This is the age of streaming video. No longer is a television just a dumb box connected to a cable service or a satellite provider; more and more television makers are offering "smart" sets that connect to a home wireless network to bring an entire universe of video choices courtesy of the Internet.
But until everyone has a smart TV, companies are at war to be the one providing a device to make that connection between the Internet and your existing television.
The choices seem almost limitless: Apple TV, Roku, WD TV, D-Link, Slingbox. Take your pick, connect some cables and start enjoying programming from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video and a host of others.
Game consoles are also getting into the act. Though still primarily used to play games, after dishing up level 14 of the latest first-person shooter, they're happy to stream video to the living room television.
The latest company to enter the streaming video arena is Google, the 500-pound gorilla of just about any area in which it gets interested.
Last Wednesday it announced Chromecast. Smaller than almost any other streaming device -- and cheaper to boot at $35 -- the 2-inch long device plugs into the HDMI port of a high-definition television to stream content over a home WiFi network.
Content can be streamed to the TV from either the Google Chrome web browser on a user's personal computer or from a supported app on a smartphone or tablet.
Companies are battling for a piece of the streaming video pie for one simple reason: It's where the viewers are. Recent industry figures show streaming video is watched by more people than cable network programming.
Looking at just one streaming service -- Netflix -- research firm BTIG said the average subscriber in the United States watches 87 minutes of content a day.
And the news just keeps getting worse for traditional TV. A recent survey by Nielsen found 5 million Americans have sworn off broadcast or cable television entirely, choosing streaming video as their sole source of content.
That's up from 2 million who had pulled the traditional plug in 2007.
Cost is a factor too. While a typical monthly cable or satellite bill is around $80, $7.99 a month brings a subscription to Netflix or Hulu Plus, and there's a significant amount of content available on the Web that doesn't cost anything more than your existing monthly WiFi connection.
And finally, streaming video can offer niche programming at a level never before seen. Interested in Alpine cheese-making techniques, building castles from matchsticks or improving your Sanskrit vocabulary? Be patient. Someone out there is probably considering the idea of starting a streaming channel for it.
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