The era of watching live TV has long passed. Now we’ve even moving beyond DVRs and Netflix. The new age of television lies in streaming video. Devices like Roku, Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast have taken advantage of this trend by providing the ability to project video from Netflix, YouTube and other services onto a big screen TV.
With such a new service, though, it can be difficult to decide which device is the best. Here’s a breakdown of each to help you out:
Roku 3 ($100)
Roku started as a project within Netflix, but has since grown into a separate company that works all major video services except Apple’s iTunes. In addition to video, it plays games like “Angry Birds,” offers language lessons, supports music services like Pandora and Spotify and lets you browse photos on Flickr and other services. In fact, there are more than 1,000 apps available from Roku’s store, many of which are free.
The Roku remote control has a unique headphone jack. When you plug in, the sound on the TV automatically turns off. This can be useful if there are other people in the room, who wish to read or sleep.
Roku requires a high-definition TV with an HDMI port. It also lets you plug in an Internet cable if your wireless connection is spotty.
Apple TV ($99)
Apple TV is similar to Roku, but with only 27 apps. It includes Netflix, Hulu, PBS, HBO, ESPN, YouTube and more, though Amazon’s service is missing.
However, it is also the only device that supports Apple’s own services, which get installed automatically as new ones are created. You can buy or rent iTunes content directly from the device, play music or video stored on iCloud and listen to streaming music from iTunes Radio.
Apple TV excels in consistency. It uses the same keyboard and menu layout between all apps. It also provides the ease of subscribing to many services straight from your device and having it billed to your iTunes account rather than searching for a credit card.
The device works best with other Apple products. One thing to note is that DVDs are blocked due to copyright issues, so those cannot be streamed from your device.
Google’s Chromecast is a third of the price of the others, but it is also simpler in design. It is the size of a USB flash drive and plugs into an HDMI port. It acts more as a conduit between your TV and mobile devices.
Once you plug in the Chromecast device and download the corresponding app on your Apple or Android device, you have access to the 17 apps it supports. Though the list is short, it is the only device that supports music and video through Google Play.
Once your content is streaming on your phone or tablet, you tap a button and it transfers to the TV. You can then use your device for other things.
Chromecast is the best option when individuals in a household have separate accounts for Hulu and other services because each person controls the device from his or her phone. This eliminates the need to sign in and out each time.
Chromecast requires a strong Wi-Fi connection and does not provide the option to plug into the Internet.
The best streaming device truly depends on what you’re looking for and what budget you’re working with. However, it’s safe to say that more improvements will be on the way for all these devices, as video streaming is here to stay.