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What is the best streaming device for your needs? With Amazon, Roku, and Google offering strong contenders in the streaming device market, making a choice can be difficult. Each of these devices streams video and music via your home internet connection, but the subtle differences between them are important to consider before making a purchase. Here’s what you need to know—and our pick for your best bet.
Chromecast vs Roku
Google Chromecast $35 to $69
For $35, the Google Chromecast 2 might initially seem like the clear winner of the budget streaming wars. Chromecast plugs into your TV’s HDMI port, hiding from sight and keeping your TV area clear of clutter. Unlike its competitors, Google Chromecast does not come with a remote. Instead, you use your Android or iOS device to “cast” your media, selecting apps and content with a swipe of your finger.
When it comes to streaming options, Chromecast offers all of the basics, including Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, PS Vue, and Amazon. Streaming quality is standard 1080p HD on the basic Chromecast model, but the $69 Chromecast Ultra supports 4K Ultra HD and HDR.
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Chromecast has a lot going for it. You can play games, mirror your Android screen, and watch media on your TV, all from the comfort of your sofa. However, it does not come with a remote, meaning if you’re trying to help your parents/grandparents get into the streaming world, they’ll either need a smartphone or to learn a new app just to use it. Even the $69 Chromecast Ultra requires a smart device to use.
Chromecast comes highly recommended if you’re a college student who is already using an Android device, but if you need a remote, you should look other places.
No company has invested more in ensuring that anyone, regardless of the TV they own, can have a smart TV than Roku. From the budget-priced Roku Express to the feature-packed Ultra HD monster known as the Roku Ultra, there’s a good reason why over 13 million people use Roku every month.
With an easy-to-understand remote and user interface, Roku is simple for children and adults alike to pick up and immediately start using. Each Roku device comes preloaded with standard streaming options like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, PS Vue, and Amazon Prime—the same as those on the Chromecast—but that’s merely scratching the surface of what’s available channels. With over a 1,000 free and paid channel options, you’ll never run out of things to watch on Roku.
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Users with 4K TV sets can get Ultra HD support with the $69.99 Roku Streaming Stick+ or the $99 Roku Ultra. Between the two 4K devices, the Streaming Stick+ is the obvious choice. At $69.99, it’s one of the cheapest 4K streaming options on the market, and its tiny size keeps it out of sight in your media center. The Streaming Stick+ also comes with a voice control remote and a built-in range extender that gives it four times the wireless range of a standard Roku Stick.
If you don’t mind spending extra money for a premium experience, the Roku Ultra provides incredible Ultra HD streaming options. It’s the only Roku that comes with an ethernet port, ensuring you’ll have all the connection you’ll need to stream 4K movies on Netflix. It also works as a media player, thanks to USB and microSD slots, so you can stream your personal collection too. If you’re the kind of person who regularly loses their remote, you’ll enjoy that Ultra’s comes with a built-in speaker to help you find it. The remote also includes a headphone jack for private listening and Roku’s Night Viewing mode, which automatically adjusts the sound of whatever you’re watching, so loud moments like explosions are softer and quiet moments like whispering are louder, letting you enjoy programming without using headphones when the rest of the house is sleeping. No matter what budget you are working with, Roku is likely your best bet.
It also works with Kodi, one of the most powerful media players on the market.
Roku vs Amazon Fire
Amazon has invested heavily in its Fire TV line, including the Fire TV Stick. Each Fire TV comes with an Alexa voice remote that allows you to quickly pull up your favorite apps, play a song, or even order a pizza. For the $40 standard Amazon Fire Stick, that’s a lot of flexibility—especially when you consider the device is just $5 more than the remote-less Chromecast.
Each Amazon Fire streaming device provides access to over 140 apps and channels, including the same basics as Chromecast and Roku. With a DirecTV NOW subscription, you can watch live TV and sports, making this a strong contender for cord-cutters. Amazon’s $40 Fire Stick supports 1080p HD video, while the $89.99 Fire TV option provides 4K Ultra HD video content.
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Amazon Fire TV has a simple interface once you get used to it, but it can prove complicated at first. Alexia’s voice search helps ease the transition considerably, but if you’re trying to teach a technophobic parent how to use a streaming device, Roku can’t be beaten.
The Fire TV Stick is one of the best options available on the market today, thanks to its remote and ability to use third-party apps like Kodi. While it does not offer the same range of channel options as Roku, it gives you more content than you could ever consume. Keep in mind that using Amazon’s video series requires a $99-a-year Prime account, but you can access Netflix and other apps with your regular subscriptions. Clever users can also install Kodi on Amazon Fire.
Based on price and the sheer number of options available, we recommend the Roku Streaming Stick as the go-to streaming device on the market. While Amazon Fire TV Stick has it beat by $10, the addition of TV power and volume controls to the Roku’s Streaming Stick gives it a leg up—especially now that both devices support voice search. Roku has easier-to-navigate menus and a broader selection of channels, making it the obvious choice for new users. If you’re dedicated to Amazon’s Prime app, the Fire Stick is still a fantastic product and a close runner-up. But you can also use Prime on Roku.
Even when taking into account the 4K market, Roku comes out on top thanks to the incredible $69.99 starting price for the Roku Streaming Stick+. While Amazon’s Fire TV is a tremendous 4K device for the same price, Roku offers more channels and options while still working with the Amazon Prime app.
The Chromecast, while a fine device on its own, comes in last by nature of requiring you to have a smartphone to use it. Children use streaming devices too, and you shouldn’t have to give a kid a smartphone to let them watch TV.
John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adopter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also also find him regularly performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.