Roku Vs Chromecast Vs FireTV Vs Android TV 4K Streamers

Roku Vs Chromecast Vs FireTV Vs Android TV 4K Streamers

This holiday season many people are shopping for new 4K Ultra HD TVs. Google, Amazon and Roku would like you to add something else to the shopping cart, a new media streamer.

Roku vs Chromecast vs Fire TV vs Android TV

These companies all have a nice selection of 4K (and HDR) capable media streamers that will let you access beautiful 4K content from popular streaming services. With Roku, you can even choose from several models including their top-of-the-line $130 Roku Ultra. Google has also expanded their Chromecast line and recently introduced a new model that will support 4K, the $70 Chromecast Ultra. Amazon has the $75 Fire TV and $30 Fire TV Stick and there are a large number of Android TV boxes available including the incredible high performance Nvidia Shield that are all fully capable of streaming 4K.

There’s finally a decent amount of 4K stuff to stream now too, although you may not want to jump into 4K streaming quite yet. 1080 content is still much more plentiful and in most cases may be more than enough and won't tax your broadband data cap.

Google and Roku each have products that will appeal to many consumers, so it may really be worth taking a closer look at what you get once you decide to jump fully into 4K and the additional costs and bandwidth usage that apply.

The new Roku Ultra is a little smaller version of the 2015 Roku 4 minus a fan. None of Roku models now contain a fan. The Roku 4 was the company’s first foray into 4K media streaming. One useful little button located on top of the Roku Ultra is a remote finder. Press it and your Roku remote will make a sound so you can easily find where you left it last like behind the sofa cushions, or in your puppy's bed where it was used as a chew toy. This is a nice feature that could come in handy if you often misplace your remote.

What really makes this Roku "Ultra" is the long list of additional ports less expensive models may be lacking. It comes with Ethernet, optical audio, microSD, USB, and power inputs. Both the USB and optical audio ports are only found on the Ultra, and both are very handy for home theater setups.

The next step-down brings you the Roku Premiere+ which also has a slot for a microSD card. This will let you play your own movies, music, and photos using third-party apps like Plex. Having a USB port is even better. Plug in a portable drive loaded with tons of downloaded or ripped media, and you can play your media and no longer will you need to worry about slow, Wi-Fi speeds, buffering or data caps.

Chromecast and Roku both offer a different user interface. Roku has a very easy to use menu system that most will learn very quickly. Going further than the list of apps on the home screen once you've added popular channels like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, YouTube, and Vudu is something most will users will hardly ever do. There are thousands of Roku channels to choose from. Some are less polished than others, but with Roku it's all about choice and there are really many channels available.

Android TV Boxes offer the advantage of having access to the Google Play Store so you will have access to thousands of apps, games and more. Plus with the ability to run Kodi, and other TV apps finding great content to watch will never be a problem.

While you can use many cable TV authorized channels (see this list). Unfortunately, there is still no single sign-on feature for TV channels, so you will have to add your cable credentials inside every channel (HBO Go, CNN, A&E etc.) that requires them. The good news is you can use a friend or relative's account info even if they live in another state to watch many cable channels on your Roku. This is something you won't find yet on Fire TV, Chromecast or other Android TV boxes to the extent it is available on Roku.

Roku’s remote is very simple to use, and the headphone jack for private listening is a highly favored feature. The remote’s shortcut buttons are not customizable and that's just plain silly. On the Ultra, they’re reserved for Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, and Showtime. The latter three of those services don’t even offer 4K or HDR content, so instead maybe Roku could have given these buttons to YouTube, Amazon Video, and Vudu — which all do. The buttons may have more to do with sponsored apps than customer usefulness.

Roku does offer a nice 4K Showcase that will help you find some great 4K content you may not have seen yet. Roku also features universal search that will search streaming TV services like Netflix, Vudu and Amazon for any movie or show you want to watch. This is a great feature that will help you discover and find new content and even list movies according to the lowest price first. Amazon also offer a great search feature on their Fire TV although it will direct you to the Amazon Video store rather at other competing sites. So you may not find it quite as useful.

You will find these same features on a less expensive $79 Premiere and $100 Premiere+. They both also stream 4K, though only the Premiere+ and Ultra can do HDR. 4K HDR video on the Ultra device is even a nicer brighter 4K picture. While still not quite as nice as Blu-ray and when videos first start playing it takes a second or two to switch over to 4K resolution picture quality is quite stunning. The only other streamer that compares and may still offer a slightly better picture is the Nvidia Shield. Be prepared to pay a premium price for it though and you won't have the same access to cable TV channels like you do on Roku.

The Chromecast Ultra’s software is pretty much bare bones. It requires you to control-it-from-your-smartphone rather than provide you with a remote control like you get with almost every other media streamer. The user interface is practically non existent, and on media streamer that sells for $70 you may soon find it more trouble to use than it's worth. This is easier to put up with on a $35 streamer like the 1080p Chromecast, but for the Ultra’s price, not as much.

Android TV boxes on the other hand probably have the most complicated operating systems so expect a small learning curve. If you are already familiar with an Android Phone or Tablet, you will feel right at home with an Android TV box.

While you can easily find apps that support Chromecast, finding 4K shows and movies is not as easily done. Amazon Video, one of the biggest sources of 4K and HDR content, will not work on a Chromecast or most other Android TV boxes. While there is a work around of sorts to get the app on there it is limited to 1080p. This is one advantage Roku still holds over Chromecast and Android TV boxes. Although you can use Vudu, Netflix, and YouTube for a still rather small collection of 4K and HDR viewing options.

So with many 4K options, which streamer should you buy? If you need a simple well rounded media streamer to give you access to a ton of content Roku should be near the top of your list. The long list of channels and content make it a much better bet than the Chromecast Ultra or Amazon Fire TV. An Android TV box is also a much better bet than a Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV since it offers much more that it can do.

Minix U1 Android TV Box

If 4K is important to you and you want the best of both worlds, the Roku Primere Plus and Minix Neo U1 will set you back less than the price of a Nividia Shield. It will give you way more options  and a better user experience than a Fire TV and Chromecast combined.

Stream Netflix Plus Much More, Roku boxes starting at $25

Watch Tons of Movies and TV Shows with... Android TV 

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