How to stream content to your smartphone

We show you how to stream premium video content to your mobile device

See that smartphone in your hand/pocket? That tiny device is actually more powerful than the large flat screen TV in your living room and your sound system combined, and is likely the 'smartest' home entertainment device you have in your possession. The newest flagship mobile devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 come with grunty octo-core processors, the latest graphics technology and more on-screen pixels than a Full HD television.

See that smartphone in your hand/pocket? That tiny device is actually more powerful than the large flat screen TV in your living room and your sound system combined, and is likely the 'smartest' home entertainment device you have in your possession. The newest flagship mobile devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 come with grunty octo-core processors, the latest graphics technology and more on-screen pixels than a Full HD television.

There's a good chance that you're already using your smartphone as a primary entertainment device in the home. Plug it into a TV or sound system, or use a device such as the Google Chromecast, and the limitations of the small screen and tiny speakers all but disappear. The only remaining limitation is storage.

Here, we'll look at the range of software solutions and services you can take advantage of that let you tap into a near limitless library of movies without hogging up space on your smartphone's limited storage.

Why stream?

How to stream content to your smartphone

Even with the 128GB options on the latest devices like the Apple iPhone 6, this is bound to fill up quickly once you start download Full HD videos. The workaround is streaming content from the cloud using free and subscription services, and there are multiple options and styles to choose from.

The only caveat is that these sorts of services use up a lot of data – this isn't as big of a deal if you're at home using a fixed broadband Internet service, but if you're using a 3G or 4G mobile data connection, streaming video in particular will quickly eat up your monthly allowance.

Subscription VOD services

How to stream content to your smartphone

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past couple of months, you'll have caught wind of the three-way subscription video on demand (SVOD) battle that's been waging between Netflix, Stan and Presto.

All three services offer an 'all-you-can-eat' style service for streaming TV shows and movies from the offered catalogue. The attraction of these services are many: unlike broadcast TV, you don't have to worry about ads cutting in to your viewing every so often, and you're not subject to the broadcaster's schedule – you can pick and choose what you want to watch whenever you want to watch it.

Further, you can use an SVOD service to satisfy your 'binge watching' urges and watch entire seasons of shows sequentially, so if you're still behind on Breaking Bad, Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, you can watch everything you've missed all at once – so long as the service offers that show.

Subscription VOD services: Limitations

How to stream content to your smartphone

And therein lies one of the rubs for the SVOD services in Australia: you won't be able to watch all of the shows you want to watch on every service.

Netflix, Stan and Presto have each worked hard to secure exclusive content, so while shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black are only available on Netflix, Stan has secured the exclusive rights to Better Call Saul and Community, while Presto has Modern Family.

The other thing worth noting is that you don't own any of the content that you watch through the service. As soon as you stop paying the monthly subscription fee, you lose access to everything. Since everything is streamed to your device in real-time, nothing is actually stored on your device permanently – although this is good news for smartphone owners that don't want to clog up their device with high-def downloads.

While the likes of Netflix make a big song and dance about the exclusive TV shows and movies they've secured, most of the content offered by an SVOD is back catalogue stuff that's 2-3 years old. Think old episodes of Sex and the City, Lost and True Blood, along with a lot of 'straight-to-DVD' movies.

Still, the recommendation engine, which suggests other TV shows and movies to watch based on your viewing patterns, means you can unearth gems that you've never heard of or wouldn't have considered buying separately. When it's all free to watch, most people tend to be a bit more experimental with their viewing choices.

Free video services

How to stream content to your smartphone

Don't want to pay for content? Going down the illegal download route isn't strictly necessary. There are a handful of free services available that let you stream TV shows, movies, and user-generated content legitimately without clogging up the internal storage on your smartphone.

The most well known service, of course, is YouTube. You'd be surprised at how much time you can while away watching funny videos on this service, and Google has added several features that make it easier to unearth good content and continue watching for extended periods. The 'What to watch' home page displays recommended content based on what you've watched previously, ensuring you'll always find something new and interesting. While you're watching a video, you also see suggestions below on similar video clips.

Once you've had your fill of user-generated content, you can access a decent library of back catalogue content via Viewster and Crackle. Viewster is an ad-supported global service with more than 150 companies offering licensed content for free viewing (including Warner Bros), and you'll be able to find TV shows and movies here such as What's Eating Gilbert Grape and Black Books. However, most of the content here is likely to be stuff you've never heard of – movies that well-known actors were in before they were famous. Mobile apps are available for iOS and Android.

Crackle, on the other hand, is a free service backed by Sony Picture Entertainment that airs TV shows and movies that are mainly produced by Sony. The content here is a little better in terms of recognised titles, with popular favourites like A Few Good Men, Resident Evil: Afterlife, Gattaca, and Don't Mess with the Zohan on the movie side and Rescue Me, Days of our Lives and Woke Up Dead in the TV shows section. Mobile apps are available for iOS and Android.

If you're looking for Australian-made shows like House Rules, MasterChef and The Block, you can also check out the various catch-up TV apps offered by the major networks, namely, PLUS7, TENplay, 9Jumpin, ABC iview and SBS On Demand.