By Brian X. Chen:
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.
BEST ALL-AROUND STREAMERApple TV
PRICE: $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.
BEST 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.
Amazon Fire TV
BEST 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.
COMPACT DEVICE FOR A LOW PRICEGoogle Chromecast
BEST 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.