Limitless content. Watch whatever you want, whenever you want. All you have to buy is one little box, and the monthly subscriptions are up to you. After decades of flipping through TV channels, many of us find the promise of internet-based television too miraculous to pass up.
That’s why millions of Americans prefer streaming services – the leaner, cheaper version of televised entertainment.
Much of the streaming decision is dependent on what you want to watch. You’re not going to find “The Handmaiden’s Tale” on Netflix or FoxNews on Dish’s Sling TV. It gets confusing.
To help you out, I created something that I call, “The Streaming Service Channel Lineup Chart.” The whole idea is to let you find what you want to watch and then, match it to the service that offers it.
No streaming device is “best,” of course, because all the leading brands have their advantages (and disadvantages). Here are some facet options and a comprehensive breakdown for each one.
Apple TV 4K
Pros: Compared to its competitors, the Apple TV 4K currently has the best hardware available in a streaming box, designed to effortlessly handle 60 fps 4K, Dolby Atmos and HDR content.
It also has the cleanest and smoothest interface among the lot, delivering a minimal but polished experience all around.
Since it’s an Apple product, it also works great with iPhones, iPads and Macs, and it’s compatible with Airplay content streaming, Apple Music and other HomeKit appliances.
If you’re already knee-deep in the Apple ecosystem, the Apple TV is a no-brainer. The 4K resolution will ensure its longevity, whether you have a 4K TV yet or not.
App-wise, aside from your purchased iTunes movies and music, it has all the essentials like Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Hulu, Plex, HBO, DirecTV Now, AT&T Watch TV and Sling TV, plus if you own digital movies across multiple services, they can all be synced via Movies Anywhere.
Cons: As you would have guessed, the Apple TV is relatively expensive. For much less, you can likewise stream 4K content from Roku and Amazon Fire TV boxes. The included Siri touch remote can also be clunky and unwieldy. Additionally, if you’re not into the Apple ecosystem and you don’t own any other Apple gadgets, you won’t be getting the most out of an Apple TV.
Price: $179 for 32GB, $199 for 64GB
Pros: Even with increased competition from the tech giants, Roku remains to be the most popular brand in streaming players. Why? It’s a service-agnostic platform, meaning it has apps from almost every content provider out there (except Apple and iTunes).
Roku has apps for Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Movies, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Hulu, Plex, HBO, DirecTV Now and Sling TV (sadly, no AT&T Watch TV app yet).
Plus, it has hundreds of third-party video apps that offer free movies and TV Shows. If you want to access the most content from various services available, then the Roku is the one for you.
For the nitty-gritty specs, the Roku Ultra supports 4K, HDR, Dolby Atmos and it’s even bundled with a pair of JBL earphones you can connect to its remote for wireless audio.
Cons: The interface can be slow, including the Roku Ultra, and the design is less attractive. Roku is clamping down on third-party apps. Since they update apps automatically, some of your installed apps can be deactivated without prior warning.
Amazon Fire TV Cube
Pros: If you’re building a smart home, and you’re attracted to voice-controlled electronics, you’ll be pleased to know that the Fire TV Cube has built-in Alexa functions. This means you can dim your smart bulbs, control your smart appliances, ask questions, set timers – pretty much anything a regular Amazon Echo can do.
You can also use your voice to search, play, pause, fast-forward and handle all the things you would typically do with a remote.
You can even turn an HDMI-CEC compatible TV on or off and adjust its volume. But don’t worry if you have an older TV; the Fire TV Cube also has a built-in IR transmitter so you can use it as a universal remote and voice control any TV, old and new.
As a bonus, since it’s connected to a display, it can also duplicate the features of Amazon’s Echo Show, the video-based version of Echo. With an Alexa voice command, the Cube can provide you with detailed weather forecasts, display lyrics to songs and show you live video feeds from Alexa-compatible security cameras.
As expected, Amazon content is front and center on all Fire TVs, but it also has the must-have apps like Netflix, Vudu, Hulu, Plex, HBO, DirecTV Now, AT&T Watch TV and Sling TV.
For video, the Fire TV Cube has support for 4K content, HDR, Dolby Atmos. Again, even if you don’t have a 4K TV yet if you’re in the market for a streaming gadget, a 4K capable streaming box is worth it.
Cons: Like its apps, Amazon’s Fire TV interface is cluttered with promoted content and is a pain to navigate through. Alexa Fire TV integration is often frustrating, and voice controlling a TV through the Fire TV Cube can be painfully slow.
Pros: If you’ve ever owned a Chromecast, you’ll know that they can be extra useful around the house. With this unobtrusive little gadget, you can cast or stream content from your iOS or Android smartphone or Chrome browser to your TV. You can even cast your whole desktop if you want to.
Ultra is not a traditional streaming box like the others, because the device doesn’t come with its own remote. Instead, your smartphone behaves like a remote for your Chromecast setup, and you can stream content from compatible apps like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Sling TV, Plex and Vudu straight to your TV.
Better yet, you can also integrate Chromecasts with the Google Home and with HDMI-CEC compatible TVs, you can have good (but limited) hands-free voice control. At about $70, Chromecast Ultra is one of the cheapest streaming gadgets to cast both 4K and HDR content.
Cons: Again, no actual physical remote. You will always depend on your smartphone or tablet to operate it. Amazon Prime Video and iTunes are also unavailable, which will deprive you of a lot of content.
What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call my national radio show and click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.