Today, we’re going to be talking about a genre of products that are becoming increasingly important to users: Apple TV vs. Roku vs. Chromecast vs. Firestick. Or, as I like to call them, plug-and-play smart TVs.
Before we get to the end, though, I’m going to do my best to give you a thorough breakdown of each product. We will be comparing them on all kinds of factors, like which has the best price, which is best for gaming, and easiest to use.
Let’s get into it!
What Are Plug-and-Play Smart TVs?
If you don’t have any experience with the products, their purpose might seem a bit confusing. But don’t worry – it’s pretty simple!
A plug-and-play smart TV (also known as a ‘smart TV stick‘) is a little device you can plug into your TV. Once plugged in, you can watch streaming services on that device. Just switch to the HDMI input on your TV that you plugged your streaming stick into, and you’re ready to go.
These devices were made to allow people to access apps like Netflix on their TV. If you have a gaming console like an Xbox or PlayStation, you probably already use this to watch content on apps like YouTube or Netflix.
But the average TV on its own doesn’t have access to these apps. It can’t connect to WiFi, so how is it supposed to connect to Netflix or Hulu?
When you buy a product like Apple TV, you get a little box that plugs into your television’s HDMI port. It also comes with a remote. You set up the device, connect it to your WiFi, and suddenly get access to all kinds of apps like Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV+, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, and so on.
What About a Standalone Smart TV?
If you do not want either the Apple TV vs. Roku vs. Chromecast vs. Firestick, you can still opt for a standalone smart TV. This is a television that is capable of connecting to your WiFi. So you just set the TV up to connect to your WiFi, install the apps on it that you want to stream content on, and you’re good to go!
The problem with smart TVs is that they’re generally costly, or they have poor image quality. And many just don’t have that great of an interface.
On the other hand, Plug-and-play options allow you to turn any TV with an HDMI port into a smart TV. So you have more options in terms of interfaces, budgets, and picture qualities.
My recommendation is that if you have the budget and think a plug-and-play option sounds too complicated, a standalone smart TV is probably a safe option. But for most people, I think a plug-and-play option offers so much flexibility and value at such a low price that you can’t ignore it.
Apple TV vs. Roku vs. Chromecast vs. Firestick: A Complete Breakdown
Alright, so now that you’ve decided against getting a standalone smart TV, let’s get into the nitty-gritty comparisons of Apple TV vs. Roku vs. Chromecast vs. Firestick.
I should note that I’m not sponsored by any of these products! This is an honest review inspired by people who have asked for my input on these devices in the past. You’re in safe hands.
Apple TV vs. Roku vs. Chromecast vs. Firestick: Price
I’ll let the prices speak for themselves:
- Apple TV 4K: $179 for 32GB or $199 for 64GB
- Apple TV HD: $149
- Roku: $24.99 to $179 depending on whether you want 4K, better audio, a small plug-and-play device, or a soundbar with smart TV features
- Chromecast: $29.99
- Firestick: $39.99
As you can see, most of these devices are going to stay under $50. So anyone can upgrade to a smart TV for not too much. And if you want one of the higher-end devices (like an Apple TV), look for refurbished items. Apple offers refurbished Apple TVs for $10 off, and eBay has options as low as $40.
In my opinion, Google is offering the best value while Roku offers the most variety. Firestick is priced fairly, if not as well as the others. Apple TV is overpriced, period. Even for the 4K version of Apple TV is way too much. But if you’re a dedicated Apple user like myself, you might find that the price is worth it to have all of your services and devices sync up with your TV.
A General Overview of Each Device and Service
Alright, with price out of the way, here’s a general overview of each product:
- Apple TV: This is Apple’s offering to the market. It gets regular updates, integrates with all of your other Apple products, and is the most powerful option on this list. It has some decent computing power behind it. The price is too high, but it’ll last several years, which might make it worth it for some users when coupled with its other perks.
- Roku: Roku is generally considered the best budget option. However, it has a price for every budget, so you can get a Roku that cheaply covers the basics or one that outperforms Apple TV. The biggest drawback of Roku is that it doesn’t integrate with anything; Roku only makes streaming sticks, so that’s all you’re gonna get.
- Chromecast: Chromecast is often toted as the best out of these four. However, I think it’s one of the weakest. It does the same thing that the Roku does but at a slightly higher price. It doesn’t have any real unique features, and the integration with your Google Account is minimally useful. Its best feature is that it’s super easy to use. Though I can’t stand that it dangles behind the TV.
- Firestick: Firestick is Amazon’s offering, and in many ways, it’s the best. It has great value, several of the high-end features of Apple TV for a much lower price. It integrates with your Amazon account to offer lots of neat features. I would recommend this to most people (assuming you have an Amazon Prime account).
And those are the basics of Apple TV vs. Roku vs. Chromecast vs. Firestick.
Ease of Use
My experience with the various streaming sticks is that they’re all straightforward to use. Apple TV vs. Roku vs. Chromecast vs. Firestick – doesn’t matter. These are all simpler to use than a gaming console and even a DVR.
That said, you can divide the easiness of each device into two factors: The Setup and The Interface.
The consensus is that the easiest to set up is the Apple TV, followed closely by the Amazon Firestick. Both start working pretty much immediately after being plugged in. Roku and Chromecast, on the other hand, take a little more effort.
When it comes to interface, Roku is a popular favorite. At the same time, Chromecast is also known for being exceptionally easy to use. This makes sense, as Google’s apps are all very straightforward and easy.
I wouldn’t let ease-of-use sway your decision too much. Anyone with a basic tech-savviness will pick any of these up in a matter of minutes.
Which Is Best for Streaming the Most Shows?
Honestly, each device is pretty even in this department, too. That’s because, unlike a DVR or satellite subscription, you just download the app for the channel that you want to watch. truTV has an app, as does Showtime, Hulu, ABC, YouTube, Apple TV+, Netflix, Prime Video, etc.
Since all of these apps are widely available on all smart TV platforms, you aren’t going to be limited in what you can watch by choosing one streaming stick over another. Of course, there will always be the odd show that you can’t find, but it’s a slim enough chance that you’ll be alright.
Apple TV vs. Roku vs. Chromecast vs. Firestick: Picture Quality
On the opposite end, we have picture quality. This is something that’s going to vary dramatically not only between brands but also variants of devices from the same brand. The Apple TV HD will not offer the same level of quality as the Apple TV 4K.
However, your actual TV is going to affect this, too. Plugging a 4K streaming device into a TV with a 1080p screen isn’t going to give your TV 4K. This is important to note: Do not buy a 4K streaming device if you don’t own a 4K TV! The extra money spent on the 4K capability is going to be wasted.
With that in mind, the Apple TV 4K and the Roku 4K offer the best picture quality. Chromecast doesn’t offer anything higher than 1080p at 60fps. The Chromecast Ultra offered 4K, but this product has been discontinued.
The Amazon Firestick that we’ve been reviewing (the 2021 version) doesn’t offer anything beyond 1080p. However, there are older versions of the Firestick that do offer 4K. You might be able to find these on sites like eBay. The Fire TV Cube also offers 4K, though it’s priced at $99.99, so you will end up paying for the upgrade.
In short, go with a Roku or Apple TV device for great picture quality. Just make sure you get one that offers 4K and that your TV supports 4K.
Gaming on Your Smart TV
Lastly, we have gaming on your smart TV stick. I imagine that this is only going to matter to a small percentage of readers. Still, I decided to include it because it does differentiate these products.
The Apple TV is being built around the idea that it will gradually become a gaming device. Apple is pushing Apple Arcade, a subscription service that brings high-quality (though still mobile) games to your iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV.
Since Apple TV is the most powerful device in the Apple TV vs. Roku vs. Chromecast vs. Firestick lineup, it’s the best for gaming. So if playing games on your streaming stick is important to you, Apple TV is the winner.
Apple TV vs. Roku vs. Chromecast vs. Firestick: Which Should You Pick?
Alright, so you’ve reached the end of the article. And you’re now ready to learn which of these devices you should buy. There will, of course, be some variation, but in my opinion, here’s how you should make your decision:
- Apple TV: If you’re already an avid Apple user (you have an iPhone and a Mac or iPad, and/or multiple household members have Apple devices), spend the extra cash on an Apple TV. I think the Apple Ecosystem provides a lot of value to Apple users. That said, if you aren’t an Apple user, I can’t see how the Apple TV justifies its high price over any of its competitors. So anyone who doesn’t consider themselves an Apple user should happily skip this device.
- Roku: Roku is the everyman’s streaming stick. If you’re not sure what to get, grab this one. It comes in all kinds of price ranges and options, so you can get the exact picture quality, form factor, and price for your needs. And it’s super affordable! Whether you live in a penthouse or a college dorm, you can afford a Roku.
- Chromecast: I have a hard time seeing how Chromecast fits into the market. Its only real advantage is that it’s easier to use than the others. But they’re all easy to use, so this isn’t much of a boon. I guess I’d recommend Chromecast to Google fans who already have a few Google Homes in their house. Otherwise, just get a Roku.
- Firestick: For someone who wants a premium device but doesn’t want the Apple TV, grab a Firestick. These things are great, packed with features and quality, and they’re only slightly more than a Roku. If you’re already an Amazon Prime subscriber, you’re going to get a lot out of this thing.
And that’s it! Those are my thoughts on the Apple TV vs. Roku vs. Chromecast vs. Firestick debate. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments, and if you want more info and resources on all things tech, be sure to check out the rest of the blog here at Technipages.