Find­ing the best deal on a stream­ing de­vice

The Standard Journal - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Anick Jes­da­nun As­so­ci­ated Press Tech­nol­ogy Writer

NEW YORK — Why watch video on a phone or a tablet when you can get a de­vice for as lit­tle as $30 to stream shows on a big-screen TV?

Ap­ple, Google, Ama­zon and Roku are all com­pet­ing to be your gate­way to on­line video. Which de­vice you need will largely de­pend on what ser­vices you watch and what kind of TV you have. You’ll prob­a­bly also want at least one sub­scrip­tion to a video ser­vice such as Net­flix or Hulu, which charge monthly fees. Oth­ers, such as Watch ESPN, re­quire a ca­ble TV sub­scrip­tion. Plenty of oth­ers — YouTube, for in­stance — of­fer video for free with ads, al­though their se­lec­tions can be lim­ited.

Here’s a hol­i­day buy­ing guide for the TV-stream­ers in your life.

Stream­ing built-in

Smart TVs, game con­soles and the Tivo dig­i­tal video recorder all have stream­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties built in. If all you watch is Net­flix and Hulu, you’ll be fine with those. But apps for in­di­vid­ual chan­nels such as The CW and FX won’t work with ev­ery de­vice.

The exceptions are TVs that run Roku or Ama­zon soft­ware or that have Google’s Chrome­cast tech­nol­ogy built in. They tend to have wider app se­lec­tions, so you might not need a stream­ing de­vice at all.

Ama­zon Fire TV

Al­though Ama­zon has got­ten bet­ter about pro­mot­ing ri­val ser­vices, its Fire TV de­vice is best seen as a com­pan­ion to the com­pany’s $99-ayear Prime loy­alty pro­gram. Video avail­able through Prime is prom­i­nent. The de­vice has Ama­zon’s Alexa voice as­sis­tant built-in, giv­ing you weather, sports scores, stock quotes and play­back con­trols with se­lected apps — ask Alexa to for­ward 30 se­conds, for in­stance.

Ama­zon’s $40 Fire TV Stick is good for reg­u­lar, high-def­i­ni­tion TV sets. If you have a higher-res­o­lu­tion 4K TV, you’ll want the reg­u­lar Fire TV for $70. There isn’t a lot of 4K video yet, but the price dif­fer­ence is small com­pared with what 4K TVs cost. The reg­u­lar Fire TV also of­fers high-dy­namic range, which has bet­ter con­trast and pro­duces brighter whites and darker blacks. Again, HDR video is slowly com­ing.

Fire TV doesn’t of­fer apps for iTunes or Google Play video. Fire TV’s re­mote also lacks vol­ume con­trols, some­thing that’s be­com­ing stan­dard on stream­ing de­vices.


Roku has one of the most com­plete chan­nel li­braries — more than 5,000, many you’ve never heard of. But there’s no iTunes.

Roku’s Ex­press sells for just $30. The $50 Stream­ing Stick gets you a re­mote with vol­ume but­tons and voice search — though we’re talk­ing ba­sic queries re­lated to shows and apps, not play­back con­trols or in­for­ma­tion such as weather. The $70 Stream­ing Stick Plus adds 4K and HDR. Bells and whis­tles in the $100 Ul­tra in­clude a re­mote that will emit a sound to help you find it in your couch cush­ion.

The Ul­tra’s re­mote has a head­phone jack, so you can watch TV with­out wak­ing up room­mates. For cheaper mod­els, you can get that through Roku’s smart­phone app. (With Fire TV and Ap­ple TV, you can pair wire­less head­phones.)


Google’s Chrome­cast is cheap but trick­ier to use, as you have to start video on your phone and then switch the stream to the TV. An en­try-level stream­ing de­vice from Ama­zon or Roku might be a bet­ter choice now that those prices have come down.

Sep­a­rately, Google of­fers its Android TV soft­ware for other mak­ers of stream­ing de­vices. Google’s YouTube and Play ser­vices of­ten get prom­i­nent billing in search re­sults. Again, no iTunes.

Nvidia’s Shield de­vice is one no­table ex­am­ple of an Android TV de­vice, though it’s pricey, start­ing at $179. It comes with 4K and HDR. You get voice searches through Google As­sis­tant — play­back con­trols with some apps, weather and data you might never think to ask a TV, such as flight sta­tus.

Shield is pow­er­ful and de­signed with gamers in mind; one fea­ture al­lows screen shar­ing of game play. A pack­age that in­cludes a game con­troller costs $20 more. The con­troller gives you a head­phone jack for private lis­ten­ing and hands-free queries with Google As­sis­tant. It’s nice not to have to press a mi­cro­phone but­ton on a re­mote to ask Google to pause or start video from the be­gin­ning.

Ap­ple TV

Though an iPhone isn’t re­quired, Ap­ple TV will be most use­ful with one. The ba­sic de­vice is $149; a ver­sion with 4K and HDR costs $30 more. You’re pay­ing for the ex­pe­ri­ence — in par­tic­u­lar, in­te­gra­tion and sync­ing with other Ap­ple gad­gets. For in­stance, you can type pass­words on an iPhone in­stead of nav­i­gat­ing a key­board on the TV char­ac­ter by char­ac­ter.

Siri of­fers sim­i­lar play­back con­trols and in­for­ma­tion queries as Alexa and Google As­sis­tant. The touch­pad on the re­mote of­fers faster for­ward­ing and rewind­ing than ri­vals.

And while all stream­ing de­vices of­fer more than just video, Ap­ple TV goes much fur­ther in of­fer­ing an iPhone-like ex­pe­ri­ence on a big screen. You can browse Ikea’s cat­a­log or or­der food from Grub­hub, for in­stance. Ap­ple TV is the only de­vice to sup­port iTunes, but there’s no Google Play. Ama­zon is ex­pected by the end of the year.

File, Elaine Thompson / AP

There are a wide va­ri­ety of TV-stream­ing de­vices such as Ama­zon’s Fire TV on the mar­ket. Choos­ing the right one is a mat­ter of choos­ing be­tween op­tions.

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