Roku VS satellite TV

Amazon Fire TV lets you find shows by speaking their names into the remote. Really. (Amazon)

Do I really need a set-top box to watch Internet video?
Yes and no. You can get to most of the major services — Netflix, Amazon Video, iTunes, Pandora, Hulu Plus — on the web, on your computer or mobile device. In fact, there’s some content (particularly on Hulu) that you can access only via a computer, because the video service doesn’t own the rights to send it to your set-top box.

Still, there are many channels that are available only via a streaming device. And in any case, it’s a lot easier and more comfortable to watch this stuff on the big screen from the comfort of your couch.

What about sports?
Are you a big sports fan? That’s one area where these devices tend to fumble. You’d have to pony up hundreds of dollars for annual subscriptions to professional baseball, basketball, hockey, and soccer channels; even then, there are a lot of exceptions for local blackouts and games carried by the major TV networks. And there is no NFL channel yet on any of the boxes.

Then there are some channels you can access only if you already have a working cable or satellite account, such as ESPN Watch, HBO GO, or Showtime Anytime. It somewhat defeats the purpose of having a set-top box, but the cable companies will do anything they can to keep you from cutting their cord.

Bottom line: Can I really use any of these things to cut the cord?
It depends on what you like to watch. If you’re a big fan of live TV events, sports, daytime television, shopping channels, and the 24/7 cable news circus, probably not.

If you like nothing better than to binge on episodes of Breaking Bad or Dexter until your eyes bleed, and/or you hate paying ginormous cable bills for a lot of crap you have no intention of watching, then you’re an excellent candidate for one.

You may also be able to supplement your set-top video habit with over-the-air channels and other options. Look for more about that in a future Modern Family column.

OK, final question: Will using Amazon Fire TV turn you into a crazy old coot who talks to inanimate objects?

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