, Youtube and Plex (and the various UK TV streaming services). If I was starting over I would probably get a Roku or Fire Stick.
posted by crocomancer at 2:13 AM on August 19, 2016

Wirecutter recommends Roku and I, who have most of the competitors as well, agree.
posted by General Malaise at 5:23 AM on August 19, 2016

Chromecast. Cast from pc, phone, tablet, $35, up and running in a minute.
posted by fixedgear at 7:35 AM on August 19, 2016

I Chromecast Amazon to my TV. It's been a few months since I have done this -- have they changed something? I watched the entire series of Downtown Abbey from Amazon via Chromecast.
posted by archimago at 7:40 AM on August 19, 2016

You can chromecast Amazon. It's just not as clean as those (e.g. Youtube) who are built-in.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:59 AM on August 19, 2016

Another vote for Roku 3. I'm assuming your TV is not 4k. If it is, then I'd go with the Roku 4. The 3 is small enough that you can hide it behind the TV (even stick it on the back of the TV with double-sided tape if you want) but I advise making sure you can reach the power plug, either where it goes into the Roku or into the ac outlet, as it (very rarely) hangs and you have to power cycle it. You can also plug in a USB drive and an SD card to play back your own media, so if that's important you'd want to make sure those ports are accessible as well.

Plex has a Roku app, so if you want to use Plex to serve your media from an external source you can do that easily.

I can cast my phone and laptop to the Roku as well, but that can be a bit unstable.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 8:42 AM on August 19, 2016

To argue with the crowd a little: If you want to use a remote rather than your phone to control the device, I recommend the Amazon Fire stick with voice remote.

Voice remotes are criminally underrated. Typing anything to search with a normal remote is terrible and searching with your voice is SO much better and easier (imagine: with your remote, go to the home screen, find amazon prime, find search, type in d-o-w-n-t... vs just saying "play downton abbey"). Admittedly it's a little more expensive than the competition at $50, but the extra $10-20 is absolutely worth it.
posted by R a c h e l at 9:53 AM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Assuming your TV has HDMI input, the absolute cheapest and easiest way to do this is to get an HDMI cable. Plug one end into your laptop and the other end into the TV. That's it. Your laptop will read the TV as a second monitor and display everything.

At my house, we use an old desktop PC that the kids left behind when they went to college. Set it up next to the TV, plugged in HDMI, and got a wireless mouse/keyboard to use from the couch. Done.
posted by CathyG at 10:39 AM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Roku, Roku, Roku (see what I did there? Three Rokus, so Roku 3). Started with a Roku 2 years ago, upgraded to the 3 last year. Much better. We're a cable-free household with decent OTA reception, and the Roku was the piece that brought everything together.
posted by lhauser at 4:39 PM on August 19, 2016

I'm hugely in love with my NVIDIA Shield TV. The only caveat is that Amazon doesn't have an Android TV app. You can sideload the necessary apps or cast from a computer, phone, or tablet since it also works like a Chromecast, but the app doesn't show up in the normal launcher since it is designed for touch rather than TV and casting can be annoying if you don't normally have your phone or tablet at hand.

The thing is blazing fast (far quicker than a Roku 3 or similar age Apple TV), supports 4k, and I've gotten a lot of mileage out of GeForce Now that I didn't think I would. Also, I much prefer the Android TV interface to Roku.

I tend to use Kodi more than anything else aside perhaps from YouTube for video watching, so Android is a big plus for me. It has Sling TV, but no PlayStation Vue, so non-cableco linear TV can be a problem if you don't care for Sling. It does work really well with the HDHomerun boxes, though, if you still have basic cable or an antenna you want to use.

If you do get a Roku or Fire TV, don't get the stick versions unless your WiFi AP is very close to your TV. Their small size combined with being wedged up close to the TV is really crappy for reception and any device that has bad WiFi reception will slow down your entire WiFi network, so the problems caused aren't limited to crappiness on the stick. They're also much slower than the full boxes and, worse, tend to overheat once they get covered in dust, but the WiFi thing is a bigger issue, IMO.
posted by wierdo at 3:33 AM on August 20, 2016

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