How Does Streaming TV Work?

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Updated January 25, 2023

Before the 1990s, television required a bandwidth of 200 Mbit/s, an amount that could not be transmitted over a telephone cable. Since that time, people around the world saw the bandwidth of a telephone line, which was initially used to transmit internet signals increase significantly. Additionally, the transmission of digital television decreased in bandwidth. YouTube introduced video-sharing in the mid-2000s, starting the era of streaming television, which was integrated into TV, and many top-rated TVs adopted it. Many consumers use streaming through a variety of applications daily. So, how does streaming TV work?


  • Streaming TV works by using the internet to access shows hosted on specific streaming websites.
  • To stream TV shows and movies, one needs a device capable of streaming, an account on a streaming service, and an internet connection.
  • Streaming high-quality shows or movies requires a broadband speed of at least 5 Mbps.

What Is Streaming TV?

Television streaming occurs when TV content, such as shows or movies, is distributed over the internet in the form of streaming media. Streaming requires an entirely different connection and method than broadcast television. Before streaming, networks delivered their content using antennae, cable, or satellite TV systems. But in today’s world, setting up streaming TV requires a compatible device, a reliable internet connection, and a streaming service provider account.

Video content is now in higher demand than ever before – and with popular streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and others offering video content on-demand, it’s easier to access video content at any time. Plus, if you learn how to set up a TV without cable, you can watch literally anything for a better price.

Streamed content often comes from these same networks or their partners, but it comes over the internet. Anyone with an internet connection can access these streaming services, though many require a subscription. YouTube, for example, offers both free and subscription content. This service may not seem like one of the major streaming services, but its videos are streamed media.

Streaming services are becoming more and more popular, with people turning to them as their favorite way of consuming media. Today’s streaming services offer on-demand content, meaning subscribers can watch whatever they want whenever they choose. This differs from broadcast television in that it provides a personalized experience for viewers, and the accessibility of streaming video allows users to access their favorite shows and films on their preferred devices without the need for physical media.

Services dedicated to streaming television content include, but are not limited to, Netflix, Tubi, Crackle, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, Vudu, Peacock, Disney+, Apple TV+, BET+, and Paramount+. Set-top boxes, smart TVs, adapters, and video game consoles offer some or all of these services.

What Do I Need to Stream?

Streaming TV seems relatively easy to most consumers. This ease comes from the intuitive nature of most streaming devices, though the exception might be the setup process. However, most streaming devices walk you through the process. To start streaming television, you will need a device that can access streaming services, an account for your desired streaming service, and an internet connection. You can check out our Apple TV vs smart TV comparison to see how a dedicated device compares to a built-in option.

Streaming Devices

  • Smart TVs are the most popular way for Americans to access streaming services, with 31% using this method. Unlike standard TVs, smart TVs provide consumers with access to their preferred streaming content without additional streaming devices. Streaming apps may be downloaded automatically as they become available, or they may be available for download. You may also want to find out what a plasma TV is and if it would be suitable for your streaming needs. Smart TVs use the least amount of energy compared to other streaming devices. You can read our article on what a smart TV is to if this would be right for you. If this sounds like what you would like, check out our Samsung Series 7 TV review for an option to consider.
  • Video game consoles often provide a way to access streaming applications. These consoles have specially designed applications that access each streaming service. The available streaming services depend on the applications available through the app store on the device. Game consoles use substantially more energy than digital media players.
  • Tablets, laptops, and desktop computers each provide access to streaming services. These services may be available through apps that need to be downloaded or through websites. Tablets and laptops offer mobile access to content as long as there is an internet connection. Tablets use less energy than a laptop, which in turn uses less power than a desktop computer. If you don’t have a smart TV, you can always learn how to connect a laptop to a TV so the television mirrors the laptop’s display where you can access your streaming services.
  • Set-top boxes or digital media players connect to a standard TV. These appliances receive and decode the digital media being streamed, allowing users to watch on their TV. Aside from smart TVs, these devices use the least energy to connect.
  • Smartphones, like laptops and tablets, provide a mobile method for watching streaming content. However, unlike laptops and tablets, smartphones typically use applications to access streamed content.

Streaming Service Account

Many streaming services require users to create and log in to an account. By requiring an account, these services often make recommendations based on what the user has watched in the past by requiring an account. Additionally, some streaming services require a subscription that is linked to the account. However, profiles can be made under most accounts, allowing members of the household to store their watched shows and receive individualized recommendations.

Internet Connection

If you have ever wondered why your TV keeps buffering when you are trying to watch your favorite show, continue reading to understand how your internet connection is important. To stream TV, an internet connection is required. However, if their internet runs slow, many find it difficult to stream episodes or movies. This issue stems from the broadband speed of the internet. Broadband speed describes the rate at which data travels to a home, and this speed is measured in megabits per second (Mbps.) This speed varies based on the internet service a consumer has and how much bandwidth other devices being used take up. Additionally, the consumer’s router can affect the speed.

According to some streaming companies, a connection that runs at 5 Mbps is required for streaming high-definition shows and movies. However, that speed works for one user at a time. If multiple users are online, then the rate needs to be higher. Without enough speed, shows and movies take longer to load and may “buffer” (or pause as the content loads) in the middle of the content. You may also want to find out what sizes TVs come in as it may affect the internet speed that you need.

Streaming content requires an active internet connection, an account on the desired streaming service, and a device capable of receiving and converting the digital signals the streaming service sends. Most of these devices walk the user through setting up the device and connecting to an account.


Do you need internet for streaming TV?

The streaming service transmits the content using the internet, so an internet connection is required.

Why do I need an Internet connection?

The TV shows and movies offered on streaming services come in digital media over the internet. Therefore, you will also need a device capable of receiving and deciphering the signals.

Should I get a streaming device if I already have a smart TV?

If a streaming service is not available on your smart TV, you may want a streaming device that offers that streaming service. However, if your smart TV offers the applications you want to stream on, there is no need to purchase an additional streaming device.

STAT: Smart TVs are the most popular way for Americans to access streaming services, with 31% using this method. (source)

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