Monday, September 23, 2013

Streamer face-off: Roku, Apple TV and Chromecast


Google's Chromecast costs $35
When I first went looking for a device to stream movies and music from the Internet, there were two major options to choose from: a Ruku LT box for $50 or Apple TV for $100.

Now Google has entered the mix with Chromecast, a gadget the size of a thumb drive that plugs into a TV's HDMI port. It checks in at an eye-catching $35.

I've spent some time with all three streamers and I can tell you they are not all equal. There are pretty good reasons why their price tags vary as much as they do.

Roku's entry-level LT modet costs $50
First, let's look at the technical specs. All three support high-definition images, but the Ruku delivers 720p while the Apple and Chromecast do HD at 1080p. All three work with Wi-Fi, but Apple TV also has a jack for an Ethernet cable. You get a remote control wit the Roku and Apple TV, but not with Chromecast.

Now, what about programming? All three come with access to Netflix, so that's a wash. Here are the other major streaming services for each device:

  • Roku: Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Pandora, Spotify, Vudu, NHL and Major League Baseball.
  • Apple TV: Hulu Plus, HBO Go, YouTube, Watch ESPN, Vimeo, NHL, NBA, Major League Baseball and anything from iTunes.
  • Chromecast: YouTube and anything from Google Play.

Yes, that Chromecast list is rather short. But it will also stream anything you call up in the Chrome browser on your PC or Mac computer. It doesn't work with the mobile version of Chrome. Not even the one for Android devices. Not even the one on Google-brand tablets.

Apple TV costs $100
So, here'e my take:

If you're mostly interested in streaming Netflix and YouTube, the Chromecast is a great deal at a great price. And I expect it to add more services in the future.

If you're an iPhone and iPad user, the Apple TV makes a lot of sense. In addition to the branded services, it will also work with varios apps and it will stream movies and music stored on your computer.

The Ruku, with a good lineup of services and an affordable price tag, falls somewhere in-between.



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Follow me on Twitter @ricmanning and read my technology columns at My Well Being.


  1. There is more than one Roku box. Their website currently lists four, and two of them do 1080P.



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