Which Streaming Box is Right For You?

In my last post, I wrote about how you can use the internet for TV and cut cable if you really wanted to. To be perfectly honest, it was a post that I had been wanting to write for a really long time, but I felt that I had to wait for the right time. The reason being is that if I were to write that post when I first started the experiement almost two years ago, it would have been very different that it is now. When it comes to options for watching TV online, the difference between now and then is like night and day. The TV industry is starting to recognize that the web has become a viable player in all of this and that they’d better get on board.

Using the internet for TV doesn’t mean you have to watch TV on your computer only, though. There’s many different devices that promise to bring internet video to your TV, but two stand out from the others: the Apple TV, and the Roku line up of streaming devices. The reason why I chose to go with these two is because they are head and shoulders ahead in this area, and as we look forward will probably be the two main competitors for this space. If you are anything like me, you want to get the one that will give you the most bang for your buck. Hopefully, I am able to provide you with enough information that you can make an informed decision about which one is right for you.

The Apple TV

As a long time Apple and Mac guy, you would think that I would have one of these in my house, but in reality, it wasn’t until recently that I had actually thought about buying one (more on that later). The Apple TV has been through a few iterations and its latest one just came out earlier this year. There are a variety of features that it has, with its most prominent being that it can be used with iTunes and your other Apple devices. With iTunes you can use the Apple TV to stream movies and TV shows to your TV and you can also connect to iTunes on your computer, regardless if it is a Windows or Mac, and play your music as well. If you want to venture outside of iTunes for content, Apple has connected with a handful of services for you to use. Namely, you can connect with Netflix, Hulu Plus, the MLB, NHL, and NBA network, as well as Vimeo and the Wall Street Journal. Of course you have to pay to use these services and they vary in price, but they are a nice addition to have.

Media options for the Apple TV

Media options for the Apple TV

The killer feature of the device is the addition of AirPlay, which makes the Apple TV much more versatile. This can work in a couple of different ways. One, if you have an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, you can stream what is on your iOS device onto your TV. So if you have photos or home videos, or you want to show someone something in Safari, you can just put it up on your TV using the Apple TV device. Similar to this, you can also mirror what is on your iOS device onto your TV screen. So, if you are in an app, like say Google Earth on your iPhone and you want to show it on the big screen you can do this. What also makes AirPlay very cool is that there are some gaming apps that you can use your iPad or iPhone as a game controller and your TV as the actual game. The feature also works with all of the newer Macs running Mountain Lion as well, giving you a way to play, say, Flash video on your TV.

Airplay feature

Airplay feature

The Apple TV costs $100 and will work with any HDTV. Generally speaking, if you are a Mac user or have an iOS device, or an extensive iTunes library, this device is definitely worth getting. You get the major streaming networks like Netflix and Hulu Plus and on top of that you get AirPlay, which makes this device well worth the $100. If you are already using web enabled streaming services, and are also using Apple devices, this is nice to have being that they all will play nice with each other.

The Roku Lineup

When it comes to the Roku box, you have four different boxes to choose from. I won’t go into the full details of each box, but they range from a simple box where you can get access to all of Roku’s content, all the way up to the box where you can get HD content and it is also a gaming device as well. What is nice about all of the Rokus, is that no matter what box you get, you don’t get short changed on the content that it offers, which is really important. What makes them differ is the HD content that the later three offer and the gaming features that the last one has. Although the gaming features are nice, they really haven’t taken off just yet, and I don’t anticipate that it probably will.

Models and features for each Roku

Models and features for each Roku

What sets the Roku box apart from the Apple TV is the web enabled services that it offers. Like its counterpart, it offers Netflix and Hulu Plus, but they also provide a lot more than just that. You have Pandora, HBO Go, MLB, NHL, NBA, Disney, and a lot of other web related content. There are a handful of news websites that stream their web content onto the Roku box and all being told, there are easily 100 channels to choose from with a variety of different topics as well.

Some of the featured channels on the Roku

Some of the featured channels on the Roku

Which One is The One For You?

In a way these two devices are very different, but yet also very similar. In my opinion, it comes down to two things when deciding which one is the right one for you. The two questions that you need to ask yourself are, “What do you want to use it for?” and “What can you afford?” The answers to both of these questions will help you figure out which one to go with.

If you are Apple/Mac centric, it is almost a no brainer to go with the Apple TV because of the Air Play feature and the fact that they now have the two major streaming networks, Netflix and Hulu Plus, on the device. You will be able to use the device with your iOS and Mac gadgets and be able to get the latest TV shows and movies as well. The only problem with this is that there is only one to choose from, which could be an advantage to the Roku.

With the Roku, you get four different boxes to choose from, and minus the Air Play feature, it has way more content than the Apple TV does for almost half the price of it. This is a great box for someone that really is more focused on content than worrying about Air Play. You have Netflix and Hulu, and you can replace iTunes with Amazon Video, which sometimes even has cheaper movies than the former.

Conclusion

As you can tell, there is a lot to think about when it comes to cutting the cord and finding the right streaming device for you. The main thing to remember is that you really cannot go wrong with either of the ones that I mentioned here today. They are both very solid and offer decent content and are both at the forefront of streaming content. I personally have a Roku XD and have had it for the past year and a half and love it, even though I am a Mac/Apple guy.

I hope you were able to glean some insights from this post and my previous one about cutting the cord. Would love for you to leave any comments on your experiences with letting go of cable and if there are any other tips or devices that you use to replace your TV.


  • Maxi

    Nice post Shaun!
    I´ve been looking into web streaming recently also (as many college students guess what? I don´t have a TV), but so far I only use TV extensions for browsers. Do you have any idea how these work outside the US? I´ll check the websites, but I guess that I wouldn´t get as many channels or the same price. Also translation is an issue, I myself can be more comfortable with english but I can say the same for all the people I know (plus is always more comfortable watching it with subtitles at least).

    • http://www.fifthandmissing.com Jason

      Maxi – I’ve been using Roku for a month now and am based out of Canada. Paired with Unotelly (for access to US channels), it’s been a breeze. Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu are all (easily) available. Cutting the cable cord at the end of the month. TV is good again!

  • rob

    i just went from all web to cable. i couldn’t stand it anymore.
    my reasons:
    netflix has only old movies, not only that they don’t update as frequent as i would like.
    hulu if the season is over there is nothing to watch, catalog is even worst than netflix and with ads (even hulu plus), i like it when i miss new shows.
    vudu good selection too expensive for HD
    amazon, i like their catalog, i think it has the best deals in order of catalog and price, i like it.

    and basically, after the sum of all of them even though it is less, still you dont get live sports and different shows you get on cable

  • Jason

    I use a variety of technologies and don’t blindly suscribe to one while shunning others. I use a MacBook Pro and virtualize Windows. I have an iPhone and iPad 2. I have an Apple TV (well, 3 of them of different generations) AND a Roku 2 XS.

    I like the Roku more than the Apple TV. It offers more for the same amount of money. Apple shamefully limited the Mac OS X Mountain Lion Airplay feature to only its newest generation hardware, even though older hardware could support it.

    The Apple TV is quite limited in its selection. The Roku offers dozens of channels in so many variety of categories.

    Unless you have the latest generation computer hardware that supports Airplay to Apple TVs, they’re not worth getting.

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