App selection should be one of the biggest factors in choosing a streaming media player, because all the fancy features in the world dont mean much if you cant watch the movies, TV shows, and other content that you want.
The good news is that theres relative app parity among the major streaming-media devices, including Apple TV, Amazons Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, the Roku boxes and the Roku Streaming Stick, Googles Chromecast, and Android TV devices such as the Xiaomi Mi Box and Nvidia Shield. If youre just looking to watch Netflix or Hulu, pretty much every device on the market has you covered.
Still, each platform does have its hang-ups, which we reveal in the chart below. Have a look, then keep reading for some takeaways and caveats.
The services that are available on each device
Okay, now lets answer some questions that I assume will be asked frequently:
Arent there way more apps than this?
I focused mainly on apps that offer full TV episodes and movies, either for free or with a standalone subscription, but its not a complete list. Roku, for instance, has lots of niche apps for oldies,cult classics, and international programming, which I didnt get into. Ive also included music-streaming apps and some popular internet video sources for good measure.
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My Apple TV has hardly any of these apps. What gives?
You must be using an older Apple TV, which does not include an App Store and is no longer receiving updates. This chart only applies to the fourth-generation Apple TV, which launched in October 2015. For a list of apps available on older Apple TVs, check here.
Roku has the most extensive app selection. Why buy anything else?
Beyond just app selection, youre also choosing between ecosystems. The Apple TV, for instance, is your only option for iTunes videos, Apple Music, HomeKit controls, and AirPlay streaming from other Apple devices. Amazon devices have the Alexa voice assistant and a clever interface thats more focused on content than individual apps. Both Chromecast and Android TV devices offer powerful second-screen controls. And Roku itself has some novel features such as private headphone listening through a smartphone, and the Roku Feed for tracking favorite shows and movies.
Doesnt AirPlay on an iPhone or iPad let you watch pretty much any video on Apple TV?
Yes, but AirPlay doesnt really try to replace your remote control like Chromecast does. It wont let you watch other videos on the small screen or play games with sound while TV playback is in progress, for instance, and it requires your phone or tablet to stay connected to the local network. It feels more like a fallback than a complete solution.
So whyd you even include Chromecast, which is similar to AirPlay?
While Chromecast also requires a phone, tablet, or laptop to operate, it has several features that make it more remote-like. If its plugged into an outlet, Casting a video will automatically turn on your TV and switch to the appropriate input. Many apps let you adjust playback volume through your phone or tablet as well, and you canuse some standard TV remotes to hit pause. And if your device disconnects or runs out of battery, the video keeps on rolling. It also helps that Chromecast costs just $35; thats half the price of the least-expensive Apple TV. Check out ourChromecast FAQfor more details.
You said [Device X] doesnt have [App Y], but now it does! What the heck?
I will try to keep this chart up to date, but the world of streaming video is rapidly-changing, and Im only human. If you see something thats not right, drop a comment on TechHives Facebook page orholler at me on Twitter.
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This story, “Streaming-box app comparison: Roku vs. Chromecast vs. Apple TV vs. Fire TV vs. Android TV” was originally published by TechHive.