Rich Warren | TV services have never been more complicated

Rich Warren | TV services have never been more complicated

Remember my barber? He's the intelligent, college-educated guy who's been cutting hair for more than 50 years.

As befits a barber, he's pretty well-versed on just about everything. Even though we're of different political persuasions, I'd vote for him for governor.

Thus, I find upsetting his discomfort and confusion concerning how to enjoy his favorite TV channels. He complained that Mediacom kept raising his rates for a bushel of channels in which he had little interest.

So, he dropped his cable TV subscription and bought a Roku stick, since all he wants to subscribe to is Hulu Plus. Roku advertises just plug its stick into your recent-model TV, and assuming you have Wi-Fi, you're in business. My barber said he'd rather shave a balloon.

So he phoned Roku tech support and spoke with someone whose native language was not English. To complicate matters further, she started spouting arcane modem and router settings of which he had no knowledge and over which he had little control.

The same day, I received this reader email:

"I find that the TV, cable and Dish have adjuncts that are unfamiliar to me. Such as streaming, Amazon Fire Stick, Roku and all the various gadgets that can be added and are for sale, usually by uninitiated salesperson, so a simplified explanation is not forthcoming. Is Wi-Fi necessary? Are there fees involved? In addition with the various suppliers, there seems to be many different methods of supplying programs and types of programs. I would love to see a description of these items in your column."

Basically, he's in the same quandary as my barber.

One easy answer: All require Wi-Fi (a few will accept a wired ethernet connection to the internet). After that, there are no easy answers. Each streaming device offers different programming options, different picture quality (you can pay for basic high definition, true high definition and ultra high definition, better known as 4K) and a different "eco-system" of ancillary services and features. Some include voice-activated remotes, including working with Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri. Some cost as little as $30 on sale, and others more than $100.

To fully enjoy and benefit from a device for viewing internet-delivered video, you'll need a fairly fast broadband connection. In conjunction with your broadband internet, you'll need a modem that delivers the speed promised by your internet service provider and a fairly recent model router that includes the most recent iterations of Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi is updated about every other year for faster, better transmission. It's a true alphabet soup. The body that determines Wi-Fi standards recently switched to a numbered system. Your router should support at least Wi-Fi 4. The newest version is Wi-Fi 6.

After you ensure the hardware works, you have to choose what you want to watch. The problem is that your favorite shows may be scattered across a variety of services. By the time you subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, CBS All-Access, HBO Now and similar services from Showtime, Sidereel and Fubo TV, among others, you've spent more than your cable or satellite package.

Most start at about $10 a month, and as you add either higher definition or more programs, the price increases. Thus, if just one or two of these services satisfy you, you'll save money compared with cable/satellite.

Since I would need this entire section of this newspaper to explain all the details in depth and guide you through each decision, I suggest you seek professional help, since I don't make house calls.

Either visit a local dealer, such as Good Vibes, or a chain store such as Best Buy's Geek Squad and firmly tell them what you desire.

Most dealers make a commission from selling a satellite subscription, so insist you want to go the internet route. The support visit will cost about $100, but it will be money well spent.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

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