A Rundown of Current Streaming Devices

A Rundown of Current Streaming Devices

Jan 22, 2016

Just in time for the holiday shopping season, Apple, Amazon, Roku and Google have introduced new video streaming devices. They all have features in common — namely, access to popular video streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO. But there are a few characteristics that make each stand apart, like their prices, remote controls or the ability to stream video content for high-end 4K television sets.

After testing all the devices, the Apple TV stood out as the most compelling – albeit priciest – of the pack. But it’s not the best for everyone, so to make picking one easy for you, we assessed the pros and cons of each device.

  1. BEST ALL-AROUND STREAMERApple TVPRICE: $149 (32GB); $199 (64GB)BEST FOR: Cordcutters, especially Apple customers, who want a solid general purpose device for TV, apps and gaming.SPECIAL FEATURES: A beautiful user interface; access to third-party apps and games through Apple’s App Store; voice-powered controls with Siri; a comfortable remote control with a touch pad and motion sensors for gaming; Bluetooth support for third-party accessories like game controllers; ability to stream Apple Music.DOWNSIDES: Can’t download unapproved third-party apps outside Apple’s App Store; can’t yet access Amazon’s catalog of streaming content; can’t stream Ultra-HD 4K content.

  2. Roku TVPRICE: $130BEST FOR: Early adopters of fancy ultra-HD televisions (or those who plan to buy one very soon).SPECIAL FEATURES: Access to third-party apps and games through Roku’s app store; ability to receive recommendations for programming to watch based on TV shows or actors that you tag; ability to stream some 4K high-definition programming from Netflix, Amazon, Vudu and others; comfortable remote control.DOWNSIDES: At 6.5 inches wide, set-top box is large and unattractive.

  3. Amazon Fire TVPRICE: $100BEST FOR: Amazon Prime customers; owners of 4K (Ultra-HD) televisions.SPECIAL FEATURES: Easy access to streaming content for Amazon customers, including free content offered through Amazon Prime; voice-powered search capabilities; ability to stream 4K high-definition programming; access to third-party apps and games through Amazon’s app store as well as unauthorized Android TV apps.DOWNSIDES: User interface is confusing and inelegant; difficult to access Android apps that are installed from outside of Amazon’s app store; remote control feels cheap and uncomfortable; third-party apps and games are not compelling.

  4. COMPACT DEVICE FOR A LOW PRICEGoogle ChromecastPRICE: $35BEST FOR: People who are on a tight budget, or those who travel often and want to stream their own content to a hotel television; Android users.SPECIAL FEATURES: Compact, portable device that can fit in a travel bag pocket; streams content from your smartphone (iPhone or Android), or computer (Macs, Windows PCs and Chromebooks); as cheap as a Blu-ray movie.DOWNSIDES: No physical remote control; pulling content from a smartphone is not as fast or reliable as running a streaming app directly on a device.