Streaming Player Improvements
Streaming player manufacturers Fire TV, Roku, and Apple added subtle improvements in this year’s models. New models support all HDR formats —HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision— with surround sound capabilities, including Dolby Atmos or Dolby passthrough.
More players are WiFi 6 compatible. Ultimately the 6 GHz band will be useful as more smart home devices use 5 GHz, but there are still few WiFi 6 routers.
New models have boosted processor speeds as the Fire TV 4K Max uses a quad-core 1.8 GHz processor with a 750 MHz GPU that is 40% faster than its predecessor. The Fire TV Cube has taken it even further with an 8-core processor. But, the 3rd generation Apple TV 4K’s lightning-fast A15 bionic system-on-a-chip won the speed race as it restarts so fast, if you look away, you’ll wonder if it ever rebooted.
The Apple TV and Fire TV Cube processors are powerful enough to provide improved upscaling of SD and HD content, feeding a 4K TV clear and bright picture quality.
Google made operating system tweaks that improved the Chromecast 4K with Google TV’s performance. The Chromecast now scrolls smoothly through menus and is quicker to switch tabs. The updated system also uses less RAM, which helps stabilize streaming content with less buffering.
On the flip side, if budget is more important than getting the best picture and sound, the manufacturers have you covered. Google released an HD version of Chromecast with Google TV, Roku launched the Roku Express in the fall, and Apple continues to sell the HD version of Apple TV.
New Apple, Roku, and Fire TV remotes have Find My Remote features to find the thin little devices when they slip between sofa cushions. All with improved voice command features. This year’s Roku operating system updates include Roku’s voice keyboard that you can use for app login.
Following the lead of Apple TV’s Up Next List and the Chromecast with Google TV’s home screen, more players are aggregating title recommendations across multiple apps. Fire TV updated home screen, Roku’s What to Watch Tab, and the Plex app’s Watchlist include titles from different services like HBO Max, Paramount+, and more . This welcome improvement makes it much easier to decide what to watch next without opening several apps.
Higher Prices and Less Programming
Prices went up on most services this year. Starting with Netflix at the beginning of the year to Hulu and Disney+ at the end. By the end of the year, most services, including Netflix, offered an ad-supported tier where users could pay less if they were willing to sit through commercials. These tiers made the current no-ad plans more desirable and (perceptively) worthy of price hikes.
Streaming companies are also putting themself in financial binds as high-priced production with A-list stars requires big residuals. Streaming service mergers have influenced pricing and programming. NBC removed its current season series from Hulu in hopes of drawing users to their Peacock service. And yet, Hulu and its sister app, Disney+, have raised prices. Bundling apps like Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+ can help consumers offset the price increases.
When David Zaslav of Discovery took over HBO Max, the company underestimated the merger’s costs, throwing them into a frenzy of cost slashing that removed many popular series from its service. This could save on residuals to cast and crew. But fans would have to find their favorite series elsewhere. The series will likely end up on free-ad-supported television (FAST) channels, including one that Warner Bros. Discovery is planning to launch in 2023.
Streaming Resembling Cable
More streaming apps offer FAST channels like Pluto TV, Xumo, Tubi, and IMDBTV. The Roku Channel, Peacock, and Samsung TV+ now offer linear scheduled TV channels. Samsung TV+ recently partnered with NBCUniversal to launch free news channels, including Dateline 24/7.
FAST channels look like cable TV as programs stream at scheduled times with several commercial breaks.
I will do anything to avoid watching commercials, including paying more for services and skipping commercials with AutoHop on the DISH Hopper’s recorded programming, but I am in the minority. Research firm Deloitte surveyed customers and found that almost 60% of users in the United States would rather watch streaming with ads if they could pay less for it. Parks Associates reports that 41 million households stream ad-supported Video-on-Demand (AVOD) and expects the number to rise to 57 million by 2027.
Streaming services also look more like cable as they slowly release TV episodes. Apple TV+ and Paramount+ release their series once a week, and Netflix often releases three episodes at a time, as they did for Love is Blind and Harry and Meghan. Users will need to wait weeks before they can binge a new show.
This past year marks a time of getting back to work and shedding our pandemic couch-potato streaming binges. A high churn rate had many content providers worried and scrambling. 2022 is wrapping up with better picture quality and faster players but disappointing changes to streaming services. As streaming continues to mature, we can only hope for surprising innovations in the future.