Movies, TV and more from the internet
Welcome to the largest video store in the world: The internet gives you access to a huge selection of feature films, TV series and other video-based content. Increasingly more people are becoming firm fans of video on demand, or VoD, the catch-all name for such media.
According to the comprehensive survey run by gfu in April 2020, one in two people in Germany already use online streaming services on their smart TV (47%). And 82% of 14 to 29-year-olds, watch YouTube at least once a week, according to an online survey carried out by ARD and ZDF in 2019. But video streaming can do much more than just movies and TV: sporting events can be broadcast to mobile devices, and gamers can compete against each other in virtual arenas, families can stay in touch via video chat and teams can continue to work together online, from home.
This tech guide will show you how video streaming works.
Players for home and on the road
Video streaming does not depend on the traditional TV reception technology. You can receive a video signal without a satellite dish, cable connection or antenna – all you need is an internet connection. This is very flexible as streaming devices can be connected to the internet wirelessly or via a mobile phone from almost anywhere: at home, at a hotel or in public spaces.
Internet speeds required
To receive high resolution video content, you’ll need a high-speed internet connection. For standard definition (SD) video, a download speed of 3 megabits per second (Mbit/s) is ideal. High definition (HD) videos run smoothly from about 5-6 Mbit/s. Movies and TV at ultra HD (UHD) need more: Depending on your internet provider, these require a speed of between 16 and 25 Mbit/s. If the video data arrives more slowly, playback will stall. In such instances, many streaming services will automatically reduce the resolution. For example, instead of sending UHD data, they drop to HD, or even SD data if your internet connection or network is too slow. Video playback will then be smoother, albeit less sharp.
Big cinema on smart TVs
Smart TVs, or TVs with an internet connection, are particularly well suited for video streaming. Unbox, plug in, and enjoy! Most devices come with the popular apps installed – Amazon, Netflix and Co. If any are missing, you can download them from your TV manufacturer’s app store. Then all you need is an account with your streaming provider, and you’re ready to go! Video streaming works on smart TVs and their remotes without any additional devices. Voice control makes it even easier to search for a title or the name of an actor: “Show me all James Bond movies with Daniel Craig” – this will quickly display a list of what you have searched for.
Streaming technology to retrofit
If your TV’s app store doesn’t have an appropriate app or it can’t be installed, there are alternatives: A digital media dongle or a receiver will do the trick. Simply connect it via your TV’s HDMI port, then connect it to your wireless network or use a LAN cable to connect to the internet. This is how almost all streaming services can be retrofitted to any TV, including slightly older devices that do not connect to a network.
Smartphones, tablets and PCs
Devices with the Android or iOS operating system are perfect for streaming. They require internet access by default, and there are mobile apps available for all of the popular streaming services. On a laptop or a desktop computer, all you need is an internet browser: Open a new tab, enter the URL of the streaming service, log into your personal account, and you’re ready to watch. The streaming provider’s servers are so smart that they remember where you were up to in the last video you watched, and allow you to pick up from there across all of your devices. When you start watching a movie at home on the TV or PC, you can seamlessly continue it on your smartphone.
Networked video players
TV with internet connectivity
Smart TVs receive video signals via an app. Apps for the most popular streaming services are typically pre-installed. Additional players, including those for special interest programs, can be found in the app store of your device.
Receivers and recorders
Digital TV receivers that get a signal via a satellite, cable or an antenna, or hard disk recorders have much the same features as smart TVs. Access streaming services via the on-screen menu. The selection of services depends on the manufacturer and model of your device.
Digital media dongles
Not much larger than a USB stick, and just as easy to install: Providers such as Amazon and Sky sell digital media dongles to retrofit to non-smart TVs. They can be plugged into a HDMI port on the TV and can receive multiple services. Tip: Compare the apps available on the dongle before buying one.
Digital media players
The big brother of the dongle: A streaming box or digital media player, which also uses a HDMI connection to your TV, is more powerful and offers more functionality. Some models support hands-free voice control or wireless game controllers.
Games are usually the main event for gamers. But modern consoles do double duty as film and TV stars. All you need are apps! Plus, you can usually access the media libraries of broadcasters via the web and an internet browser on your console.
Smartphones and tablets
Streaming service apps are some of the most popular on Android and iOS devices. Each streaming service has an app for playing video on these two major platforms. Some streaming service apps may require an up-to-date version of the mobile operating system.
An internet browser gives you access to media libraries. Even if the streaming provider does not provide a native Windows or macOS app to watch video content, simply use any browser such as Chrome, Edge, Firefox, or Safari, to watch movies and TV series.
Is your internet connection fast enough to stream video content at a good quality? Use a website that performs a speed test to check your current download and upload speeds. They are easy to find on the internet by searching for “speed test”.
Fast Wi-Fi, LAN and mesh systems for high-quality video
Just as important as your internet speed, is your home network transmission speed. This is especially important when residents want to watch multiple different streams simultaneously, or even if they want to surf the web. Your child’s YouTube videos and your work conference call in your home office should not get in each other’s way.
LAN cable: The most reliable solution
To ensure the most stable and reliable connection, you can’t avoid network cables. A local area network (LAN) guarantees high data transmission rates, of up to 1,000 Mbit/s, depending on your router and installation. By using well-shielded cables, you can expand your LAN network over long distances without a problem. Gigabit LAN provides you with enough capacity for as many streams as you want to watch. It is worthwhile installing a cable from your router to your device.
Wi-Fi: Wireless streaming
Digital media dongles, smartphones and tablets don’t have a LAN socket. And even if they did, a cable restricts the freedom of movement and the fun of streaming on mobile devices. This is why Wi-Fi is so popular. Wireless networking has caught up considerably, in terms of speed, where the latest Wi-Fi standards almost reach the same speeds as Gigabit LANs.
Ideal: Wi-Fi N and AC
The most common wireless standard, 802.11n, also known as Wi-Fi N, is a good compromise between range and transmission speed. It is supported by almost all current devices and is well suited for streaming. 802.11ac promises significantly higher data rates, but only over much shorter distances. Wi-Fi AC is the top choice for streaming video content in UHD on your home network, or any other types of media that require a lot of bandwidth. The next generation is almost here, with Wi-Fi AX or Wi-Fi 6. However, right now, only a few routers and devices support this fastest and newest standard.
Repeaters and mesh systems
The drawback of wireless networks is that you trade speed for range and vice versa. The further you get from the router, the slower the transmission speed. Fewer bits arrive at your receiver each second. To ensure smooth streaming throughout your home, you’ll need Wi-Fi repeaters or powerline adapters which send network data to other rooms via the power cables. Wi-Fi mesh systems also perform well, as they form a seamless wireless network using multiple transmitters, the mesh nodes, which coordinate wirelessly with each other.
TVs with built-in internet capabilities
Live TV for the whole household
All home networks use the internet protocol (IP) to communicate, which is very flexible when it comes to video data transmission. Not only does this technology allow providers to give you access to a huge selection of pre-recorded movies and TV series, it supports live TV too. The internet has taken over the traditional transmission methods such as satellite (DVB-S/S2), cable (DVB-C) or antenna (DVB-T2-HD), transporting live TV signals all the way from the transmitter to your receiver.
IPTV: Live TV from the internet
Network providers, such as 1&1, Deutsche Telekom and Vodaphone allow you to subscribe to television over IP (IPTV) as an optional extra on their traditional packages that include a telephone flat rate or additional data volume. A receiver from your provider takes the signal, extracts the data stream and delivers it to the TV via the HDMI connection. You can also watch video on your smartphone or tablet. As the stream is delivered from a server on the internet, it’s trivial to implement additional useful features: video recording, time shifting or returning to the start of a program are typically available by default.
IPTV from free providers
If you don’t want to purchase internet and television as a complete package from one provider, there are alternatives available. Independent TV providers such as Waipu.tv and Zattoo provide customers that join their free basic package with a limited number of independent channels. Their full range of features, HD channels and recording functionality require a subscription. Apps on smartphones, tablets and digital media devices, as well as those on smart TVs and game consoles are available.
TV>IP: Your own TV server
TV over IP, or TV>IP, is based on a slightly different concept. This technology moves the streaming server from the internet into your home network. It receives a TV signal in the usual way, for example via satellite (Sat>IP), but then redistributes it on the home network. Smartphones and tablets can access these broadcasts. You no longer need to connect additional TVs or receivers to a satellite or cable connection. They can be installed anywhere in the home with a LAN or Wi-Fi signal. Some router models that receive TV via cable already have such a TV server built in. You can purchase a converter for your satellite system and place it near the satellite dish. Some manufacturers offer TVs and hard disk recorders with an integrated streaming server. Look for the TV>IP or Sat>IP designation when making a purchase.
These receivers from your internet service provider receive live TV via the internet, assuming you have purchased an appropriate combination package from your provider. They usually allow you to time-shift and record TV programs.
TV via an app
A playback program or app transforms smartphones and tablets into portable TVs. Depending on the app, broadcasts come from your IPTV service or TV>IP device. Note that TV>IP streaming only works while you are connected to your home network.
IPTV on a smart TV
You can watch a live broadcast on your TV via an app. If you can’t find the TV app that streams what you want to watch, you can connect your smartphone instead, and stream from your smartphone, over your wireless network, to your TV. Learn more in the section below, titled “From a smartphone to your TV”.
Streaming services and media libraries
See whatever you want – at the time that suits you best
The amount and diversity of video content on the internet has exploded in recent times. The top dogs, Apple, Amazon and Netflix, are facing stiff competition from Disney and Sky. Specialty providers such as Dazn, Kividoo and Mubi appeal to viewers with specific interests. Private broadcasters have banded together to offer their shows in bundles under brand names such as Joyn or TV Now. Plus, public broadcasters have expanded their media libraries into large streaming platforms.
Movies and TV series on subscription
Disney+, Netflix, Sky Ticket and Co. provide access for a flat rate: Pay a single monthly fee, and you get unlimited access to their entire catalog of content. You can stream a movie or a TV show to any device that is registered in your account – depending on your package. You can even stream different shows simultaneously, one on your TV and another on your child’s tablet or smartphone.
Rent to watch once
If you don’t want to pay for a subscription, you can ‘rent’ individual movies and TV shows from Amazon and Apple. For a few euros per title, your rental is typically available for 30 days, but will expire 24-48 hours after you start watching it. This concept is known as pay-per-view, primarily for movies. However, sports channels have discovered this model: You can now watch soccer matches on demand or activate a ticket for a league match on the day of the game.
Purchase and download
The alternatively to renting and watching once, is to purchase a title outright, for example, from Google, Apple or Amazon. Many blockbuster movies are released as purchase-only before they are made available as digital rentals, or become available in a flat-rate package. In addition to giving you access to new releases, purchased movies and TV series can be re-watched as often as you want, remaining permanently in your video library. This is more stable than streaming services, where titles often disappear after a certain time. Purchased movies and series can be downloaded to your end device, to be played at any time, even where you have no internet connection. This is not always possible with content from a streaming platform.
Broadcaster media libraries
Did you miss your favorite show, or want to watch it again? Many TV shows are available after they have been broadcast in the broadcaster’s media library. Depending on the broadcast rights for that particular show, they may be available for a few days or up to a year. Commonly, only rights-protected shows such as sporting events are excluded. You may even find that a particular show is available in the media library before its broadcast. Public service shows are usually free of charge; however, private broadcasters may charge a monthly fee to use their official app and access their media library.
The boundaries between live streaming, media libraries and video flat-rate packages are starting to blur with mixed offers such as Joyn or TV Now. These ‘stations’ combine current and past content with series and films that are not available on free TV. You can put together your own personal package from the various options available on these platforms.
From a smartphone to your TV
Google’s Chromecast technology delivers video content from your smartphone to your TV. Smart TVs with the Android operating system have this pre-installed. Alternatively, you can retrofit this functionality to other TVs via an inexpensive digital media player over a HDMI connection. All you need to install is an app that supports Chromecast. Most streaming apps do this by default, and let you connect to your TV using the home Wi-Fi as a playback device.
The counterpart from Apple to Google’s Chromecast is AirPlay. Your smartphone or tablet serves as a remote control and the video plays on your TV. However, not many TV manufacturers natively support AirPlay, and instead you may need the Apple TV digital media player to receive the signal from your mobile device. Once you have connected the Apple TV box to your TV and Wi-Fi, the TV will appear automatically in your iOS device’s AirPlay menu.
TV manufacturers use various technologies to display the content that is on your smartphone or tablet on your TV, for example, Miracast, Smart Mirroring, or Smart View. These don’t work with all mobile devices, however. In some cases, the transmitting device and the TV must be from the same manufacturer. If you plan to stream content from your mobile devices on the large screen, check what is supported before you purchase.
Some flat-rate packages, such as Netflix, allow you to download selected titles to your smartphone or tablet. This is convenient for when you travel, where you may not have internet access. However, these videos may only be available for a short time, depending on the individual title. It’s best to download the movies or shows you want to watch shortly before you leave.
Games in the cloud
The alternative to game consoles
Inserting a DVD or downloading multiple gigabytes of data – those are things of the past. Video streaming is revolutionizing the world of gaming. Games are no longer stored or run on your computer or console, they run on servers in the internet.
Low hardware costs
Only a comparably inexpensive receiver on your TV and a game controller is required. Computers, laptops and some Android smartphones will replace consoles in the future. The advantage: The cloud provides you with virtually unlimited computing power. When streamed, powerful games that would normally require a top gaming PC, can be played on a wide range of devices.
Similar to online video stores, game streaming platforms offer a variety of pricing models. Some games are paid for once or via in-app purchases. Others are part of a flat-rate subscription package that bundle multiple titles together. Please note: When you switch from your conventional game library to streamed gaming, you can’t always take the games you already own with you – you must purchase them again.
To ensure smooth gameplay, your internet speed should be as fast as possible. Some game streaming platforms recommend a download speed of 35 Mbit/s for UHD-quality game video. Attach the game receiver to your router with a LAN cable to ensure short response times. Wireless connections over the home Wi-Fi network often ruin the fun as they can introduce a lag of a few decisive milliseconds. If you don’t have a high-speed network ad home, you will find a traditional game console and downloaded games more suitable.
Just as important for smooth online gaming as download speed, is the connection ping. The ping indicates how long a data packet takes as it goes from your device to the game server and back. The shorter the ping, the better. A good router and LAN cable will usually improve this.
Stream your own content
Private media collection
Whether you have a smartphone, camcorder or an action cam, there will always be something present to capture memories or document events. These recordings are far too good to be left to gather digital dust on a memory card or hard drive. It’s much more fun to watch them as a video stream whenever you wish.
Private cloud storage
Smartphones come with free online storage these days – and if not, you can upgrade it via an app. Cell phone manufacturers, network operators and other software providers deliver these services. Uploading your media files is easy from a PC via a browser. These online archives are ideal as storage for videos that are to be streamed to other devices. An app on your smart TV or mobile device plays the video directly from the internet. If you run out of space, you can pay a monthly subscription to upgrade it.
Computer and NAS systems
When paired with software, these IT devices can take over the task of being a media server themselves. They can stream videos from their hard drives over the home network to compatible receivers and devices. Your PC can do this just as well as network hard drives (NAS systems). Important: The server program and the player software must be compatible with each other. The most common standard is Universal Plug and Play (UPnP). Almost all modern smart TVs and numerous Android and iOS apps support UPnP.
Hard disk recorders
Many receivers with hard disks or hard disk recorders attached to a TV can be used as media servers. This feature is usually available by default and only needs to be activated in the menu. Once activated, your recorder makes the videos stored on its hard drive available to other devices on the network. Some smart TVs that are able to record via USB also offer this option. Apps can be used to view the stored media on your smartphone or tablet.
Your own live stream
From your smartphone and computer to the world
Reporters, influencers and other media professional regularly go live “on air”. Thanks to platforms such as Facebook, YouTube or Twitch, anyone who has something to say or who wants to entertain their viewers can do so. The equipment needed for this can be found in almost every household.
Stream from mobile devices
The fastest and easiest method: Install the streaming platform’s app on your smartphone or tablet. Some services require a minimum number of friends, followers or subscribers before they unlock the live stream from mobile feature. It may take some time after activation until this feature is available. Accessories such as an LED key-light, tripod, or selfie stick help to ensure good image quality. Take a power bank with you when you travel – streaming quickly drains your battery!
Use a webcam on a computer
If you have a YouTube channel, you can also go live via a webcam on your computer. This method is almost easier than streaming from your smartphone. Start a live broadcast directly in your internet browser (Chrome or Firefox is recommended). If your webcam doesn’t have the best sound quality, consider purchasing an external USB microphone.
Stream using an encoder
Streaming using an encoder requires a little more effort. But the results are worth it. There are two methods to choose from: A software encoder which runs as a software program on your computer and encodes your video into a streaming format, or a hardware encoder that sits as a small box between a camera or console and your computer. High-quality DSLR cameras, camcorders or even image and sound mixers can be connected to these capture devices. Connecting consoles to live streams is important for streaming games on platforms like Twitch.
A live stream is only as good as its source material. A high-quality external microphone and the right lighting works wonders. Investing in a camera with a good lens can make your video streams look even better.