Cut the Cord: Streaming Media Players Compared

Cable prices are going nowhere but up, while value continues to go down. In 2011, the average monthly cable bill was $86. In 2015, it was $123. That’s a lot of money to shell out for your entertainment. Just imagine how much money you would save if you canceled cable and stopped paying that bill!

Streaming Media Players Compared

But what if you could get all that entertainment for a fraction of the price? Good news — if you have a TV and a robust wi-fi connection, you can! More and more people are “cutting the cord” and switching to Internet video streaming, often eliminating the need for a cable provider entirely.

But which media player should you buy? We’ve got you covered there, too. Below, we compare the four most popular streaming media players in detail, to help you choose the right TV box or streaming device for you.

A word of caution — none of the devices listed below provide premium content of their own. You’ll still need a subscription to Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, or the premium service of your choice to stream it to your TV. Fortunately, there’s plenty of free TV content out there to get you started on your cord-cutting adventure!

Apple TV Pros and Cons

Apple TV: Pros and Cons

Despite the name, Apple TV is not a TV. It’s a sleek TV box and remote that allows you to stream content from a variety of service providers. Apple TV allows streaming of movies, music, audiobooks, television and more. If you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, you can also sync 40 gigabytes worth of photos and music to the device, making them accessible from your high-definition TV.

Pros of Apple TV:

Voice Recognition Interface and Search

The latest version of Apple TV introduces Siri, the voice-recognition app. Using Siri, you can search across all available content using only your voice. So if you want to see if any of the services to which you subscribe offer your new favorite show, all you have to do is ask. Apple has always excelled at futuristic, user-friendly interfaces, and Apple TV is no different.

Easy Setup

Like most Apple products, the Apple TV is designed to make things as easy for you as possible. Just plug in the HDMI cable and you’re halfway done already. If you’re an Apple household, Apple TV will also work seamlessly with AirPlay, letting you stream from your other Apple devices.

Tech Specs

The third generation Apple TV comes with support for 1080p video, 5.1 channel surround sound, and 10/100 Base-T Ethernet / 802.11n support out of the box. (The second generation Apple TV supports up to 720p).

Advanced Remote

A remote might not seem like a big deal, but Apple TV’s remote is a cut above the rest. The latest model uses a touchpad interface similar to that of an iPhone or an iPad, so finding and playing your favorite content is easy and fast — especially for kids or the technologically challenged. (That’s assuming you don’t want to just bark orders at your television like you’re living in the future, of course.)

Cons of Apple TV:

Price Point

At $149, Apple TV is the most expensive of the options listed here. However, the margin is only fifty dollars or so when compared to devices like the high-end Roku. With a little deal-hunting on sites like BLINQ, you can probably find an older model or open-box item for a comparable price, or even less.

Limited Content

At the time of this writing, Apple TV’s search will only work with content from iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, HBO Go, and Showtime. Finding content from CBS, ESPN, or Amazon Prime isn’t in the cards. There isn’t even a proper Amazon Video app for Apple TV, which has left some users bewildered, since there’s one for the iPhone and iPad.

Google Chromecast Pros and Cons

Google Chromecast: Pros and Cons

Google Chromecast is a pocket-size streaming media player which pairs with an existing device to easily stream videos directly onto your TV. The Chromecast has some limitations, but will give you all the convenience of cutting the cord with minimal investment and hassle.

Pros of Google Chromecast:

Price ­

At just $35, the Chromecast is by far the cheapest device on this list. Even if you decide to keep your existing cable subscription, the Chromecast is an inexpensive way to stream content to your TV. If you’re looking to experiment with cutting the cord, the Chromecast is a great first step into that world.

Portable

The Chromecast is also the smallest device on this list — it’s approximately the size of a USB drive, making it convenient to store and carry. As long as you have a device to link it to (like a phone or tablet), you can use it wherever you have a TV and a wireless connection.  

Compatibility ­

The Chromecast is compatible with both Android and Mac systems, meaning you can use it with Windows, Android, and Apple devices — whether it’s a phone, tablet, desktop or laptop.

Smartphone Remote

Chromecast does away with the need for a traditional remote by using a smartphone app for browsing through content. Since another remote is probably the last thing anyone needs, this can be a major bonus.

Cons of Google Chromecast:  

Requires a Secondary Device

The major disadvantage of the Chromecast: it’s not a standalone device. You’ll need a smartphone, tablet, PC, or laptop to stream content to your television. While this may not seem significant, it might be worth keeping in mind, as it adds an extra layer of complexity to streaming compared to standalone devices.

Hardware Limitations

The other limitation of the Chromecast may not lie in the device itself, but in whatever device you link it to. If your laptop, tablet or phone isn’t beefy enough to handle full 1080p streaming, the Chromecast is only going to inherit that problem, not fix it. Before you invest in a Chromecast, make sure whatever device you’ll be streaming from can handle the load.

Roku Streaming Device

Roku: Pros and Cons

Like the Apple TV, the Roku is a set-­top TV box that allows you to stream shows and films to your television through apps and services like Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, and so on.  The Roku is a standalone device, requiring only a TV and wi-fi connection to use. There is also the Roku Stick, a portable device similar to the Google Chromecast.

Pros of Roku:  

Ecosystem Neutral

Because Roku isn’t affiliated with Apple, Google or Amazon, it has the widest selection of apps and services, and doesn’t favor any one service over the other. Reviews consistently show Roku as the clear winner in terms of available channels and content. If you want to watch all the things, Roku is the device for you.

Search Features

As with Apple TV, the Roku can search for content across different apps — although you obviously  won’t have access to Siri’s voice search.

Choice of Devices

Roku offers not one, but five different devices, with varying price points ($39 to $129) and features. The Roku Streaming Stick is the cheapest of these, while the Roku 4, which offers 4K UHD and a quad-core processor, is the most expensive.

Cons of Roku:  

HDMI Only

None of the Roku devices offer digital or analog outputs, so whatever device you connect it to must have HDMI.

Price Point ­

While the Roku Stick is competitive with the Google Chromecast, it doesn’t come as highly praised as the Chromecast, and the cheapest and most feature-light set-top box will run you $49. The more features you want from your Roku, the higher the price — at the top end, the Roku 4 is nearly as expensive as the Apple TV.

Amazon FireTV Stick Streaming Media Player

Amazon Fire TV Stick: Pros and Cons

The Fire TV Stick is Amazon’s answer to the Google Chromecast and Roku Streaming Stick. A Fire TV Stick will run you about $39 and arrives already associated with your Amazon account. This streaming media player connects to your television’s HDMI port (making it a standalone device, unlike the Chromecast) and lets you watch content from Netflix, Amazon Video, HBO Go, Hulu, and more.

Pros of Amazon Fire TV Stick:

Portability

Like the Chromecast and the Roku, the Fire TV Stick is portable. You can pull it from the HDMI port, put it in your pocket, and go. Streaming content from a friend’s house is as easy as plugging it into their TV.

Speed

In comparison with the Chromecast and the Roku, the Fire TV Stick comes out ahead in terms of speed and power. This won’t help with streaming, but does make a difference in terms of browsing through menus, games, and load time of apps. If that sort of thing is important to you, it’s worth keeping in mind.

Prime Access

If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, you’ll have easy and unlimited access to all your Amazon Prime video content.

Cons of Amazon Fire TV Stick:

Voice Remote Not Included

The good news is, there’s an amazing voice remote available for the Amazon Fire TV Stick. The bad news is, that’s not the remote that comes shipped with the device. If you want voice search (and users say you really do), it will cost you another $30 to get one from Amazon. Unlike Roku and Apple TV, the Stick’s remote will not search across channels.

Amazon-Centric

Like Apple TV, the Fire TV Stick tilts its presentation heavily toward Amazon video, music, and products. If you’re invested in Amazon’s way of doing things (for example, if you’re a Prime subscriber), this could be a bonus. If you’re not, it might be a little annoying to get to other, non-Amazon content, which aren’t featured as prominently.

The Final Verdict

So what’s the best media player for you? The answer is “it depends.” If you’re a fan of Apple or Amazon’s content, Apple TV or the Fire Stick may be your best choice. If you want as many content options as possible, the Roku is likely the most appealing option. For portability and affordability, nothing currently beats the Chromecast.

Below you will find a quick summary of each streaming media player we’ve reviewed and some of the features we mentioned in the article.

Device Price Point Requires External Device Easily Portable
Apple TV $150 (Apple TV 3, latest model)

$70 (Apple TV 2)

$45 (Apple TV 1, refurbished)

No No
Google Chromecast $35 Yes Yes
Roku $50 – $130 No No
Amazon Fire TV Stick $40 No Yes

But now you’re armed with information! So if you’re ready to start cutting the cord, pick the streaming media player that best meets your needs, check out our tips on finding the right streaming service for you, and start hunting down some cord-cutting deals!

Avatar
Author: Daniel

Daniel lives by his wits in the remotest wilds of Montana. (Actually, he lives in a cozy downtown apartment with his wife and two cats.) When he's not shopping for deals he enjoys reading, writing, blogging, documentaries and frequent walks.

6 thoughts on “Cut the Cord: Streaming Media Players Compared

  1. AvatarMarti Tabora

    I was given Google Chromecast as a gift and I really like it except for the fact that it isn’t compatible with Amazon Prime. That makes me want to the the Amazon Fire Stick. This is really good information for anyone looking into streaming players.

    Reply
  2. AvatarCandace Galan-Calderon

    I cute the cable cord a little over a year ago and went with the Roku, but I love this list of pros and cons.

    Reply
  3. AvatarEric Martell

    We got a Roku stick for Christmas, and really like it. Still working on officially cutting the cord, because we are fans of live sports, and the major sports have agreements which prevent live streaming of games if you live too close to the home city. There are workarounds, but they’re not, y’know, legal, so we’re still dawdling.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *