Watching shows and movies on your small laptop screen or computer monitor is so 2005.
Why sit in a computer chair for hours, straining your eyes to catch all of the action, when you can watch Netflix, Hulu, Watch ESPN or HBO:GO right on your jumbo sized flat screen HDTV from the comfort of your couch.
One of the easiest ways to get those services streaming onto your TV is through a set top box, such as Apple TV or a Roku. These devices have been around for more than 5 years, and both companies are currently on their 3rd versions of their popular devices.
Last year however, Google decided to enter into the market as well, but not with a set top box. In July of 2013, Google released their Chromecast, a device that they hope will change the entire landscape of internet video and music streaming to televisions forever.
Back in late 2006, Apple first offered a preview of what Steve Jobs believed to be the future of watching TV and movies. When it hit shelves in early 2007, the Apple TV changed the way people thought of streaming content. Suddenly those TV shows and movies you bought from the iTunes store weren’t relegated to being watched on your tiny phone screen or on your computer. In mid 2008, Roku stepped in to the digital streaming market and changed the game again by offering the first Netflix streaming receiver box. Although both of these products were relatively limited in their scope at first, in time both Roku and Apple TV released new software and hardware which increasingly made it simple to watch a multitude of streaming content on your TV.
Both of these products were extremely popular, and both had their upsides and downsides in relation to one another. The Roku set top box offers a wide variety of apps, with each content provider doing things their own way. While this does offer the user their pick of the litter in terms of which content services to subscribe to, it also can be confusing as the different apps all operated in completely different ways. On the other hand, Apple has kept their product rather minimalist, with very few 3rd party apps available, and automatic updates to all of the Apple software included, leading to easier use. The Apple TV also remains the only product of its kind that supports Apple services, such as ITunes, however it still does not offer compatibility with the Amazon Prime streaming service. The Apple TV also works seamlessly with other Apple products, such as syncing with your IPhone, IPod or IPad wirelessly to make it that much easier to begin enjoying your ITunes music and other content.
Google sat back and watched for years as Apple and Roku battled for control of the set top box market, but when they decided to join the market for streaming online content to TV sets, they took a different route. The Google Chromecast is a small USB dongle, not much larger than a flash drive. Once inserted into a TVs HDMI port, the Chromecast relies on a user’s smartphone or PC to run the apps and beam the content from those devices to the Chromecast, which in turn displays the content on the TV. Obviously, this is a major space saver, and the Chromecast costs only $35 as opposed to $100 for the Apple TV and Roku 3. However, there are some obvious downsides to this method. For one, there is no capability for using wired internet to operate the device, only a wireless signal will do, and if that signal goes out, as we know it often does, this causes issues with the streaming. Additionally, the Chromecast takes a bit more understanding of technology to work, as it requires you to navigate your phone to get the apps and choose the content you wish to watch, rather than just being able to do everything right on your TV screen as with the Apple and Roku products. All in all, there are positives and negatives to all 3 choices, and someone in the market for such a device should look into the apps available to each in order to determine which would be best for them.