$50 appears to be a magic value on the earth of streaming media units. It’s what Roku fees for a Streaming Stick+, it’s the value that Amazon asks for a Hearth TV Stick 4K, and as of in the present day, it’s what Google fees for its new Chromecast with Google TV gadget.
So if every of those streamers prices the identical, how do you determine which one is best for you? With extra that unites these devices than separates them, the reply can be within the particulars, so let’s take a deep dive and see the place every streamer’s strengths and weaknesses are.
Roku and Amazon use almost equivalent HDMI stick designs for his or her streamers. You get the “stick,” which plugs into an out there HDMI port in your TV, a MicroUSB cable for energy (which within the Roku’s case additionally doubles as its wi-fi transmitter module), an influence adapter in case your TV doesn’t have a free USB port, and a voice-enabled distant management.
Google’s Chromecast with Google TV follows a barely totally different method that places the streamer on the finish of a versatile HDMI cable. It’s a tad bulkier than the stick model, however it has two advantages: It’s simpler to plug right into a TV’s HDMI port in conditions the place you have already got different cables plugged into the opposite ports (or the place a TV is designed such that there’s no bodily room to have a stick poking straight out of a port). And since it sits farther away from the TV chassis, which may trigger Wi-Fi interference, it’d get pleasure from a stronger wi-fi connection.
Amazon’s Hearth TV Stick 4K comes with an HDMI extender cable to assist handle each of those points, however the Roku Streaming Stick+ doesn’t. Roku claims that having its wi-fi transmitter within the energy cable as an alternative of the stick, greater than compensates for any wi-fi issues. However you should still discover it tough to put in it with out shopping for your individual HDMI extender.
Finally, we don’t suppose there’s a lot to advocate one design over one other.
Caleb Denison/Digital Developments
As soon as once more, the similarities between these units are important. They’re all about the identical measurement and weight, all powered by non-rechargeable batteries, and all possess the next buttons:
Energy (for the streamer and your TV)
Quantity up/down/mute (on your TV, soundbar, or A/V receiver)
Navigation buttons (D-pad) with central OK button
Voice entry by way of the microphone
However whenever you look carefully, Google seems to have taken a simplified method to the Chromecast with Google TV’s distant, which doesn’t possess devoted buttons for:
Each the Roku and Amazon remotes have these buttons, and Roku, which has essentially the most buttons of all three remotes, additionally throws in 4 shortcut buttons for particular streaming service apps like Netflix and Disney+, and an prompt replay button which zaps you again 20 seconds whereas watching any video.
Google’s distant can nonetheless accomplish the identical variety of features (besides prompt replay) by giving some buttons a couple of perform. For example, the central OK button contained in the D-pad turns into the play/pause button whereas watching a video. Likewise for the left and proper D-pad buttons, which give quick ahead/rewind.
There’s no query that Google’s method yields a smaller, less complicated distant, however we’re nonetheless very a fan of Roku’s single-purpose buttons, which make working the Streaming Stick+ an actual no-brainer for most people.
Entry to content material
On the floor, this class ought to belong to Roku. Because the oldest streaming platform, the corporate has amassed an unimaginable array of streaming companies (that are added to the gadget as downloadable “channels”) and its channel retailer comprises every thing from the most important names like Netflix and Disney+ to the smallest, micro-targeted choices from religious teams and hobbyists.
It’s additionally house to the Roku Channel, a wonderful useful resource at no cost, ad-supported content material in addition to a simple method to usher in your subscription companies right into a single interface. Roku’s latest addition of greater than 115 free dwell TV streaming channels makes this much more compelling.
If it have been purely concerning the variety of out there content material sources, Roku wins. However for most individuals, it’s an 80/20 (or possibly 99/1) rule, the place 80% of the streaming content material they wish to watch comes from 20% of the out there channels. Given this, if any large names should not current on a streaming platform, that’s noteworthy.
HBO Max, as an illustration, nonetheless isn’t out there on Roku or Amazon Hearth TV. NBCUniversal’s Peacock was solely added to Roku just lately after the 2 firms settled variations that had been ongoing since Peacock’s launch earlier in 2020, nonetheless, it’s nonetheless absent from the Hearth TV catalog.
Google’s Android TV platform (which the Chromecast makes use of for content material apps) appears to be largely immune from these sorts of issues, however up to now, it has been one thing of an afterthought for builders. For example, it took years for Hulu to replace its Android TV app to make it suitable with Hulu + Dwell TV.
We’re awarding this one to Roku, on the energy of the dimensions of its channel catalog and its excellent Roku Channel. But when the corporate results in extra standoffs with content material suppliers that end result within the incapacity of Roku customers to stream from big-name companies, we’ll revise this part.
Help for audio and video codecs
All three streaming units will assist 4K decision at as much as 60 fps. However their assist for prime dynamic vary (HDR) codecs and superior audio codecs can differ considerably.
The Roku Streaming Stick+ can assist HDR10, and it lets streaming apps passthrough Dolby Atmos. However it will possibly’t provide higher-quality HDR codecs like HDR10+ or Dolby Imaginative and prescient, and it doesn’t assist HLG. Passthrough assist for Atmos is nice in that in case you have an Atmos-capable TV, soundbar, or A/V receiver, apps can ship an audio bitstream to those units, which is able to then use that to allow you to hear Dolby Atmos sound. The issue is that some apps, most notably Netflix, gained’t enable Atmos passthrough.
The Hearth TV Stick 4K seems to be the winner, with all 4 flavors of HDR onboard: HDR10, HDR10+, HLG, and Dolby Imaginative and prescient, plus the power to completely decode Dolby Atmos. However, for causes we’ve got but to find, Netflix additionally denies the Hearth TV Stick 4K entry to Dolby Atmos soundtracks, forcing it as an alternative to make use of Dolby 5.1.
It’s the same story for Google’s Chromecast with Google TV: Glorious assist for HDR codecs (HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Imaginative and prescient) and Dolby Atmos. Nonetheless, on this case, Dolby Atmos is passthrough-only, similar to the Roku.
On condition that Dolby Atmos assist is comparable on all three units, it comes all the way down to video codecs. Technically, the Hearth TV Stick 4K ought to win as a result of it has assist for HLG along with the opposite HDR flavors, however we’re undecided that’s sufficient to declare victory. We’ll fence-sit a bit right here and say…
Winner: Tie between Amazon Hearth TV Stick 4K and Google Chromecast with Google TV
Content material discovery and ease of use
Roku’s search has all the time been top-notch, and we’ve got little doubt that may proceed to the case. However as of late, with tens of millions of flicks and reveals at our fingertips, looking isn’t essentially the easiest way to seek out one thing to observe.
That’s why each Google TV and Amazon’s new Hearth TV interface seem like promising enhancements for our potential to find new content material. Each provide a curated view of your whole apps, channels, and subscriptions, and Google TV has even built-in YouTube TV (for many who subscribe to that service) to blur the traces between what’s on-demand and what’s dwell even additional.
We’re trying ahead to making an attempt them each, however till we do, it seems prefer it’s as soon as once more a tie between Google and Amazon.
Winner: Tie between Amazon Hearth TV Stick 4K and Google Chromecast with Google TV
Content material casting, video games, and additional options
There’s lots occurring right here, so let’s break it down:
Roku Streaming Stick+
Personal listening mode and display mirroring by way of the Roku app
Apple Watch integration
Resort and dorm room join for simple use whereas touring
Appropriate with each Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa for good speaker management
Choose cellular apps on Android can forged to Roku, and it will develop to Apple units when AirPlay 2 is added by way of Roku OS 9.four
Amazon Hearth TV Stick 4K
Appropriate with Amazon’s Luna subscription gaming service
Alexa built-in for management of good house units
Non-compulsory Ethernet adapter
Hook up with headphones or sport controllers by way of Bluetooth
Google Chromecast with Google TV
Casting of content material from Android or iOS units
Hook up with equipment by way of Bluetooth
Help for Google’s Stadia subscription gaming service coming in 2021
Google Assistant built-in for management of good house units
We suspect that so long as you’re not a gamer, Roku’s assortment of considerate extras make it the winner. However, there’s no denying that Google and Amazon’s integration of each their voice-based assistants and gaming companies may make them the higher alternative for people who’re already invested in considered one of these ecosystems.
The Hearth TV Stick 4K’s non-compulsory Ethernet adapter may seal the deal for these with poor Wi-Fi, however that’s most likely a small minority as of late.
Yeah, this one’s going to be determined by you, not us.
Had been you hoping for a simple resolution right here? Maybe some deadly flaw that may take a minimum of considered one of these streaming devices off the desk?
Sadly, that’s not the case this time round, however it’s for the very best motive: Roku, Amazon, and Google have all created nice 4K streaming media units at a value that the majority of us will discover very reasonably priced.
However we’re not going to depart you caught along with your streaming gadget resolution with no little recommendation. If superior HDR codecs like Dolby Imaginative and prescient and HDR10+ matter to you, whether or not since you merely wish to profit from your TV’s talents, otherwise you’re only a complete video nerd, you’ll be able to take the Roku Streaming Stick+ off your checklist, a minimum of till Roku releases a brand new model that has this potential.
At that time, it’s going to be all about Google vs. Amazon. If that’s the case, and also you don’t thoughts ready just a little longer, maintain off in your resolution till we will publish our in-depth evaluation of the Chromecast with Google TV, and we will check out Amazon’s new Hearth TV interface. These critiques will possible assist your resolution lots.
But when gaming and superior HDR don’t put a smile in your face, we predict you’ll be able to’t go improper with Roku’s Streaming Stick+. It might be the oldest of the three units, however it’s nonetheless a implausible little streamer with among the best interfaces we’ve ever used.
Although we didn’t embody it on this comparability, it’s price noting that the TiVo Stream 4K can be $50 and shares tons of attributes with the brand new Chromecast. It’s powered by Android TV, it has an excellent distant management, and it has assist for superior HDR and Dolby Atmos.
In case you’re a Sling TV person, it makes much more sense as a streaming gadget as a result of TiVo has tightly built-in Sling’s dwell TV streaming channels into the Stream 4K’s major app — which suggests it’s the Sling equal of the YouTube TV integration into the brand new Chromecast.