The beginning of the end is here for the monopoly cable companies. The ability to stream TV over the internet directly to your living room TV is not the future, it is here today. The technology has been perfected. It is easy to do, high quality, and the way that millions of people would already prefer to get their programming.
The only thing that has held internet streaming television back to this point has been the monopoly cable companies. Up until now, they have been able to bully channels into not allowing their programs to be watched over internet television. Most networks have over time been able to break free of the cable company and began showing their programs on services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon in addition to regular cable programming.
The only thing keeping streaming television from going prime time has been a couple of major holdouts in ESPN and HBO. If you wanted to watch live sports or premium cable, the only way to do it was through cable. ESPN hasn’t decided to give customers what they want quite yet, but they do have a limited number of games available on streaming already, with more available all the time.
HBO on the other hand has delivered a huge blow to the cable monopolies by announcing that beginning in 2015, they will offer a subscription to their service over the internet with no cable subscription required. This is huge news, because once everyone sees how successful HBO is with this program surely ESPN and any other holdouts will follow.
There are several products available that make it easy to stream TV from the internet to your television, and I have used all three. Here is my review of the Amazon Fire TV Stick, Google Chromecast, and the Roku player to see which one is right for you.
Ease of installation
All three devices are super easy to install. Just plug any of the three into the back of your television, follow a few on screen directions and you are up and running. Believe me, under most circumstances you don’t have to be good with technology to get these installed.
Push. All three are super easy.
Ease of use
Fire TV Stick-
The Fire TV Stick is very easy to use, and I would say it is even easier to use than some of the more complex cable or satellite boxes I have seen. A simple remote lets you pick the app (Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime Video for example)you want in an intuitive home screen. Once you select your app, then you can search for the show you want to watch.
The Google Chromecast is also fairly simple to use, but it works a little differently. To operate the Chromecast, you start by downloading the Chromecast app to your smart phone or tablet as well as the apps of any streaming services you want to use.
Once you have the Chromecast app, when you open your streaming services app and pick the show you want to watch a little button will appear that will tell your phone to send the show to the Chromecast to play on your regular television.
While this isn’t too hard, it’s just not as easy as the other two devices. If friends or family come over you can’t just hand them a remote, you have to let them use your smart phone or tablet, which you may not be comfortable doing. Also, if you want to make a call in another room anybody wanting to use your phone to pick another show will be out of luck until you are done unless the same apps have been downloaded onto another phone as well.
The Roku player is just as easy as the Fire TV Stick. A simple remote lets you select which streaming service you want to use, then pick your show. Easy.
The Fire TV Stick and Roku player are my choices here, but the Chromecast isn’t exactly hard to use either.
What you can watch
Fire TV Stick-
The Fire TV Stick allows you to watch almost any of the streaming services you would be interested in, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, ESPN, or Youtube. The one major streaming service you can’t get on the Fire TV Stick right now is HBO, but Amazon claims that will be up and running by next year.
The Chromecast lets you watch all the major streaming services including HBO except for Amazon Prime Video. If you aren’t an Amazon Prime member, chances are you don’t care about watching Amazon Video, but if you have Amazon Prime not having this service is a major drawback.
The Roku player lets you watch all the major streaming services. There is nothing you can complain about when it comes to what the Roku offers.
Roku wins this round. The Fire TV Stick will catch up to it when it gets HBO up and going.
Fire TV Stick-
If the movie you want to see isn’t yet available through one of your streaming services, you can rent it through Amazon Video. However, I don’t feel this is a big advantage since movies rented through Amazon Video tend to be much more expensive than what Redbox charges.
The Chromecast allows you to rent movies through the Google Play store, but they aren’t any better deal. Go to Redbox instead.
Since the Roku player has Amazon video, you can rent videos if you like paying more than Redbox.
Roku. The prices on all three devices are higher than what you could rent a movie for at Redbox, but at least you can’t blame Roku for that. Since Amazon and Google are the ones charging the high prices, I blame them for this whole mess.
Let’s think about this for just a minute. Redbox has to build physical machines, buy a ton of physical CDs, rent space for those machines, pay people to keep the machines full of brand new DVDs, and pay people to keep the machines up and running. That’s a lot of overhead expense.
All Amazon and Google have to do is buy servers to keep digital movies stored on and the bandwidth to let people download them. I’m not suggesting their overhead expenses are zero, but they are much, much, lower than Redbox with their nationwide network of physical machines.
So why is it so much more expensive to watch a movie over the internet than it is go get a physical DVD? Because of licensing costs? There is no reason that the movie studio should be paid more for me to watch a streaming movie than one I watch on DVD. It makes no sense that streaming costs more when the expenses should be lower. This pricing model is holding back the streaming industry and should be fixed.
Fire TV Stick-
Besides watching TV, the Fire TV Stick allows you to play quite a wide variety of android apps on your television. This is a great feature for things like playing trivia game apps at parties, or showing your pictures or home movies on your television. I think this extra flexibility is important not so much for what it can do now, but what it can do in the future.
While internet streaming TV is big now, I believe it will become the dominant force in television. When this happens these devices will receive more attention from app developers, and who knows what kind of incredible ideas people will come up with about what you should be able to do on your television. Because the Fire TV Stick works with a lot of apps on the already existing android platform, the Fire TV Stick is well positioned to take advantage of all the new apps that will come out in the future.
For those that really want to play games on the Fire TV Stick, you can buy a video game type controller for use with the Fire TV Stick that will allow you to play much more complex games than you could with the simple remote control the Fire TV Stick comes with.
The Chromecast also runs a number of android apps, but just doesn’t seem to be quite as smooth as the Fire TV Stick. While the Fire TV Stick lets you find apps to use on your TV right from it’s home screen, the Chromecast makes you go look for them in the Google Play store from your phone, where I have found no area dedicated to the Chromecast, so you have to do a little bit of searching.
The Chromecast was also much slower to get these apps. Only a select few apps where compatible with the Chromecast when it first came out. While this number has grown steadily over time, I don’t believe the Chromecast has as many options as the Fire TV Stick. When you consider that the Chromecast has been out for over a year and the Fire TV Stick has been out for a couple of days that tells me that the Fire TV Stickis the device that will be able to adapt faster to technology changes in the future.
The one great feature the Chromecast does have is it allows you to play videos from your computer’s browser right to the TV. That eliminates the drawback of not having a dedicated Amazon video app discussed above and allows a great deal of flexibility in what you can watch on your Chromecast.
This is where the Roku really falls behind the others. There are a few games you can play on the Roku, but it has never occurred to me that I would want to. Sure you can play angry birds, but why would you when it works so much better on an android device? The other games available just don’t strike me as very interesting.
Fire TV Stick. The Fire TV Stick and Chromecast allow you to do much more than just watch TV, but the speed at which apps came out for the Firestick makes me think it will be faster to add new ideas in the future.
All prices were accurate as of the time the article was written, but may have since changed. Clicking on the links below will take you to the most current price on Amazon.com.
Fire TV Stick – $39.00
Roku 3500R Streaming Stick– $39.97. This version of the Roku is a stick that plugs directly into the HDMI plug in the back of your computer and is completely hidden, similar to the Fire TV Stick and Chromecast.
Roku LT Streaming Media Player– $29.99. This version of the Roku player is a little cheaper if you don’t mind having a very small purple box on your TV stand.
This is the least subjective category. Chromecast costs the least, so it gets the nod here.
Any one of these three devices are a great choice. They are all simple to use, work well, and provide a great way to get rid of your high monthly cable bill in place of low subscription fees to internet streaming TV services.
If you already subscribe to Amazon Prime and want the flexibility to add new apps to do things in the future that as of now haven’t been imagined then the Fire TV stick seems like the best choice.
If you don’t subscribe to Amazon and are more interested in just watching a little TV than a bunch of fancy apps you may never actually use, then I would go with the Chromecast.
Note: Links to Amazon are affiliate links