The Ultimate Guide To Upgrading Your Streaming Setup

Here’s how to get the internet speed you’re paying for.

Photo: Shutterstock; Design: Danielle Hartley

Tired of looking at the same streaming setup after a long year of binging without any changes? Maybe you’re looking to upgrade to a projector, or perhaps you’re looking to improve your seating arrangement to really get into the game. Whichever you choose, take stock of your budget and then check out these tips for how to get the ultimate at-home streaming setup:

Choose the right player

Beginners log in to their streaming services on their computers (or worse, phones). The real pros, however, know to get a dedicated streaming media player. To get the best possible user experience, you’ll first want to consider what you’re using it for: live TV vs. on-demand streaming, do you care about obscure smart TV apps or just the big services, etc. If you’ve got other smart home devices, it may be worth sticking with the same manufacturer for the most seamless connection experience. Budget is also a factor, as you can spend as little as $35 or as much as $200 to get started streaming. Consumer guides like this one can help you narrow it all down, so you don’t end up just buying whatever your friend has.

Get the strongest signal

The first question you’ll want to ask is: “Am I getting the internet speed I’m paying for?” To find out, use a site like SpeedTest on a WiFi-connected device near where your streaming service is set up. If your download speeds are well below what your internet plan advertises, it might be time to call up your ISP and ask some hard questions. It helps to know what those numbers mean — for reference, a speed of 5 megabits per second is recommended to successfully stream HD video. 

If you’re seeing the correct numbers, slow streaming might be due to other factors. Try to establish an uninterrupted line of sight between your router and streaming device, to ensure the WiFi signal isn’t being blocked. Limit other downloading and uploading while you’re watching, since this can clog up your bandwidth. And if your router offers 5 GHz connection, use that channel, as it can provide a stronger signal. One final option: make sure there aren’t any freeloaders on your WiFi. The simplest way to do this is to change your network password, but there are more aggressive options to boot devices if you’re feeling vengeful. 

Go wired

You might have the world’s fanciest WiFi setup, with enough antennas to make it look like a radar system, but it still won’t compare to wired ethernet. If you can connect your streaming system directly to your modem, you’ll be able to receive data at a much higher rate, usually at least 10x the speeds. (For what it’s worth, you can get a 50-foot ethernet cable for less than $20.) If wiring simply isn’t an option for your layout, consider a mesh-net system instead. These alternatives to traditional WiFi function like multiple routers, giving you extended range on your signal.

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Photo: Shutterstock; Design: Danielle Hartley

Pick the right surround sound for your budget

Speaker systems are where home media budgets go haywire. But if you’re willing to spend the money, they’ll take your streaming setup from “decent” to “theater quality.” Reviewers love the Bose Acoustimass surround sound system for its design and sound quality, but it runs about $1,000. For a system about half the price, consider Vizio’s Soundbar system — not quite as immersive, but still very impressive. For a truly budget option, or just one that fits a smaller space, Majority’s small sound bar runs about $40 and will still beat your TV speakers for quality.

Switch to a projector

No matter what your setup is, switching to a projector will give you a bigger picture and more immersive experience. (Unless you’re already rocking the 88-inch curved 8K TV, in which case you don’t need our help.) Projector setup can be quite detailed, so do your research on which ones fit your space best. Modern short-throw projectors are often pricey, but allow for a 120-inch screen size within just a couple feet of projection distance. One thing worth noting: spend the extra time (and money) on your mounting system. Even an expensive projector will produce a poor image if not focused and spaced correctly, and being off-center forces you to use the image angle corrections, which will reduce your quality.

Get extra comfy

At the end of the day, being comfortable will make or break your streaming nights. Blankets and pillows are a given, but make sure you put room in your budget for upgraded seating options, like this giant bean bag chair or a reclining sofa with outlets and storage. Whatever you decide, go big — with a streaming setup this good, everyone will want to come over (when it’s safe to do so, of course!).