Google Chromecast vs Amazon Fire TV Stick vs Apple TV: which streamer is the best?
Google, Amazon and Apple are battling for dominance in the living room. All three companies offer streaming technology, but when it comes to making a call between the new Apple TV, Google’s Chromecast and the Amazon Fire TV Stick, which device deserves a space in your entertainment hub? Which is the best streamer? We size up the pros and cons.
Why should you buy a streamer?
The short answer to this question is simple. Physical media is dying. You may still be able to pop into HMV and pick up a box set of The Wire, but the digital tides are turning, and DVD players are swiftly being replaced with mini-devices that unlock a gamut of on-demand streaming services.
The Chromecast 2, Apple TV and Fire TV Stick are all solutions to this problem that plug directly into your TV, but which is the one for you? We’ve pulled together all the metrics that matter to help you make an informed choice
New Apple TV vs Fire TV Stick vs Chromecast: Setting up
The new Apple TV benefits from a much needed processor boost, but its setup process is much the same as its predecessor. Unlike the Chromecast, the new Apple TV isn’t really small enough to stick directly into your TV, and that means you’ll need to clear some space for it in your AV rack.
However, after connecting the Apple TV to a free HDMI port, setting up the streamer is as simple as selecting your language and connecting to your home Wi-Fi network. If you’ve got an iPad or iPhone, things are even easier; touching the Apple TV with your iOS device will transfer your Wi-Fi settings without a keyboard in sight.
Both Amazon and Google’s offerings, on the other hand, plug discreetly into the HDMI port of your TV and need a separate source of power provided via a USB cable. Google’s new Chromecast is a radical departure from its predecessor in terms of design. It has a bendy HDMI cable attached to a circular disk, making it easier to fit into crowded ports. The USB-drive-like Fire TV Stick is, by comparison, less flexible when it comes to slotting into awkwardly placed HDMI ports, although Amazon includes a useful HDMI extension cable that also helps to boost the dongle’s Wi-Fi signal.
After you’ve attached the Chromecast it’s very easy to set things up regardless of whether you’re using iOS, Android or a computer (although you won’t be able to use a Windows phone). As with the original Chromecast, you’ll need to go to chromecast.com/setup and follow the instructions, which involves downloading the Chromecast app and pairing it with the device.
As for the Fire TV Stick, you’ll find that the Fire TV Remote (included with the TV Stick) automatically pairs with your streaming dongle. You can also download the Amazon Fire TV Remote app to turn your Amazon, Android or iOS phone into a remote for the device. All three streamers are incredibly easy to set up, so it’s only fair to call this one a draw.
New Apple TV vs Fire TV Stick vs Chromecast: Streaming apps
The Chromecast boasts an impressive number of supported apps, including BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Netflix, Now TV and BT Sport. There is also, naturally, access to the Google Play store, giving owners access to a wealth of audio and visual content.
Rather than an extension of your smartphone, the Apple TV acts like a more traditional separate, and therefore doesn’t rely on your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Like the Chromecast, Apple TV includes a good number of apps including access to Sky’s Now TV platform as well as Netflix, Red Bull TV and many more. Apple’s streamer ties into the vast iTunes movie and music service, making it great for quick rentals and purchased content. Siri integration is also baked directly into Apple TV, so users can command the Apple TV using their voice.
Amazon, meanwhile, places much more emphasis on its own services, with Amazon Prime customers benefiting from unlimited streaming of movies and TV from the Prime library. Users can also access third-party content via installable apps: Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 are all available, although the focus is clearly angled towards Amazon Prime.
Then there’s the wonderful world of Kodi, an open-source piece of software that lets users stream even more content from the internet, watch local media or even play games. You can install Kodi on both the Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV Stick, giving users the ability to stream files from the internet, a home network and local storage. Kodi isn’t held back by licensing or a curated app store, so it lets you download a range of community-made apps, and watch whatever you like.
In terms of ease of streaming apps, however, it’s a close call between Apple TV and the Chromecast here: the Chromecast can display pretty much anything thanks to its tab casting functionality. Where the two differ is the way in which the content is packaged, and how easy it is to control. The Apple TV feels like a more complete, standalone experience, while the Chromecast always feels like an impressive add-on to your existing smartphone. Amazon Fire comes third, biased as it is towards Amazon’s own services, though of course if that’s also your own preference, then it makes sense to bump it up here.
Verdict: Apple TV
New Apple TV vs Fire TV Stick vs Chromecast: Device to device streaming
As well as using apps from the dongle itself, a crucial aspect for a TV streamer is the ability to throw stuff from your smartphone, laptop or tablet onto the big screen.
The new Chromecast excels at this, and once again offers a lot of flexibility. It allows you to mirror the contents of Google’s browser on any supported device to a Chromecast-equipped TV. Not only does this allow users to browse on their main TV, or finish up work using Google Docs, but it also means you’re able to watch other streaming services that may not be natively supported by the dongle.
Google has also pushed gaming capability into the new Chromecast. Angry Birds Go, WGT Golf and Driver Speedboat Paradise are among the apps powered via your smartphone or tablet. You won’t be chucking out your Xbox One or PlayStation 4 anytime soon, but it’s nevertheless a way to translate commuter gaming to the big screen. As for controllers, those too are taken care of by your smartphone, meaning that between your handset and the Chromecast you’ll have everything you need for casual home consoling.
Amazon’s native gaming offering is somewhat more limited, giving you the option to play a number of Android games such as Crossy Road and Minecraft: Pocket Edition.
In terms of streaming to a Fire TV Stick wielding screen, you can mirror the screen of a Fire phone, Fire HDX tablets and devices running Android 4.2 or higher, which means you don’t necessarily need to have entirely bought into the Amazon ecosystem to fling up your browsing or apps to your living room screen.
So what about the new Apple TV? If you’ve ever wanted to see content on your iPhone, iPad, or iTouch on the big screen, the Apple TV is still the device for you. AirPlay makes the Apple TV a gateway for all the music, photos and videos on your iOS devices – or MacBook, while home sharing lets users stream content rented and bought from the iTunes store. What’s more, users with an iOS device or an iMac can even wirelessly mirror their screen.
Although it won’t worry the Playstation 4 or Xbox One, the latest version of the Apple TV comes with a powerful A8 chip, and has access to a library of games made specifically developed for the big screen. Apple says titles can be downloaded just as they would on a iPhone or iPad, and users can play them with the new accelerometer, gyrometer and touchpad equipped Apple TV remote.
Ultimately however, Chromecast edges in the lead with its option to purely stream audio and for how easy it makes flinging content from devices up to your TV screen, even if its games may end up being more of an afterthought that Apple’s in the long run.