Cord-Cutting 101: Streaming Devices

Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast, or Apple TV?
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Today, I’m going to help you decide between the Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast, or Apple TV to help you decide which streaming device is right for you.

This is a Cord-Cutting 101 video, so things will stay pretty basic for the most part. This is just a high-level overview of where the streaming device landscape stands right now. So if you’re thinking about cutting the cord, or if you’ve just gotten started and you’re curious about what devices are good for who, then this is the video for you.

Hang with me and we’ll go over all the big ones, but I’m also going to tell you about a lesser-known player in the market called the Nvidia Shield.

So let’s dive in!

Roku

First up is the Roku. Roku is the king of streaming devices. It holds the lion’s share of the market, so tons of Roku devices out there, but why? Why is it king? I mean, it doesn’t have the advantage that other devices do of being tied to a mega brand like Amazon or Apple or Google.

But on the other hand, maybe that’s just it. It’s brandless. Except for the Roku brand, I suppose.

But the point is with Rokue those who aren’t all-in on a certain ecosystem aren’t going to feel like they have to get into that ecosystem. They’re not getting sucked into something. They’re not trespassing in someone else’s home like you sometimes feel if you’re not an Apple person and you use the Apple TV.

The Roku is a great beginner’s device. It’s simple, it’s easy to navigate, and it doesn’t push you toward one streaming brand or another. So I think that’s why it has a lot of market share and why it’s probably a good choice for the vast majority of us.

So if you are going to go Roku, which device should you get?

There’s the Roku Express. That’s the cheapest one out there. It’s cheap, but it does work. It has no bells and whistles, and it only goes up to a 1080p resolution. But like I said, it’s cheap and it works.

Then there’s the Roku Streaming Stick+. This is the perfect middle-of-the-road option for most people who are considering Roku. This usually goes for around 40 or 50 bucks, it does 4K resolution, and it’s fast. It’s going to be a lot faster than the Roku Express.

Then if we go up another notch, you’ve got the Roku Ultra. It’s called ultra for a reason. It does 4K HDR. It’s got a remote finder for the forgetful among us. It’s got a headphone jack for private listening. Two programmable buttons to quickly open different streaming apps. It’s got a lot of stuff. It’s ultra for a reason, but you do pay a little bit more for it.

Or you can get Roku built into certain devices. There are Roku TVs with the interface built right in. There’s even a Roku Smart Soundbar with the interface built right in. It’s a soundbar that comes with a remote and plugs right into TV. It’s pretty cool.

Amazon Fire TV

Next up, Amazon Fire TV. Unfortunately, unlike the Roku, this is a branded device, so it has Amazon Prime Video baked right in, and it pushes that content a lot.

On the other hand, it has Amazon Prime Video baked right in, so if you use that service a lot, then you have a ton of stuff right at your fingertips. It’s pretty convenient. The Amazon Fire TV ecosystem is very Amazon heavy, obviously, but it is going to be good for a lot of people.

Similar to the Roku, the Fire TV is easy to navigate, and if you do have Amazon Prime Video, it’s a great option.

The other thing that these devices do is they allow you to sideload. And sideloading basically means that you’re taking a third-party app installing it on the Fire device, and that allows you to install apps on your Fire TV that don’t appear in the Fire TV store.

Many times these apps are going to be used for legally dubious purposes, but not always—a lot of times it’s something as simple as adding a gaming emulator. It’s pretty cool. You can use a Bluetooth controller with your Fire Stick and play games through some of those apps. Some of them you have to sideload, others come with the Fire TV.

If you’re a slightly more power user, then the Fire TV is going to be maybe better than the Roku for you.

So if you do go Amazon, which device should you get?

Well, skip the Fire Stick. I’m actually holding the Fire Stick 4K, and that’s the one you should go for. Even if you don’t care that much about 4K resolution, the 4K stick is a lot faster and more responsive than the regular one. You’ll just have a better experience with it and it’s usually only about 10 bucks more than the non 4K version.

There is something out there called the Fire TV Cube, which is basically just a Fire Stick 4K with an Echo Dot built in. What’s weird is that the Cube costs more than the Fire Stick 4K and Echo Dot bought separately. Go figure. Now, the Cube’s not a bad device. It’s just not a strictly necessary one, so it’s pretty skippable.

You can also get Fire TV built into a TV, kind of like you can with Roku.

Google Chromecast

Next up is Google Chromecast, another really popular device. This is the device to get if you want to forget about the device, honestly. It’s a little dongle. It hangs off the back of your TV when you plug it in, so there’s nothing on your shelf to clutter things up. There’s no remote, there’s no interface to navigate.

There’s really not much to it at all. Everything you need is right here on your phone. This is your remote. This is your interface. You pull up something on Netflix or YouTube or Disney+ or whatever right here on your phone. Then you look for the cast symbols, and when you hit that, it sends the data to your Chromecast, which then plays it on your TV. And it’s pretty convenient that way.

The Chromecast also integrates with Google Assistant. So if you have one of those in the room, you can use voice commands and tell it to turn on a show, play and pause and so on.

The Chromecast is pretty nice. It’s simple. It’s cheap. It’s a decent entry-level device.

So if you go Chromecast, which device should you get?

Speaking of simple, so is the device lineup for Chromecast. There are only two options these days.

There’s the third-generation Chromecast, which runs video to 1080p, and it’s the cheap option. Usually it’s about 30 bucks. So if you’re searching for one online, look for the 2018 model.

Or there’s the Chromecast Ultra. This one is more expensive. It runs about 70 bucks. It’s nearly identical to the regular Chromecast, but what you’re paying for is 4K resolutions in a faster, more responsive experience. So is it worth it? Personally, I think you can get more for less from Roku or Fire TV, but if you love the Chromecast experience, then the Ultra is a very nice device.

Apple TV

If the Fire TV interface is all about the content ecosystem, then the Apple TV is all about with the device ecosystem. So if you’re an Apple fan, you know how this works. Your Mac book talks to your watch, which talks to your iPad, which works with your iPhone, and they all work great with the Apple TV. They all work together in joyous harmony, at least in theory. It is pretty great. If you’ve got the money, it’s a sweet ecosystem to get into. And the Apple TV fits into that really nicely.

And even without all that, the Apple TV is a pretty great device, and I use mine fairly frequently. The interface is pretty simple, and it’s got the Apple TV app, not to be confused with the Apple TV+ app, the streaming service. (Did I say this was simple? Yeah, maybe I got to take that back.) Anyway, the Apple TV app pulls in many of your streaming services into one place so you can see what you’ve been watching and get recommendations across services. Except for Netflix. They don’t want to play ball with that one. They’re fine playing in their own sandbox thank you very much, apparently. But anyway, imagine when you log into a streaming service, you get that continue watching category, but now it works for almost all of them in one place. It’s pretty nice.

The Apple TV has a remote that you’ll either love or hate. Most likely you’re going to hate it, but you will get used to it. And it does have typing by dictation, which is a lifesaver, so you don’t have to scroll through the keyboard and click all the letters.

The only problem with the Apple TV is it’s 180 bucks for the 4K version. For that price, literally, you could get a 40-inch TV with Roku or Amazon Fire built right in. So yeah, it ain’t cheap, but if you’re an Apple person, it is a great device.

So if you go Apple TV, which device should you get?

This one’s even better simpler than the Chromecast. There is a non-4K version of the Apple TV. I wouldn’t bother with that. It’s still fairly pricey, so if you’re going to go for an Apple TV, just go for the Apple TV 4K.

Nvidia Shield

Lastly, let’s talk about the Nvidia Shield, which unfortunately I had to leave in the office before it got locked up for COVID, so I can’t hold it up and show it to you. But anyway, the Nvidia Shield takes up less than 1% of the streaming device market, but about 97% of the YouTube comment market. Why? Because—as Nvidia Shield fans won’t hesitate to tell you—it’s amazing, honestly.

What does the Nvidia Shield do? What doesn’t it do? It runs on the Android TV platform, so it integrates with your Google Assistant, kind of like your Chromecast does. It plays video in 4K HDR. It has a library of games on Android or Steam Link. It even has Plex server capability, HDHomeRun integration, and NAS access. And if all that sounded like gibberish to you, don’t worry about it. This device probably isn’t for you anyway.

This is a true power-user device catering primarily to the gamer market or the high-tech user market. I will say this though—whether you’re a power user or not, if you find yourself using an Nvidia Shield, you’ll most likely love the experience. It’s got a great remote, and the interface is really nice and easy to use.

So if this is such a niche device, why am I telling you about it in a Streaming 101 video? Well, for two reasons. First, because you are likely to come across it in your online searches, and I wanted you to know about it before you spend 150 or 200 bucks on it. And second, because if I don’t mention it, the Nvidia Shield fans come after me in the comments. I’m just kidding. It’s a great device, it really is.

So if you do go with Nvidia Shield, which device should you get?

If it sounds like this is up your alley, there are two options. The regular Nvidia Shield, which looks like a big stogie honestly, and it goes for 150 bucks or the slightly faster and more feature-rich Nvidia Shield Pro, which looks like a small game console. That one goes for 200 bucks. Both of them would serve you well.

But if you are that power user who’s looking for a great device, honestly, if you’re going to shell out 150, you might as well just go 200 and get the nicer one.

Last Words

Now there are plenty of other devices out there, many of which use the Android TV platform, same as the Nvidia Shield. But since the Shield got us all the way down to 1% market share, and it only goes down from there, I think it’s safe to say we’ve covered the most popular devices out there.

Streaming devices comparison
DeviceList priceView
Roku Express$29.99View on Amazon
Roku Streaming Stick+$49.99View on Amazon
Roku Ultra$99.99View on Amazon
Fire Stick 4K$49.99View on Amazon
Fire TV Cube$119.99View on Amazon
3rd Generation Chromecast$29.98View at Walmart
Chromecast Ultra$49.99View at Best Buy
Apple TV 4K$227.99View on Amazon
Nvidia Shield$324.00View on Amazon
Nvidia Shield Pro$199.99View on Amazon

Amazon.com List Prices (as of 02/10/21 11:41 MST).