Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 Tech - Internet TV

Looking for ways to stream Internet content on your TV? There are a number of low cost options that don't require you to buy a smart TV.

Roku




Roku is my favorite. I've been using a Roku box for several years now. I'm not even sure which generation it is as they seem to have changed the remotes. It's a great device with easy setup and a lot of channel options, including: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, Google Play. There are a wide variety of other channels free and paid. Roku does seem to cover most of the options. There are currently 4 versions of the Roku box available from the Roku website ranging in price from $39.99 for the Roku LT to $99.99 for the Roku 3. They also offer a Streaming Stick for $39.99. The website claims the stick is best for wall mounted TVs. It's also very portable so you could easily take it with you when you travel or move it from one TV to another in your house. There are Roku apps available for smart phones and tablets so you can control your Roku either with a remote or with the app.

Roku also seems to have gotten into the Smart TV business recently. They now have that option on their website. I don't know anything about the quality of the sets but the prices seem good. $598 for a 55 inch Smart LED TV from Amazon. I would imagine it's easier to set up than many smart TVs as it's Roku. But I happen to be a fan of separating functions.

Compare Roku Players

Google Chromecast


There was a lot of excitement when Google Chromecast first hit the market about a year ago. For one thing it was only $35. Initially, there were very few apps that ran on it. But it has gradually added most of the big players: Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, MLB.tv. All also available on Roku by the way. It doesn't play Amazon content. It also offered a great way to view YouTube content that was pulled from Roku for a time. In theory, you could also "chromecast" web pages and other content to your TV via your Chrome browser. Others will have to tell me in Comments whether or not they've actually gotten this to work. The thing that's a little different about Chromecast as opposed to Roku or Amazon Fire or Apple TV boxes is that you're actually using another wifi enabled device to play the content and then casting it to the dongle and your tv. So, it does require another device that will run the Chromecast app. The good news is that they've made it compatible with Windows PCs, Apple products running iOS and OSX as well as Android. So, it's not difficult to find a compatible device. Nor is it particularly difficult to set up. It's just not quite as easy and straightforward and open as Roku.

Google Chromecast website

Amazon Fire TV

Amazon Fire TV usually sells for $99. It's currently on sale for $79. It does have some nice features that its competitors lack: games, Dolby sound, voice search. It also allows you to mirror content from Amazon Kindle Fire phones and tablets. The website claims that this feature will also be available to other Android phones and tablets. Once again, let me know in comments if you have experience with this and how it works. All of the major suspects are available for streaming through the Fire TV: Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc. Google Play, no and you need to have a separate Amazon Prime subscription to make use of the films and television shows available for free via that service. Otherwise, you can pay per show. You can also get a Fire TV remote app which allows you to use your Android or iPhone as a remote.

Amazon also offers the Fire TV stick for $39. The remote app allows you to use voice search on the Fire TV stick as well.

Amazon Fire TV on Amazon

Apple TV

Are you getting the idea yet that these are all pretty much black box hockey puck like devices? The key distinction with Apple TV is its connection with iTunes. None of the other boxes allow you to stream bought or rented iTunes content on your TV. Welcome to Apple exclusivity. It will stream all of the third party apps mentioned above: Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, etc. It won't stream either Amazon or Google Play content. If you're in an Apple household with Macs, iPads and/or iPhones, it does have an AirPlay feature than enables you to play content from your device on your TV including games, photos, etc.

Apple TV on Apple website

Roku vs. Apple TV vs. Chromecast vs. Amazon Fire TV: Which streamer should you buy? - CNET Review

5 comments:

Pam Henley said...

I received the Amazon Fire TV for Mother's Day and it was easy to set up. We were having trouble with Netflix app on the smart TV but it worked great on the Fire. The voice search is pretty cool too. Wasn't aware of the mirroring option - might have to try that.

laurenm said...

Suzanne, how much broadband speed does a person need to effectively run TV with these devices?

Jemma Hazen said...

Actually the Apple TV can stream things from Amazon. If you have an iPad or iPhone anything you watch on it can be set to AirPlay through the Apple TV. For instance, I have the Amazon Instant Video App [free app] on my iPhone 5 and can send it to play on the Apple TV over my wireless connection. Also, we figured out a way to stream the World Cup through the Chromecast using a Chromebook. The video quality was not great, but my husband [who does this sort of testing business for Carroll College] thinks that this is because of the video quality of the Chromebook and not because of the Chromecast.

Suzanne said...

Thanks for the comments and workarounds. That's why it's always helpful to get input from people who've actually tried these devices.

Suzanne said...

Lauren, I posted a less than pithy response to your question.