Quality, Performance, and Apps
Quality and Performance
All three streaming players can deliver up to 1080p video. The image quality ultimately depends on the quality of your Internet connection. However, there were some notable differences between the players in our testing.
We managed to confuse the Apple TV by switching between services. We experimented with playing our existing iTunes radio stations, for example, and then attempted to launch a program on the Korean programming station, KORTV. The music continued to play, but the video never appeared. Rebooting the box cleared up the problem.
The Roku 3 box was tested in multiple locations, which revealed one of its strengths: It is particularly good at picking up and retaining a Wi-Fi connection even in places where Wi-Fi-equipped TVs and other devices fail to make a connection. That ability translates into better quality video on, for example, its Netflix app than on similar apps running on some competing devices.
For its part, Chromecast's only shortcoming in this area was that it was slower to respond to commands, thanks to the inherent limitations of its smartphone and tablet apps (versus dedicated remotes). We found the Netflix controller on a Samsung Galaxy S4, for example, balky and reticent.
Winner: Roku. Both Apple TV and the Roku 3 performed well, but a slight edge should be given to Roku for its Wi-Fi sensitivity.
There are but a few apps for Apple TV (despite being on the market for several years), and Google's relatively new Chromecast has even less support. No doubt, Google could push more Android apps to support Chromecast, given its dominance in the smartphone market, but so far, the company has not demonstrated such a desire.
Roku is independent but has also been on the market longer and has more experience in the streaming-media space. The company has been adept at encouraging third parties to create channels for its device and now lists more than 1,000 (which do not include the multitude of private channels set up by companies and organizations). It has also made its way into the casual gaming market, with more than 60 games available on the Roku 3, including popular titles like "Angry Birds" and "Centipede." Roku even has its own Facebook client.
Winner: Roku. For the time being, Roku wins by a long shot. But keep an eye on Google.