It used to be when someone told you they didn’t watch TV, they meant their TV was just sitting in their living room collecting dust, or that they only used it for news or to watch movies. Of course, they were lying, but I digress.
Now if someone tells you they don’t watch TV, they more likely mean that they don’t watch live TV when it is originally on, but instead stream shows at a time of their own choosing. I would argue that this does count as watching TV, but again I digress.
While I’ve been streaming TV for years, binge watching Nip/Tuck on Netflix on my laptop during college, then transitioning to streaming on my TV using an Xbox, wide spread streaming has really hit its stride over the past year or so.
Dedicated streaming devices are more cost efficient than gaming systems, and maintain the familiar experience of watching TV on a TV, rather than on a computer; making them appealing to those less willing to adapt to new technology. But with so many options; including boxes and dongles, how do you decide which media player is right for you?
Amazon Fire TV is the new kid on the block. A small box, which connects to an HDTV and has its own remote, the Amazon Fire TV is easy to setup, user friendly, and offers a variety of services. In addition to video streaming services like Netflix, HuluPlus, and Amazon Instant Video, Amazon fire TV also offers a variety of games, and 99 cent video rentals. Amazone Fire TV costs $99, and is currently on back order. There is also an optional dedicated game controller sold separately. They are the only box at this time to feature voice search. One thing Amazon Fire TV is missing that similar products have is the HBO Go app.
Roku 3 also costs $99, and has similar apps and functionality. However, it has fewer games, less memory, and and no dedicated game controller. One of the benefits of Roku 3 is a headphone jack in the remote for private viewing. They also have a motion controlled remote, and comes with Angry Birds Space for free.
In line with the other two boxes Apple TV also costs $99. Unlike the other two boxes, Apple TV does not support Amazon Instant Video or Showtime Anytime. They also do not have a dedicated game controller. One of the benefits of Apple TV is the users can control it using their iPhone. This creates a seamless environment where users can move from one Apple device to another as they see fit.
With identical prices, and similar sizes in device, if you chose to go with a box, the choice really comes down to which apps you value. Amazon Fire TV has no HBO Go (So no True Blood, Game of Thrones or Girls), Apple TV has no Amazon Instant Video or Showtime Anytime (But Netflix added the full series of Dexter, so this may not be a deal-breaker for you). Unless you are more interested in games (in which case go with Fire TV), Roku 3 gives you access to the most popular apps.
Full discretion, I own the Google Chromecast. I bought the product about a week after it came out, knowing my Xbox is on its last legs and with a declining interest in gaming, not wanting to replace it to stream Netflix and HuluPlus. The device cost $35, and I like it so much I bought each member of my family their own for Christmas.
I control the device from my smart phone, and appreciate the easy setup, which simply required me to download the app from Google Play, plug in and install. The entire process took about 5 minutes. As evidence of its ease-of-use, my parents (who are in their 60s and don’t even own smart phones, but stream from tablets) are able to use the device without issue.
The competing product is the Roku Streaming Stick. For $50 the Roku Streaming Stick has the same functionally and apps, and can be controlled with a mobile device, but also comes with a remote. The remote has channel shortcut buttons; like a button specific to the Netflix app. Unlike the Chromecast, you can also display your own personal media, like videos, photos and music you have stored on your smartphone.
Price wise the Chromecast wins, over the Roku Streaming Stick, but it just depends on if the extra $15 is worth it for you to stream your own material and/or to have a remote. From a business standpoint the Roku Streaming Stick is likely a better choice if you wanted to stream content you created yourself. On the Chromecast the only work around would be to upload that content to YouTube.
If you want to game, you need a box, if you are only streaming content, then a dongle is probably enough for you and is less of a financial investment. However keep in mind, that these products are in their early forms (rumor has it the next generation of Apple TV could be announced as early as this month). They are also always adding apps. When I started with Chromecast there were just a handful of apps, but the selection has expanded to even include HBO Go.
Photo Credit: Amazon.com