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Technology

What You Need to Know About Streaming Video

With new options, online viewing is easier and cheaper than ever.

1. You can commit to a new provider. Ready to cut the cord? If you’re interested in a low-cost subscription that allows unlimited streaming, look to Netflix and Amazon Prime. Netflix, which has a huge video library, will run you $8 a month, or $96 a year. Prime, which is $79 for the year, gives you access to a rotating library of more than 17,000 TV and movie titles. Plus, you’re entitled to some e-book rentals and free two-day shipping on most Amazon products.

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2. Or you can play the field. Amazon Instant Video (with more than 120,000 movies and TV shows), iTunes (with 130,000) and Vudu (with 70,000) charge $2 to $3 for individual TV and movie rentals, and $4 for new releases. The catch: A rental is still a rental. If you want to watch a movie again, you’ll have to pay for it. And for frequent couch potatoes, those payments add up: Pay-as-you-go renting is cheaper than Netflix only if you rent fewer than three movies a month.

3. Your cable company wants you back. A number of cable providers are touting their streaming capabilities. But don’t be fooled into thinking that a streaming package is a bargain. Comcast’s Xfinity TV lets you watch your favorite shows online, on a TV and on other mobile devices, but after the first 12 months you will pay $55 a month for the privilege. Verizon FiOS streaming packages begin at $65 a month for the first year, plus taxes and fees.

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4. You’re paying twice. Walmart trumpeted the launch in April of its disc-to-digital service, which, for $2 or $5, allows you to stream movies you already own on DVD to your tablet or mobile device. But why pay extra to stream a movie you can already watch on your TV or laptop?

5. You may need some new equipment. Whatever serv­ice you choose will likely be compatible with your PC and mainstream mobile devices, such as iPads and iPods. But if you want to watch TV, well, on your TV, then you might need to invest in a streaming device. You can stream content from all of the major players using a PlayStation 3 ($250) or an Xbox 360 ($200), which makes them solid bets if you also play video games. Roku’s box, a bargain at $60 to $100, works with any major serv­ice. If you want to connect your computer directly to your TV, that’s a snap, too. A set of HDMI cables for high-definition TVs costs less than $10; standard-definition TVs can take PC-to-TV converters, which run about $75. (You will also need to route the audio through separate speakers.) Some HDTVs come Internet-enabled and ready to stream.

6. Tune in for further developments. In February, Redbox and Verizon announced a movie-streaming partnership, set to launch in the fall or winter. Two days later, Amazon and Viacom announced a similar partnership that offers channels such as MTV and Comedy Central on the Amazon Prime platform. But the most exciting development might be a scrappy start-up called Aereo. The service, launched in March, lets you watch TV on any Web-connected device with a screen via Aereo’s network of miniaturized antennas. Aereo serves up only 20 channels at present, and only to New York City residents. The company remains mum on its expansion plans, but it has raised enough funding to grow if the initial rollout goes well.

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