Top 5 Streaming Devices for Cord-Cutters: Pros and Cons
For the growing number of households that are abandoning cable and satellite service and joining the ranks of cord-cutters, choosing the best streaming device for their particular situation is an important first step. With a wide variety of streaming devices to choose from – each with its own pros and cons – this can be a confusing process.
To help guide users toward making the right choice for meeting their specific needs – in both functionality and price – we’ve ranked the top 5 streaming devices available today.
- Roku Accounting for nearly 1 in every 3 streaming devices in use today, Roku is the clear leader in streaming devices. This is primarily because a) the company began offering streaming devices in mid-2008, and b) unlike the rest of the companies on this list, streaming is all Roku does. The company offers a wide range of models with varying levels of functionality, including Roku 1, Roku 2 and Roku 3 set-top boxes and Roku Streaming Stick. The company also recently unveiled its entry in the smart TV market. Of its devices, Roku 3 is head and shoulders above the rest, while Roku 1 – which lacks many of the features of its more advanced siblings and comes at a price point comparable to the Streaming Stick – is the black sheep of the family. With this in mind, the below list of pros and cons apply to all models except Roku 1, unless otherwise noted.
Pros: Large selection of apps and content; variety of models to suit users’ specific needs; universal search across all apps and services; stream photos, songs and videos from phone or tablet; Ethernet and USB connections; dual-band wireless for faster streaming; micro SD card slot expands internal storage (Roku 3 only); headphone jack in remote (Roku 2 and Roku 3 only); ease of setup and navigation; iOS and Android apps allow turn tablets and smartphones into a remote control; analog outputs (Roku 1 and Roku 2) for use with older TVs; low cost of Roku 1.
Cons: No built-in browser or live TV option; relatively high cost of Roku 3; some apps load slowly on the Streaming Stick; Streaming Stick must boot up each time it is used; limited features available on stripped-down Roku 1
- Apple TV Formerly a service included with Macs, Apple TV was launched as a standalone device in early 2008 – slightly before Roku’s debut. Through the years, this sleek device has had time to mature and evolve into a strong option for cord-cutters. With the addition of Apple’s planned live TV subscription service, Apple TV is poised to mount a serious challenge to Roku in the not-so-distant future.
Pros: Simple, easy-to-navigate interface; small, lightweight and portable; recent price drop; 40 GB hard drive for storing and playing content directly from the device; ability to stream videos, photos and music wirelessly from iPhone or iPad; rechargeable battery eliminates the need for a power cord; live TV subscription service planned
Cons: Potential compatibility issues with non-Apple devices; cables sold separately; occasional buffering issues; frequent updates can cause glitches; limited selection of free content; some popular apps like Amazon Prime not available
- Chromecast Never one to let an opportunity pass, Google got into the streaming game with Chromecast. The dongle plugs into a TV’s HDMI port and allows users to stream content from their computers, tablets or smartphones to their TV via a number of apps, including Netflix and Hulu. The Google Cast browser extension for Chrome allows users to stream web content from supported devices to their TV without apps.
Pros: Low cost; easy to set up; supports a variety of devices; ability to stream web content from Chrome browser without apps
Cons: Google Cast extension performance can vary based on device, Wi-Fi signal strength and available bandwidth; limited selection of supported apps; web content streaming limited to Chrome browser.
- Amazon Fire TV Amazon dove headfirst into the streaming pool a while back with its Instant Video service, which offers a variety of content free of charge to its Prime members, as well as a large library of movies and TV shows available for purchase or rental. The company was a bit late to the game in the device space, debuting its Amazon Fire TV in April 2014. Like Roku, Fire TV is available as a set-top box or Fire TV Stick.
Pros: Low cost (Fire TV Stick); support for hotel Wi-Fi; large selection of games and content; dedicated Prime Menu; X-Ray function allows you to view actor lists; trivia, soundtracks and other info while watching a movie or TV series; voice search function (capable remote included with Fire TV and can be purchased for Fire TV Stick); can connect to USB drive or Bluetooth headphones
Cons: High cost of Fire TV; so-so game performance; limited compatibility with older Android devices; associated with Amazon account used to purchase (which can be changed); personal files must be uploaded to Amazon’s cloud for TV viewing
- PlayStation 3 and 4 Considering their presence in a large number of households already, gaming devices can be an attractive option for streaming. Of the available options, Xbox and PlayStation lead the pack, with PlayStation narrowly edging out Xbox for the final spot on this list by virtue of ability to stream a la carte live TV via Sony’s new PlayStation Vue
Pros: Many people already own one; a la carte live TV available via PlayStation Vue service; Micro SD slot; built-in Blu-ray player; stream video and music from third-party devices (PS3 only); web browser (no Flash support on PS4)
Cons: High price; larger size; fewer content choices beyond major streaming services; limited selection of content for rent or purchase; PlayStation Vue still has bugs to work out; lack of support for audio services like Pandora and Spotify; PS4 offers no ability to stream from a PC; may require more frequent software updates; stability issues with some apps
- Honorable mention: Xbox 360/Xbox One; Blu-ray players; Boxee Box; WD TV Live Media Player