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What to download and watch on your new TV streaming device

Michal Rojek

It's a gift that keeps on giving -- once you unwrap a new Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast or other TV streaming device, countless hours of binge-watching joy lie ahead. But first you've got to figure which apps to download and how to navigate the overwhelming number of entertainment options that are now just a few clicks away.

First the good news: Whichever device you got, it's going to have lots of great content built in. For example, CBSN - our 24/7 digital streaming news service - is available on all streaming devices.

But the bad news: Not every device has every app, so sometimes you'll have to take a few extra steps, and certain options may not be available.

"Just about all of these streamers have apps for Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, HBO, Showtime, Watch ESPN, and PBS Kids, and all offer many, many more," writes CNET TV section editor David Katzmaier. "New apps are added to these devices all the time, but there are still some gaps."

Here's what you need to know to get started.

Apple TV

"We believe the future of television is apps," Apple CEO Tim Cook declared in September as he unveiled the latest iteration of Apple TV. The sleek little box lets you buy or rent streaming movies and TV shows from iTunes, including popular recent hits like "The Walking Dead." You can download a variety of apps from the App Store to stream content from Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access and more. HBO Go and Showtime apps offer cable-less subscriptions to their premium content. Sports season passes are available for a fee for fans of the NBA, MLB or NHL.

Apple says it's adding new options to the App Store all the time. But it still has far fewer choices than Roku and other competitors.

What's missing? Primarily, an app for Amazon Prime Video, which gives Amazon Prime members a huge library of streaming content including original series like "Transparent" and "Alpha House." You can still watch, but it requires a workaround: using an Apple feature called AirPlay, you can wirelessly stream the video from your iPhone or iPad to your TV screen. Some industry analysts predict Amazon Prime will be added to Apple TV in the near future.

Chromecast

Google's Chromecast also lacks a native app for Amazon Prime Video. "You can watch Amazon content on those devices, but it's not as simple as clicking on the app icon. You have to fire up the Amazon app on your phone or tablet and use the 'casting' feature" to stream it through your TV, CNET's Katzmaier explains. Chromecast also lacks iTunes, and if you have small children in the house you might miss Nick Jr. (or at least, they might).

Roku

Roku boasts of the largest selection of channels, with more than 2,500 available, many for free. It recently added HGTV, Food Network, the Travel Channel and USA Network to the lineup, and it does include built-in access to Amazon Prime Video. But there's no Apple Music or iTunes on Roku.

Amazon Fire TV

Of course Amazon Prime Video is available here, along with a wealth of other streaming video apps and games. However, there's no access to Vudu, a popular competing movie and TV streaming service, and of course there's no iTunes either.

For a more complete list of channels and apps available for each device, there's a handy chart on our partner site CNET.

Binge-worthy viewing

If you're new to streaming, it's time to catch up on some of the binge-worthy shows everyone's been talking about. For starters:

  • Netflix: "Orange Is the New Black." One of the first streaming-only series to be a breakout hit, it's up for a Golden Globe for best comedy series.
  • Netflix: "House of Cards." Another Netflix original, the Kevin Spacey-Robin Wright political melodrama returns for season 4 in March.
  • HBO Go: "Game of Thrones." There are already five seasons of this epic series behind us, and a lot of blood, gore and revenge to catch up on before season six is unleashed in April.
  • Amazon: "Transparent." No matter how dysfunctional your family is, rest assured that the Pfefferman family of "Transparent" is much worse. Jeffrey Tambor won an Emmy and Golden Globe for his lead performance.

Of course this list hardly begins to cover it. What are you looking forward to streaming next?