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'The benefits of cable TV at a fraction of the price' - streaming sticks rated on best, worst, perks and price; From as little as [pounds sterling]14.99 you can get a device that lets you access thousands of hours of entertainment on your TV, but without paying a monthly fee or even a TV licence. Esther Shaw takes you through what's on offer from the 4 key players.

Byline: Esther Shaw

Streaming sticks are growing in popularity, and are a great choice if you don't want the cost or hassle of upgrading to a smart TV.

These sticks plug into the HDMI port on your television, and allow you to stream all your favourite content from services such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and Netflix.

Vix Leyton fromBroabandchoices.co.uk, says: "With a good internet connection and the right streaming device, you can get a lot of the benefits of cable TV at a fraction of the price -- and without the long-term commitment of an annual package."

One of these sticks may be particularly appealing right now, with the cost of a TV licence about to go up from [pounds sterling]147 to [pounds sterling]150.50 from April 1 -- and with Sky also hiking bills for millions of customers from the same date.

But with a host of different sticks to choose from, how do you know where to start?

We take you through the key facts about the 4 biggest sticks on the market at the moment.

In the past, Now TV users have had to use a somewhat clunky set-top box. But all that has changed with the launch of the new plug-and-play Smart TV Stick last month (February 2018).

The stick, which is slightly bigger than a USB memory stick, is powered by Roku, and comes with a voice-controlled remote which you can use to search for your favourite shows.

In terms of quality, it can handle some HD (high definition) -- depending on your internet connection -- though some programmes will be in standard quality.

What do you get? - Some of the most popular apps on the device include Now TV, BBC iPlayer, All 4, My 5, ITV Hub, YouTube and VEVO. However, Netflix and Amazon Prime are not included.

Upfront cost? - A standalone Now TV stick is priced at [pounds sterling]14.99. Dani Warner, TV expert from uSwitch.com, says: "This makes it one of the cheapest streaming sticks on the market. It's also offered alongside Now TV's monthly passes at a discounted rate. For example, for [pounds sterling]19.99 it comes with either two months of the Entertainment Pass or one month of the Sky Cinema Pass."

Ongoing cost? - Maybe. The standard monthly price for Now TV's Entertainment Pass is [pounds sterling]7.99 and it's [pounds sterling]9.99 for the Sky Cinema Pass. However, the stick does give you access to some on-demand services which are accessible without extra payment.

Do you still need a TV licence? - Warner says: "If you plan on watching iPlayer or any live TV from your Now TV passes, you'll need a TV licence. But if you're just watching box-sets or catch-up TV from broadcasters other than the BBC, you don't need a TV licence."

This is the UK's cheapest TV streaming stick - and the easiest way to get Premier League games on your telly

Amazon's Fire Stick -- not to be confused with Amazon's Fire TV -- is a streaming media stick which looks like a USB stick, and plugs into your TV.

It is capable of streaming in HD, depending on your internet connection. It can be controlled with the Alexa voice remote.

What do you get? - Access to tens of thousands of apps, including some of the most popular ones, such as Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, All 4, My 5, ITV Hub, Hayu, TVPlayer, BBC Sport. You can also view Amazon Channels to watch live TV from the likes of Eurosport and the Discovery Channel. Warner says: "In addition, Amazon's Fire TV Stick also incorporates non-TV apps for things such as takeaways and smart devices -- perfect for co-ordinating your night in on the sofa."

Upfront cost? - The standard Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote can be bought directly from Amazon for [pounds sterling]39.99. However, the 4K ultra-HD option will set you back [pounds sterling]69.99.

Amazon Fire TV Stick Advert

Ongoing cost? - Warner says: "This stick essentially turns your television into a smart TV, giving you access to pay-monthly subscription services such as Netflix (starting at [pounds sterling]5.99 a month) and Amazon Prime Video (costing [pounds sterling]5.99 a month). That said, if you have Amazon Prime membership (costing [pounds sterling]79 a year), Amazon Prime Video is included at no extra cost."

Do you still need a TV licence? Some apps on the Fire TV Stick -- such as TVPlayer and Amazon channels -- let you watch live TV, meaning you still need a TV licence. If you're only using it to watch on-demand apps, including Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, then you don't need one.

Amazon Fire TV gets a 4K upgrade and shrinks to the size of a Chromecast - but it still only costs [pounds sterling]70

While Google's Chromecast operates the same way as other streaming sticks -- you just plug it into your HDMI port and connect to your wi-fi -- its design is a bit different.

Warner says: "Instead of using a remote, you can use your mobile -- or other device -- to control the Chromecast by 'casting' your screen onto the TV without the need to download a separate app. You can also use voice search and commands as you would on your mobile to control the TV without pressing a button."

Chromecast can stream in HD, depending upon your internet connection and the content you'd like to watch.

Introducing the new Chromecast and Chromecast Audio

What do you get? - A wide variety of TV and on-demand apps, including Now TV, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, BT Sport, ITV Hub, All 4, My 5 and Hayu. You can also use music apps -- including Spotify and SoundCloud -- and play games.

Upfront cost? - The standard Chromecast has an upfront cost of [pounds sterling]30, while the Chromecast Ultra is priced at [pounds sterling]69 for those wanting a 4K ultra-HD experience.

Ongoing cost? - Maybe. If you plan on taking advantage of the various subscription services Chromecast offers, you will need to pay monthly costs.

Do you still need a TV licence? - If you're watching live TV (the BT Sport app and Now TV are both available on Chromecast) or iPlayer, you'll still need a TV licence. If you're just watching on-demand video or apps, you don't one.

Roku has two different streaming sticks on the market, both of which closely resemble USB sticks.

The Roku Express is capable of streaming in HD at 1080p, while the higher-end Roku Streaming Stick+ can handle 4K and HDR, depending upon your internet connection and the quality of the content you'd like to watch.

They both come with a remote, or can be controlled with an app on your mobile.

What do you get? - Warner says: "While most of the streaming sticks are missing one or two of the big apps from their line-up, this is not the case with Roku. With Roku, you can watch all of the major streaming apps and services, including Netflix, Now TV, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, All 4, My 5, ITV Hub and TVPlayer. However, it's a little bit lighter on other types of apps."

Upfront cost? - The Roku Express currently retails at [pounds sterling]29.99 and the Roku Streaming Stick+ comes in at [pounds sterling]79.99.

Ongoing cost? - As with most of the streaming devices, you may be required to take out a paid subscription service to access some of the services on offer.

Do you still need a TV licence? - If you're watching live TV or iPlayer, you still need a TV licence. But if you're just watching other on-demand content, then you don't.

Roku challenges Google and Amazon with new streaming features and the ability to bookmark upcoming movies

As well as streaming sticks, there are other options to get extra content and services onto your TV.

Although these cost a fair bit more than a stick, they also come with other benefits.

Here are two of the your bigger options to give you an idea.

Back in the early days of streaming, Apple TV was one of the first devices on the market.

For a while, it was the only device capable of handling 4K.

Warner says: "With other cheaper rivals now able to handle 4K quality, the Apple TV admittedly doesn't have a strong selling point -- other than the fact it's a bit easier to integrate with your other devices and accounts if you're a dedicated Mac user. But if you use Android, you may find another device easier to use."

The Mirror reviews the Apple TV 4K

Costs range from [pounds sterling]149-[pounds sterling]199.

Can Apple take on Netflix? iPhone maker set to push into TV and movie streaming

Save money on TV packages

Typically, the major streaming sticks are considered "over-the-top" services -- something most people buy to supplement basic TV. If you want a smart media device that integrates with terrestrial Freeview, you may be better off looking at a Humax.

Warner says: "With a device like the Humax 5000T, you can watch and record live television while still getting the benefit of accessing apps and on-demand content, including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My 5. While it costs a bit more, it also provides features not provided by the other devices, and functions more like a set-top box, instead of a streaming device."

Costs around [pounds sterling]200.

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Credit: amazon.co.uk

Amazon Fire stick is especially attractive to Prime members
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Title Annotation:Money
Publication:Daily Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 2, 2018
Words:1586
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