It used to be media streamers (or digital media players as they are also known) were just something tech geeks and early adopters had. But now, it's more uncommon to walk into a home and find the people don’t have one. I’m of course talking about the likes of Roku players, Apple TV’s, Google Chromecasts, and Amazon Fire TV’s.
While other companies have their hands in the media streamer game, the four mentioned above control the market, according to research firm eMarketer. But the firm found only one of the four rule the market–at the leader might surprise you: it’s Roku. As eMarketer reports:
“Among the connected TV devices, Roku, which is reportedly planning an IPO later this year, now leads the pack, according to eMarketer’s latest forecast on US connected TV usage. This represents a shift; eMarketer found Google Chromecast to be the market leader last October.
This year, 38.9 million Americans will use a Roku at least once a month, up 19.3% over last year. As a result, it will capture 23.1% of all connected TV users. By 2021, its penetration will exceed one-third. And Roku will retain its lead through 2021.
‘As the only major market participant not affiliated with a content or TV device platform, Roku has used its neutrality to strike deals with a wide range of partners, including smart TV makers, OTT service providers and social media companies,’ said Paul Verna, principal video analyst at eMarketer. “That expansive strategy, combined with the company’s broad selection of connectivity devices at various price points, has put Roku at the head of the pack.’
Roku’s closet competitor in the US is Google Chromecast, which will have 36.9 million users this year, or 22.0% of connected TV users. It’s important to note that there is overlap, as some consumers and households use more than one streaming device. Amazon Fire TV will have 35.8 million users this year, or 21.3% of connected TV users this year.
A distant fourth among the streaming devices is Apple TV, which will have 21.3 million users, or 12.7% of connected TV users. Apple TV will continue to fall further behind its rivals in the coming years. As competitors add between 20 and 30 million users into 2021, Apple TV will add less than 4 million.”
So, does that mean everyone who wants to buy a media streamer run out and buy a Roku? Not necessarily. All the various media streamers from Roku, Amazon, Google, and Apple have their strengths.
The trick is finding which is the right one for you, which is why we wrote this guide. Read on…
2017 Media Streamer Guide: Roku
You should get a Roku media streamer if you're not tied to any specific computing or mobile platform (ie: if you use both Apple, Android, and Windows devices). That’s because the Roku–no matter if it's the Roku 3 box or the Roku Streaming Stick–works well with all platforms. Roku also offers thousands of downloadable channels and offers great UK-specific channels like Sky News, BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, NOW TV, Sky Sports, and more. That’s not to mention the hundreds of other channels like Netflix, Fox, TMZ, Disney, Flixster, Amazon Instant Video, and, well, the list goes on.
It also offers both Android and iOS apps to remotely control it over your Wi-Fi network, including the ability to stream videos, music, and photos from those apps to the Roku, full 1080p support, and a clever remote that has a built-in headphone jack so you can listen to the Roku without disturbing someone who might be sitting by you reading a book on the couch.
2017 Media Streamer Guide: Amazon Fire TV
You should get an Amazon media streamer—which includes the Amazon Fire TV with 4K Ultra HD or the smaller Amazon Fire TV Stick—if you are tied into Amazon’s ecosystem known as Amazon Prime. That’s because Prime gives you access to Amazon Instant Video–Netflix’s biggest competitor.
Amazon Fire TV devices offer major channels like Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Spotify and Sky News. The Amazon Fire TV box also supports 4K–something the Roku and the Apple TV do not. Also, Amazon Fire TV devices support both Android and iOS apps, so it’s a good choice no matter what mobile OS you are tied to.
2017 Media Streamer Guide: Apple TV
You should get the Apple TV if you are tied to Apple’s ecosystem—including iCloud and Apple Music—as well as iOS devices and Macs. That’s because the Apple TV works seamlessly with other Apple devices and services primarily thanks to its ability to AirPlay with it from any Mac, iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. This means you can stream most media from any of those devices to my Apple TV, or indeed, mirror the entire display of any of those devices to the Apple TV.
The Apple TV also gives you access not only to all your iTunes Store content purchased, but also access to Netflix, Sky News, HBO Go, Hulu, ESPN, YouTube, Vimeo, The Weather Channel, BBC iPlayer, and soon, Amazon Instant Video. Another reason to go with the Apple TV: it’s got the best interface and the best remote out of all the devices on here.
2017 Media Streamer Guide: Google Chromecast
You should go with a Google Chromecast device if you don’t need a dedicated media streamer that works independently of a smartphone. If you do want one that you can use without needing to stream content from a smartphone, avoid the Chromecast at all cost. But note that it actually offers fewer channels than the other’s offerings. The channels the Chromecast does offer – Google Play, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Pandora, Vevo, YouTube, among others – are decent, yet the lack of additional content is a letdown.
Where Chromecast really shines is in its mirroring and streaming abilities. The Chromecast works with most Android phones and tablets, and also the iPhone and iPad, and allows you to stream video from a number of apps right onto your TV via the Chromecast.
But what really sets it apart from other devices like the Roku and Fire TV, and brings it closer to the Apple TV side of things, is its ability to mirror a Chrome browser tab from your Mac or PC to your TV – anything you can see in Chrome you can now project onto your TV with just the click of a button. And given that the Chrome browser also supports apps and games, the Chromecast could be considered a very, very basic gaming console.