In last weeks post I described how easy it is to setup a home media server to stream your DVD collection to your TV. I briefly discussed media streamers that make this possible, effectively turning your TV into a super smart TV. There is a huge range of these devices and in this article I’ll try and help you make the correct choice.
What to look for
Streaming media players allow a vast array of content to be played through your TV. For example: iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and YouTube. Nearly every content provider has their own device: Apple have Apple TV, Amazon have Fire TV and Google have Chromecast, to name a few.
Choosing the right device will depend on what you want to watch. So if you have a Amazon Prime subscription that includes Amazon Instant Video, you ideally want a device that supports this service, since there’s a lot of good free content. If you have purchased a lot of content via Apple, and own Apple smartphones and tablets, Apple TV is worth considering, and is the only device that will be able to play this purchased content back natively.
I’ve compiled the table below to try and compare the leading streaming players’ features:
|Plex||Amazon Instant Video||TV catch up*||Netflix||NOW TV||YouTube||Storage for apps||Other features / notes|
|WD TV||x||x||x (only iPlayer)||✔||x||✔||x||Very good file support for local content|
|Apple TV 3rd||x||x||x (only iPlayer)||✔||✔||✔||x||Easy access to Apple content, Airplay|
|Apple TV 4th||✔||x||x (only iPlayer)||✔||✔||✔||32GB/64GB||Easy access to Apple content, Airplay, App store & gaming|
|Roku 2||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔||MicroSD||Same hardware as Roku 3|
|Roku 3||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔||✔||MicroSD||Remote only difference from Roku 2: headphone jack and accelerometer for gaming|
|Fire TV Stick||✔||✔||✔||✔||x||✔||x|
|Fire TV 4K||✔||✔||✔||✔||x||✔||MicroSD||4k support, voice control, gaming via optional gamepad|
|Chromecast||✔||x||x (only iPlayer, All 4)||✔||✔||✔||x||No remote. Have to start session from phone or tablet. Works on iOS, but better support for Android|
These are services and features I feel are important but I’m sure some will be irrelevant to you. Plex, as I mentioned in my previous article, allows you to stream media across your home network and is a feature important to me. As is TV catch up, which in the UK at least, varies considerably across the devices. Only the Fire TV and Roku units support all the major UK catch up services from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.
There are additional features that may be important or useful too. For instance the Fire TV 4k has a voice remote, which works really well. It even recognised my young childrens’ voices consistently. And the Fire TV 4k and Apple TV (latest 4th generation) support gaming – although an optional gamepad is almost essential for the Fire TV. Crossy Road proved enjoyable though even with the standard Fire TV remote.
It has the widest choice of available services, and is well priced. The interface is not quite as slick at the Fire TV or Apple TV, but it’s fast and it has no features absent.
I can’t use Airplay from my Apple devices, but since most applications are available anyway, you’d rarely need to do this. And if you want to play back your iPhones’ photos and videos, it has a “Play on Roku” feature which achieves the same thing, and works pretty well.
Please feel free to ask any questions below – I’m more than happy to try and answer them.
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