Tech Junkie Review: Channel Master Stream+
The #1 tech question I get these days is easily, “Hey Kirk, Should I cut the cord? How do I do it?” There’s no easy yes or no answer but I totally understand some of the frustration. Switching inputs on your TV to go from antenna to streaming services. It’s a total pain. A legacy antenna company out of Arizona, Channel Master, has a new device designed to fix that problem. I took the Stream+ for a test in my home.
It looks like a black coffee mug. That's not a bad thing. In fact it looks good and I could see this sitting on-top of an entertainment center. On that back you'll find a coax plug for your antenna, ethernet jack, hdmi connection, USB plug for storage and an optical audio connection. Other that that, the device is pretty simple. A tiny reset button is on the bottom in case of emergency but hopefully you won't need that. There isn't even a power button, this thing fires up when you plug in the power. Everything is done from the remote.
Setup was slick! In fact it took a total of 10 minutes of less to setup the entire box including scanning for my location stations. Adding my Google account was easy and punching in my local zip code quickly brought up all of the TV guide listings. The including remote works via IR but also connects via Bluetooth. This allows you to use the box without line of sight and also use the microphone on the remote to speak your searches to the box.
Channel Master has been doing antenna TV for over 50 years, so this is their jam. The Stream+ has 2 TV tuners built-in which means you can record 2 shows at once or watch one and record another at the same time. This should be sufficient for most people.
The TV guide interface is pretty straightforward and will match what most people are used to using on their cable box. Click any show in the future and it gives you the option to record a single episode or the entire series. The options are limited but I'm not sure more are necessary. It keeps it pretty simple.
Something that is a little quirky is that you can't actually start watching a recorded show until the recording is finished. This is an issue. How many times have you started recording the football game so that you can skip the commercials and timeouts? The good news is that Channel Master assures me this will be fixed in an update coming in the next few weeks.
It's an Android box
Previous DVR boxes from Channel Master ran their own OS but this is their first box to run Android. This makes total sense. The Android TV platform supports most of your favorite streaming apps and also integrates live TV and DVR capabilities into the OS. No more switching between sources on your TV! If you want to watch the local news, simply select the live TV app in the main menu! Want to watch some YouTube videos, flip over to the YouTube app. Heck, you can even download Android games and use a bluetooth game controller to play games on the Stream+. The processor is powerful and the interface and apps seemed to move pretty quickly in my testing. It's a very capable Android TV box with the Google Play station on-board so you can find and download your favorite apps.
Wait a second, where is Netflix? Where is Amazon Prime Video?
This is one of the biggest hiccups with the Stream+! The Netflix app is NOT available on this device in the Play store. Neither is Amazon Prime Video. For many, this will be a dealbreaker. I reached out to Channel Master and was told (as of 11/8/2018) that this is in the hands of Netflix. A spokesman for Channel Master said this about the Netflix app:
"Unfortunately, we do not have any new updates on the status of getting Netflix added to the Stream+. We’ve made every attempt to get Netflix added to the device. As it stands, the ball is in their court, but we will continue making every effort to get Netflix on the Stream+!"
So, if you're a big Netflix user, buying the Stream+ isn't the worst idea but there is no guarantee that Netflix will join the device on the Play store. If you're pretty saving with memory cards and Android "sideloading" the Netflix (or any other app) on the box is actually pretty easy.
Is it worth it?
Simply put, yes*. Notice the asterisk? I'll get to that in a second. First of all, the Stream+ is a solid Android set-top box. It's also a live TV DVR with 2 tuners that needs a few tweaks before being anywhere close to perfect. There is a lot packed into this box. The Netflix and Amazon Prime issue are frustrating but I'm hopeful in short time it will be resolved. Despite the issues, if you're willing to put up with those knowing that they will likely be fixed soon, this is the best all-in-one antenna/streaming box on the market for under $200 that doesn't require any sort of subscription service!
You can buy the Stream+ directly from Channel Master for $150.