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Google Chromecast vs. Roku Streaming Stick: Which Device Wins?

Google Chromecast vs. Roku Streaming Stick: Which Device Wins?
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The very popular $35 Google Chromecast and the new $50 Roku Streaming Stick are both vying for an HDMI port on your TV. These sticks look very much alike, but they're actually very different devices that will appeal to different people. Let's look in detail at how the Roku and Chromecast compare, to see which one is the best choice for you.

The Chromecast essentially syncs your TV with what you are watching online from a mobile app or your computer browser (if it's Google Chrome). Technically, it's not streaming directly from your mobile device or laptop Web browser window, but that's what it seems like.

MORE: Top 10 Online Streaming Video Services

The Roku Streaming Stick and all Roku Streaming Players are robust devices that have their own apps and their own remotes (for most boxes), and don't require you to be watching the same thing on your handheld device or laptop. The Streaming Stick (as well as the $100 Roku 3) also has the ability to sync with the streams from mobile devices, a la Chromecast, although for fewer apps — just Netflix and YouTube, for now.


Google ChromecastRoku Streaming Stick
Price$35$49.99
Size2.8 x 1.4 x 0.5 inches3.1 x 1.1 x 0.5 inches
Remote controlApp only (iOS, Android)Physical and app (iOS, Android)
Casting capability200+ mobile apps, computer browser tab2 mobile apps
Video quality supported1080p, 720p1080p, 720p
Computer or mobile device needed for playbackYesNo

Casting personal content from mobile device

Photos, videos and music using a variety of third-party appsPhotos, videos and music using official app
Casting from a computerLimited capability from browser windowN/A
GamesA fewNone (Roku 3 supports games)
Universal content searchNoneAcross 10 sources, including Netflix, Hulu, and HBO GO
Number of channels/apps200+ (most for Android)1,200+
Future channels/apps
None announcedAdding 2-3 per day
Headline apps (sampling)Netflix
Hulu Plus
YouTube
HBO GO
Pandora
Google Play TV, Movies, Music
MLB.TV
VUDU
Crackle
Rdio
PlayOn
Netflix
Hulu Plus
YouTube
HBO GO
PBS
Pandora
Vudu
Amazon Instant Video
MLB.TV
Showtime
Redbox Instant
Disney
Disney Junior
Spotify
Plex
Slacker
rdio
Yahoo Screen

Design

The closest comparison between Chromecast and the Roku Streaming Stick is in outward appearance. Each is a roughly 3 x 1 x 0.5-inch dongle-type device with an HDMI connector at one end. However, Chromecast widens at the far end to a circular shape. This probably won't affect the ability to squeeze it into an HDMI port, as it's far enough away from the plug end, on the opposite end of the HDMI port on a TV or A/V receiver. But just in case, Chromecast includes a short HDMI extension cable. At the opposite end of each device is a micro USB port for attaching an included USB charger and cable.

One thing to pay attention is the location of your HDMI ports. If they are on the side of the TV, the Roku Streaming Stick or Chromecast and power cable may extend beyond edge of the TV, ruining the notion of hiding your streaming device. You probably won't have a problem if you have ports on the back of the TV or if you use an A/V receiver with HDMI ports.

Setup

Lacking a remote, Chromecast requires you to perform the setup from a small setup app for Windows and Apple computers or Android and iOS devices. The mobile app is slightly easier to use.

MORE: The Best Chromecast Apps

When you first plug in Chromecast, the device acts as a Wi-Fi hotspot that you connect to your smartphone, tablet or laptop via Wi-Fi. From there, the app asks you to pick the home network to which you would like Chromecast to connect. The remote app sends instructions to the Chromecast, which then connects to your router. You don't install apps on the Chromecast stick itself. Rather, you install your apps on your mobile device that tell Chromecast to download the same video or music that you are streaming on the mobile app.

The Roku Streaming Stick comes with a physical remote, which you'll use to move through setup. The process includes logging in to your Wi-Fi network, setting up an online Roku account and registering your device with your account. You can add apps, called channels, from either the Roku website or the device.

Out of the box, Roku comes with about 30 channels, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Spotify and Roku's in-house on-demand video store, M-GO.

In all, Chromecast is slightly easier to set up, as it doesn't require registering an online account.

Interface

Beyond what you see in the setup app, Chromecast has no interface of its own. Instead, you see the interface of the mobile apps that are Chromecast-enabled. The apps are all roughly the same, showing some image of what is playing, plus basic controls such as Play, Pause and a slider that allows you to move ahead or back in the playback of a video or song.

As a standalone streaming device, Roku is far more involved, but not hard to understand. The Home screen shows main-menu items in a column on the left, starting with Channels, which allows you to access the channels you have installed to play video or music. Below are items labeled Movies and TV Shows, but these show only options from a service called M-GO, which shares its revenue with Roku. You don't have to use M-GO. You can also get movies and TV shows from a number of popular services that you install as apps.

The best way to find what you want to watch is with the Search feature. You enter what you are looking for (movie, TV show, actor or director), and Roku searches 10 services: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Vudu, HBO GO, Redbox Instant, Blockbuster, Crackle, Popcorn Flix and M-GO. That allows you to see if the program is on any of the services you already subscribe to, or if not, to compare prices.

Though more involved, the Roku interface is far better, because you can access all your apps in one place, and the search feature makes the process of looking for content much easier.

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  • 0 Hide
    zman53us , March 7, 2014 2:23 PM
    "Furthermore, the Roku Streaming Stick doesn't require that your mobile device be out of action whenever you are watching or listening."have you ever cast something to chrome cast? i loaded up netflix on my phone, found what to watch, and then cast it to my TV. I then closed netflix on my phone, killed it from the task manager, and started using my phone for something else....
  • 1 Hide
    burnley14 , March 7, 2014 3:33 PM
    Coming from someone with two Chromecasts, I have to wonder if the author has ever used one. The single greatest functionality of the Chromecast is the ability to cast tabs, which is a full-featured screen share with a Chrome browser tab. How this is classified as "limited" escapes me. On top of this, as the comment above addresses, streaming to Chromecast does nothing to prevent your device from performing other tasks. It requires a single tab to be open, meanwhile you can browse freely on others. Or to have an app running in the background. I've never used the Roku device but the summary of Chromecast in this article is pretty inaccurate.
  • 1 Hide
    robert in vancouver , March 7, 2014 6:57 PM
    Another difference is that Roku works almost everywhere in the world, including Canada, Japan, and the UK.But Chromecast works only in the good old USA. I guess Google's brass (like many other Americans) forgot there are people living outside of the USA, and they have computers, and they even have flush toilets!
  • 0 Hide
    zman53us , March 7, 2014 7:25 PM
    Quote:
    Another difference is that Roku works almost everywhere in the world, including Canada, Japan, and the UK.But Chromecast works only in the good old USA. I guess Google's brass (like many other Americans) forgot there are people living outside of the USA, and they have computers, and they even have flush toilets!
    See now that is a good point for the roku. I, like the other commenter, have never used a roku. I was merely trying to address something that was not factual in regards to the chromecast. The roku stick may be better than a chrome cast, let it be for the correct reasons though.
  • 0 Hide
    XGrabMyY , March 7, 2014 10:15 PM
    Roku streaming stick is a no brainer. Chromecast is more of a headache than anything particularly useful at this point of its life.
  • 0 Hide
    XGrabMyY , March 7, 2014 10:15 PM
    Roku streaming stick is a no brainer. Chromecast is more of a headache than anything particularly useful at this point of its life.
  • 0 Hide
    Quickcomment45682 , March 8, 2014 12:41 AM
    Chromecast works fine outside the US it just isn't on sale yet. I use mine almost everyday in the Czech Republic. Of course for some aspects like Netflix you would need to use a VPN.
  • 0 Hide
    kingofhearts84 , March 8, 2014 5:42 AM
    Like every author before him, this author is stupid, and it's a limited thinker. Again, rating the product based purely on content, which if you understood the Chromecast at all, you'd know it's up to the content provider not Google. My 5 and 2 year olds can use the Chromecast. They would never be able to figure out a Roku. Enough said. Crystal adams ya say? Kids are smarter than this stupid author.
  • 0 Hide
    kingofhearts84 , March 8, 2014 5:46 AM
    Like every author before him, this author is stupid, and it's a limited thinker. Again, rating the product based purely on content, which if you understood the Chromecast at all, you'd know it's up to the content provider not Google. My 5 and 2 year olds can use the Chromecast. They would never be able to figure out a Roku. Enough said. Kids are smarter than this stupid author.
  • 0 Hide
    maddad , March 8, 2014 8:48 AM
    If you have used a Roku at all, you know it is far better than Chromecast, and yes I have both and use both. The Roku uses a remote control. If your kids can change channels on the tv, they can use the Roku. Calling the author stupid, if you have not used a Roku yourself, is well; you figure it out! I bought the Chromecast for youtube casting. It works great for that, and also for Netflix. I was using a Bluray player but the Chromecast loads much faster and takes up no space. Google will not let just anyone write programs for the Chromecast and that is why there are so few apps for it. The content providers would love to write for Chromecast! The problem is Google. Don't take my word for it, check it out for yourself. Getting on here with an anonymous comment calling anyone stupid is; well dumb. I took a look at the "14" official apps for Chromecast recently, and I am sure there was one available for viewing photos. Not sure why you would need to cast music. If I had the choice to make today, I would certainly get the Roku stick even though it costs nearly twice as much. Though it's officially listed at $35.00, I have often seen the Chromecast for $25 on sale. I paid $27 for mine on sale. If you don't need all the features you get with the Roku, just wait for the Chromecast to go on sale again. If what the Chromecast does is all you need, you will be happy with your purchase and save $25.00.
  • 0 Hide
    SK-Mtnview , March 8, 2014 12:08 PM
    The biggest drawback of Roku is the unavailability of YouTube and Spotify.
  • 1 Hide
    Gkap27 , March 9, 2014 7:41 PM
    I don't know, I think there are more options available than just these two. Sure, these are the most popular and best funded, but I would have liked to see a comparison to some of the generic Android sticks. I found an article that highlights some of the details on the MK808B, one of the most popular android sticks.http://totalgeek.co/technologyarticles/97-the-mk808b-a-google-chromecast-and-raspberry-pi-widow-makerIt looks promising
  • 1 Hide
    Gkap27 , March 9, 2014 7:41 PM
    I don't know, I think there are more options available than just these two. Sure, these are the most popular and best funded, but I would have liked to see a comparison to some of the generic Android sticks. I found an article that highlights some of the details on the MK808B, one of the most popular android sticks.http://totalgeek.co/technologyarticles/97-the-mk808b-a-google-chromecast-and-raspberry-pi-widow-makerIt looks promising
  • 0 Hide
    Gkap27 , March 9, 2014 7:42 PM
    I don't know, I think there are more options available than just these two. Sure, these are the most popular and best funded, but I would have liked to see a comparison to some of the generic Android sticks. I found an article that highlights some of the details on the MK808B, one of the most popular android sticks.http://totalgeek.co/technologyarticles/97-the-mk808b-a-google-chromecast-and-raspberry-pi-widow-makerIt looks promising
  • 0 Hide
    MichelinF , March 11, 2014 12:40 PM
    To the comment: "The biggest drawback of Roku is the unavailability of YouTube and Spotify."Actually the Roku 3 has YouTube now, as well as this new HDMI Streaming Stick. YT is coming to other Roku player models soon. Roku also has Spotify, among many other music apps.
  • 0 Hide
    Jason Cardiff , April 2, 2014 4:31 AM
    Quote:
    To the comment: "The biggest drawback of Roku is the unavailability of YouTube and Spotify."Actually the Roku 3 has YouTube now, as well as this new HDMI Streaming Stick. YT is coming to other Roku player models soon. Roku also has Spotify, among many other music apps.
    Wrong. You might be referring to the original streaming stick, but not this iteration.
    Quote:
    The single greatest functionality of the Chromecast is the ability to cast tabs, which is a full-featured screen share with a Chrome browser tab. How this is classified as "limited" escapes me.
    Really? How's that casting tabs from the mobile Chrome browser working out for you? Newsflash: You can't do it (yet, anyway).
    Quote:
    On top of this, as the comment above addresses, streaming to Chromecast does nothing to prevent your device from performing other tasks. It requires a single tab to be open, meanwhile you can browse freely on others. Or to have an app running in the background.
    What single tab needs to be open? Can't cast from the mobile browser, as said above. And as another poster pointed out, if you're casting from Netflix or Youtube, you can close those apps on your phone after starting the casting from them. You simply lose the ability to control the playback from your phone, that's all.The Roku stick has incorporated DIAL (Discover and Launch) technology into the stick, (like the Chromecast uses) so more and more apps will have "Watch on Roku" icons on them similar to Chromecast.
  • 0 Hide
    oatmeal25 , April 2, 2014 8:18 AM
    Neither device supports DLNA? I believe the Chromecast can using a third-party app (Avia Media Player) but you really should have a remote for that feature.How are these devices for people outside the USA?Both devices are not very good if you live outside the USA.
  • 0 Hide
    whippetgirl , April 2, 2014 2:49 PM
    Chromecast has issues with it's audio. You will randomly get video with no sound. Have tried every "fix" found on internet and still have this issue. I love my Roku. Never any issues with it working.
  • 0 Hide
    MichaelStrauss , April 3, 2014 11:48 AM
    Right off the bat, you need to add Plex to Chromecast. Definitely supported although it might still be limited to Plex Pass purchasers but I know that it was supposed to be released to all Plex users eventually.
  • 0 Hide
    TDMS , April 9, 2014 10:16 AM
    For me, what it comes down to might be the roku remote control. My kids don't have smart phones (or tablets or laptops... you get my drift), so would they need my cell phone for chromecast? I don't think I would want them borrowing my phone every time they wanted to switch shows on Netflix.

    Thanks for your help!
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