Streaming devices make it easier to watch your internet TV on your regular TV. Simply plugged in the in the HDMI dongle to the HDMI port of your television and you are good to go. However, with so many options to choose from like Chromecast, Fire Stick, Roku, etc, it might get difficult to pick the right one for you.
So, in this article, we’ll be comparing the five most popular streaming devices — Chromecast, Fire Stick, Roku, Android TV, and Apple TV, and help you find the best fit for your living room. Though, instead of getting into jargon like specs and pricing, I’ll be talking from my personal experiences with these streaming devices. So, let’s begin
Streaming Devices Compared
1. Chromecast ($35)
Chromecast was the first streaming device that I used. You can cast from Netflix, Hulu and YouTube videos from your smartphone to your TV. And once the video gets cast, it works directly with the router. So even if you turn off the smartphone, Chromecast will automatically fetch the next video.
The biggest selling point though is it’s screen mirroring feature. If you’re looking to cast from 3rd party video apps to your television (like Terrarium TV), or if you want to mirror your smartphone screen to your television, Chromecast does it best.
When it comes streaming though, it’s not the best, I mean, sure, I can stream apps like YouTube and Netflix flawlessly, but since Chromecast use your smartphone as a remote (it doesn’t have a dedicated remote like other streaming apps) it makes it hard to jump 10 secs forward or backward on a video. And not just that. I often felt the need for a dedicated remote and UI, especially when I share my TV. That way when I’m done, I can just leave the remote for the next person.
However, my biggest issue with Chromecast is that you can’t stream Amazon Prime videos with it. Yes, you can bypass this restriction by mirroring your smartphone or computer screen instead of casting prime videos. And although it does work, the workaround is not intuitive.
Also, since Chromecast comes with the hard-coded DNS server, it’s not easy to bypass geo-restrictions on Chromecast. Meaning, say if you live in Canada and wants to watch Netflix US on Chromecast, by changing your DNS, well you can’t do that.
2. Roku Stick ($29)
So, the lack of a remote and geo-restrictions on Chromecast led me to Roku.
Roku not only comes with a dedicated remote, it also has a dedicated Netflix and Amazon prime button on it. Also, since it gives you the option to change DNS in the settings, I was able to watch geo-restricted content like US Netflix and Hulu on Roku by changing the DNS server to Smart DNS proxy, something that was never possible on Chromecast
But this all comes with a cost. When you first set up your Roku Stick, you’ll need to enter your credit card details. You can still bypass this step but if you do that, you won’t be able to stream geo-restricted content on Roku.
Although Roku comes with a dedicated remote, you can also use the Roku remote app on your phone. This comes in handy when you type in long passwords to search for movies and TV shows. But my favorite thing about Roku is the huge list of channels you can stream on it like- Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, Sling TV, Comedy Central, Crunchyroll, Starz etc. Something that was missing on Chromecast.
Overall, Roku has best of both world, unlike Chromecast, you can play Amazon Prime videos on Roku as well as play YouTube videos in a dedicated YouTube app, which is missing in Firestick.
3. Fire Stick ($40)
If you are like me, who’s uncomfortable sharing the credit card details with Roku, then Amazon Fire Stick is a great choice. And I’ve to say, when it comes to streaming experience, it gets everything right.
I mean, like Roku, it not only has an intuitive remote but also a well thought out UI. For instance, you can scroll 10 sec forward and backward, something that was a nightmare on chromecast. Another cool thing is, the Fire Stick displays actors’ names and IMDB rating every time you pause the playback. And in case you don’t have a Fire Stick remote with you, there is Fire TV remote app available for both Android and iOS.
The screen mirror isn’t as good as Chromecast, but unlike Chromecast, which doesn’t support prime videos, you can at least play YouTube using a Firefox browser.
Setting up Fire stick for the first time is a pain though. If your office or hotel’s WiFi requires username and password to use the internet, you can’t connect Fire Stick to it.
4. Android TV box
But as they say, unless you try a better product, you don’t know what you’re missing out on. And that’s when I got my hands on Android TV box.
- A remote and a UI, like on the Fire Stick – CHECK
- High-end gaming capability – CHECK
- Sideloading any android apk – CHECK
Well, the possibilities seemed endless. But in reality, Android TV box is a great plan with bad execution.
Before we come to that, first let’s be clear on what an Android TV box is,
If you search on Amazon, you’ll see all sorts of “shady” manufacturers, selling Android 7.1 TV box, instead of Android TV box. This Android version number means they simply borrowing the original Android source code—the one that’s meant for phones or tablets. So instead of getting that slick Android TV interface, you get a phone interface on a big, non-touch screen. Best bet is to stick with well-known brands like Nvidia shield and Xiaomi.
In general, my complaint is with the overall Android TV box ecosystem. Since Google showed little interest, the entire platform is half-baked. So you’ll have all the apps and games but they don’t work great on TVs as they are designed for smartphones. For example, if I’m playing a car racing game on TV, I would want my remote to work as a motion controller. But it doesn’t.
5. Apple TV ($149)
And finally, Apple TV is there is fill that gap. In fact, it not only got the streaming right, like the Firestick, but also, thanks to the tvOS, all the apps and games are specifically built to work on the bigger screen.
Simply put, like Chromecast, it can cast the iPhone screen flawlessly. Sorry Android users. However, the touch remote and streaming interface is far better than Fire Sticks.
But where it really outperforms any streaming device is apps. The apple app store has tons of apps that are handcrafted for Apple TV interface. For example, with the VLC app can play any kind of format, you can access your cloud storage, and best of all games.
Unlike the Android TV remote, the touch remote on Apple TV automatically adapts to whichever game you’re playing. For instance, if I play Asphalt or Tennis, the remote becomes a motion controller.
However, like all Apple products, Apple TV also comes with restrictions, for example, there is no easy way to mirror Android or Windows screen to Apple TV neither does it come with a dedicated web browser. But overall, if you are invested in Apple ecosystem, Apple TV makes a lot of sense.
So, which one should you buy?
Chromecast is a good option only when you want to cast from 3rd party apps, they only work with chromecast and so is screen mirror. No one does it better than Chromecast.
Firestick on the overall a much better choice when it comes to streaming experiences, the remote and UI makes it easy to enjoy the content.
I would only get Roku if watching geo-restricted content is my priority, also if I want both stream both YouTube and Amazon Prime videos inside the same device.
Android TV is a promising tech that hasn’t matured well. The streaming works fine. Though the ability to run use your TV as a web browser, run high-end games and sideload the Android app on a bigger screen might be tempting t, but the apps are not polished. I would prefer spending money on firestick over android tv box.
But, If money is no issue, go for apple tv, it’s the best streaming device I’veusede. I will highly recommend it. It packs some high-end games. But to takes little full advantage, you will have to invest in apple ecosystem. It’s my personal fav. Just like any Apple product, once you try apple tv, you can’t go back.
That’s all for now, let me know what are you going to buy in the comments below.