We’d like to start this article by saying we have no vested interest in any of the devices tested. Audio Advice makes zero profit selling you an Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Google Chromecast, or any other streaming device. This is our opinion on the current state of devices available to enjoy content in your home.
When the Apple TV first emerged, it was a true breakthrough in opening up a world of entertainment options. It is hard to believe it has been less than 10 years since its introduction, but time and feature sets move at light speed in the home entertainment arena.
The first Apple TV arrived about the same time Netflix was getting into streaming content, but it was not available until the Gen 2 release. Since then, the options for content have just exploded. As a consumer, you can find streaming networks that specialize in only a small type of very targeted content as well as networks that offer a wide variety of content, such as Netflix.
If you are an Apple fan and have purchased a collection of music or movies from the iTunes store, you are probably best off sticking with the current Apple TV. It is the only way to access that content you paid for on your television.
But for those who aren’t dependent on iTunes for their content, the Apple TV isn’t the only option. Times have changed and the world is moving to more of a “content rental” model where you pay a monthly fee and can consume as much content as you want (but never own it). It’s happened in both the music and video content worlds rapidly. The likes of Pandora, Spotify, Slacker, Rdio, Rhapsody, and Tidal have changed the music business forever. We now have, in some cases, as many as 30 million songs at our fingertips for just $10/month. And on the video side, Netflix, Vudu, HBO, Showtime, Hulu, and Amazon offer up tons of content for a small monthly fee.
Apple vs. Amazon vs. Google
Apple and Amazon have gotten into a real sparring match with Amazon pulling Apple TV products from their store shortly before the release of the Apple TV 4. Amazon has created their own competitor: Amazon Fire TV. With Amazon Fire TV, you won’t have access to any of your iTunes content. And with Apple TV, you won’t have access to any of the free content you get with your Amazon Prime Membership. The two are simply not compatible.
Another competitor to both the Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV is Google Chromecast. And guess what, like both Apple and Amazon, they have their own movie store that is linked only to their device.
VUDU is, in our opinion, the best movie streaming service available. It allows you to search by all kinds of categories and quickly find content that you will love. VUDU was the first to offer full surround on movies and they plan to offer Dolby Atmos soon. We have found VUDU to offer both the best picture and sound quality, especially if you have a serious home theater. They even have a rental option that lets you choose if you want to pay more for higher resolution video and audio. And should you decide to buy a movie or TV series you have the option to either purchase or rent with VUDU. In addition to a great interface, their movie rating service uses both Rotten Tomatoes and viewers ratings and is second to none.
So how do you get VUDU? Not through Apple or Amazon because they want to sell or rent you movies out of their own stores. Chromecast, however, does have VUDU.
There is a huge elephant in the room and it is4 K. 4K TVs are selling like hotcakes due to their incredible picture quality, but Apple and Google do not currently support 4K. Amazon has just announced support 4K support.
If you want a content streaming device that will provide you with access to as much content as possible, the content-agnostic Roku player is your best bet. Roku is in the business of selling you a player that provides an awesome interface to streaming content. They are totally agnostic to apps, so unless it’s a proprietary Apple, Amazon, or Google app, you will find it on the Roku. (If you want to totally geek out, try scrolling through all of the apps. We counted over 400!) Plus, Roku enables you to easily view photos from your phone on your TV whether you have an iPhone or Android device. And back to 4K. The new 4K Roku will open up a huge world of 4K content to those of you lucky enough to have a new 4K (or UHD) TV.
What About Smart TVs?
You might be wondering about all of the apps on Smart TVs. Our opinion is that none of the video companies seem to have the user interface experience team to match Apple, Amazon, Google, or Roku. Most Smart TVs do have a decent variety of apps, but we find all of them clunky to use in comparison to those of the companies making the app widgets themselves. Plus, the price of any of these streaming devices is between $35 and $149. If you have a serious home theater or media room, it is just not that significant of an investment for such a great interface.
Roku Takes the Throne
So long live the new king, the totally open, brand-agnostic, Roku player. It was purchased last year by more households than any of the others. No, you can’t talk to it and ask it to take you to VUDU or Amazon Prime, but unlike the ones you can talk to, you can actually get to all the streaming services you need and want!