Roku has reached near-household name status over the years with their various Media streaming boxes. Offering over a thousand “channels” (such as Netflix, Hulu, Pandora etc) starting at $80 on up, it’s no surprise they’ve been a popular device. But as successful as they have been, they still aren’t to media streaming what iPods are to MP3 players. What I mean is, they aren’t completely dominating.
My theory as to why there aren’t 3 Rokus in every home is that while Roku offers 1200 apps, or channels, most people won’t use more than 3-5, and those 5 apps are already available on devices people already own. Blu-ray players, Xbox, Playstations, Nintendo Wiis, they all play apps like Netflix, and Pandora (or Pandora-like apps such as last.fm). Because of this, many people have no need for another device to stream media.
But that being said, if you have an app/channel need that your gaming console isn’t meeting, than a Roku is a no-brainer.
At least it was, until the Google released the Chromecast. Let’s look at my own home entertainment setup and we’ll see why the Chromecast is my favorite piece of tech right now.
I’m an XBox guy. I pretty much only play Halo, and don’t even play that very often. I don’t own a Playstation, or a Nintendo Wii. I don’t think I’m alone in this, I believe there are many others out there who find that an XBox meets their gaming needs. I also have a Blu-ray player, but it’s really old and doesn’t have any streaming apps like Netflix or Pandora.
So for streaming media, here are my options:
1. Connect a laptop to my TV, which is a hassle. I have to get a cable, get behind the TV to plug it in (I have a beast of a TV. This is not an easy task). I can’t just leave it plugged in because I only have 2 HDMI ports, one for the XBox and one for the Blu-ray player. Then, unless I have a super long cord, I have to get up and go to the laptop everytime I want to control my media.
2. Use my XBox. This requires an XBox Live Gold account, on top of any applicable charges for the app (7.99/month for Netflix, for example). This is a non-issue for me since I have one anyways for playing Halo online, but it’s worth mentioning in case you have an XBox but don’t have an XBox live account. If you want to stream Netflix, you’ll need one.
But here’s the real reason I don’t like using my XBox to stream netflix. Apart from the Netflix app being terrible on the XBox, they also have a tendency to die. The old RROD (red ring of death) has been a pain in many peoples side for years now. Even though I’m usually able to fix a RROD, it’s kind of a pain and I just don’t really enjoy doing it, especially for free. I would like my XBox to last as long as possible, so I would prefer to not use it for Netflix or other media apps if I don’t have to.
3. Use my phone. This also requires a cable, and all the same hassles that come with using my laptop.
These options leave much to be desired. This is where things like the Chromecast, Roku, or even Miracast devices like the Belkin come into play.
I’ve already compared the Belkin device to the Chromecast, now I’ll compare Roku’s new Streaming Stick with the Chromecast.
For a person like myself, the Chromecast is the obvious choice. I think this will be a short comparison given how similar these devices are. They basically perform the same exact function with a few minor differences.
Both devices plug into your HDMI port, stream in 1080P and are powered via micro USB. If you have a USB port on your TV you can plug it right into that. If you’re like me, and your TV doesn’t have USB for some reason, you will need to use a wall outlet.
The Roku gives you a TON more apps than the Chromecast. Google smartly kept the Chromecast on lock-down for the first several months of it’s existence. This allowed for a controlled environment that made sure that whatever the Chromecast actually did, it did it well. Now that the Chromecast has been established, and has found favor with many people, Google has released the SDK, meaning that now anybody can bake Chromecast support into their apps (I’m looking at you, Amazon Instant).
Still, this means Roku definitely wins in the number of apps category. It also supports 5GHz wifi, something lacking with the Chromecast. But still, the Chromecast has a couple things going for it. First, it’s cheaper. At only $35 (it’s been $30 recently, I don’t know if that’s permanent or just a sale) it’s quite a bit cheaper than the $50 roku. I have 3 Chromecasts, which means I saved $40 ($15 on two of them, since they were still $35 when I bought them, and $10 on the 3rd since it only cost $30).
It also streams Google Play, which for me is huge. I am no longer a Spotify/Pandora user, I am now a Google Music All Access user, and as of right now, the Chromecast is the only streaming device that supports this.
So as far as apps go, it really depends on what apps you need. The roku offers many more, but if you’re like me, you only need Netflix, Google Music and the occasional YouTube.
The Chromecast is also easier to use. The Roku comes with a remote. I already have 3 remotes in my Living room. The T.V., DVD player (which is also my receiver, so it controls all the sound) and my Blu-ray player. I don’t need another remote to lose in the couch. The Chromecast is operated by my phone/tablet/laptop. Whichever is closer to me at the moment. This is really handy. I already know how to use the Netflix app on my phone, so buying a Chromecast does not mean learning a new interface.
The Chromecast basically wins in every category, besides number of apps available. So the decision is easy. If you want an app that Chromecast doesn’t offer, either wait for it and hope it becomes available, or buy a Roku. If the Chromecast has all the apps you need, it’s a no-brainer. Cheaper, easier to use, only device that streams Google Play.