Last fall, Google released the first pint-sized streaming device: the $35 Chromecast. The $50 Roku Streaming Stick soon followed. They look like flash drives, both plug directly into an HDMI port, and both are reasonably priced. You can access a huge selection of online streaming services with either device, which you can control via a smartphone or tablet.
Which one should you buy?
To help you decide, we compared the two streamers in five categories: supported apps, basic remote control, advanced remote control, power consumption, and startup time. You can decide which of these categories carry the most weight.
Channels, apps, and services
If you're a fan of PBS, you want a stick that supports public television's streaming service (and not just PBS Kids). The same goes for iFood.tv or Warner Archive Instant. Or, for that matter, some service you've never heard of but may one day discover and love.
Both sticks support hundreds of streaming services for movies, TV shows, sports, news, education, and your own photo collections. Roku has 1,800 channels in its Channel Store, and while the Chromecast apps site doesn't give exact numbers, it lists hundreds of compatible apps.
But they're not actually Chromecast apps, in that you don't install them on your Chromecast itself. They're Android and iOS apps that support Chromecast. If you're watching a show in your phone's Fandor app, for instance, you can tap the Chromecast icon and send the stream to your television.
It's worth noting that you'll find considerably more Chromecast-compatible Android apps than iOS apps.
Both sticks support popular services such as Netflux, Hulu Plus, ESPN, YouTube, and Pandora. But Chromecast is weak in the pay-per-view area. It lacks Amazon, Blockbuster, and M-GO, and the Android Vudu app isn't well designed for a phone's small screen. Chromecast just recently gain seven new apps, though, including Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and Sesame Street Go. So this matchup is still evolving.
Both devices provide various ways to view your own photo and video collections, and listen to your own music, too.
Who wins? Roku wins this round, largely for the greater pay-per-view selection and the general numerical advantage. Plus, the Channel Store makes it easy to find and add new channels to your Roku stick directly from its own interface. With a Chromecast you must take the extra step of seeking out compatible mobile apps.
Basic remote control
Any device that streams video to a television needs the basic functions of a remote control: pause, play, fast forward, and so on. But of the two sticks, only the Roku comes with a physical remote control.
Granted, it's not a great remote. It's small and feels flimsy. But it's a real remote. You don't need to find your smartphone, unlock it, and launch an app. Once you know the remote's layout, you can hit Pause by touch. To me, this is a huge advantage.
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