The streaming dongle wars just got real, yo.
On Tuesday, Roku announced a cheaper and more versatile version of its Streaming Stick, which squeezes its hockey-puck-sized set-top box into an HDMI dongle — the better to compete with Google’s pocket-friendly Chromecast device.
It will be available to consumers starting in April.
Chromecast and the Streaming Stick have a lot in common. Both are about the size of a cigarette lighter, plug into your TV’s HDMI port and a power outlet, and let you stream music and video to the big screen via your WiFi network. But there are key differences in terms of what you can watch and how to find it.
Here’s a down-and-dirty comparison of the two, using the four C’s of streaming: cost, compatibility, channels and controls.
Chromecast costs $35. The newest Roku Streaming Stick costs a hair under $50 — about half the cost of the original Stick, as well as of Roku’s flagship Roku 3 set-top — but it also comes with a handheld remote. (Your Chromecast remote is your iOS or Android device, or your laptop.) Of course, neither figure includes the cost of streaming service subscriptions or video on demand.
Chromecast will work with any TV that has an HDMI port — and so will the new Roku Streaming Stick. The original Stick worked only with TVs that had a Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) port, which limited your options considerably.
Advantage: Neither. This one is a push.
Roku features more than 1,200 video and music channels, from the widely known (Netflix, Hulu, Pandora) to the utterly obscure (The Yachting Channel, Hypnosis TV). The Roku home screen comes populated with more than a dozen of the more popular ones, and you can add others with a few clicks of the remote.
Chromecast, on the other hand, offered roughly 14 channels as of this writing, though these are really just separate apps you install on your mobile device. You’ll need to search the Google Play or iTunes stores to find ones that are Chromecast-ready. Amazon Instant Video is not among them; if you want to rent movies on demand and other content, you’ll need to use Google Play or iTunes.
If you’ve installed the beta version of Google Chrome or the Google Cast Chrome extension on your computer, then you can also view any web page on the big screen. (Roku says this feature is coming, but it’s not here today.)
Last month, Google made it a lot easier for developers to add Chromecast support directly into their existing apps and websites. That should narrow the gap significantly, but it will take awhile.
Advantage: Roku by a country mile.
The Roku Stick uses the same slick interface as the Roku 3 set-top box. You can use the remote to navigate it or an app on your phone or tablet. You can also search across all channels by title, actor or director to find which service offers the content you crave at the cheapest price. It’s awesome.
Chromecast has no interface at all, save for a bare-bones settings page. Instead, it’s built into each app that supports it. You just click the Chromecast icon at the top of the screen to beam it to the device.
If you spend most of your disposable time inside a single streaming app like Netflix or Hulu, then you might prefer Google’s way of doing it. If you want a more familiar home entertainment experience with a wider range of options at your fingertips, then the Roku is a couch potato’s best friend.
Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.