Google Inc. is making a splash in the world of digital TV receivers with its tiny, $35 Chromecast device.
The new Google gadget rivals the Apple TV and all Roku devices. However, each digital receiver has its benefits and downsides. Here's how the three gadgets compare.
By far the most important part of any digital TV receiver is the amount of content it has access to and the quality of that content.
If you look at numbers alone, then Roku is far and away the clear winner. Its digital receivers can access hundreds of channels. These include Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora, HBO Go and a number of sports channels. There's a lot to watch and listen to on Roku, but there's also one major channel missing: YouTube. With no YouTube, you lose access to a lot of great content.
Apple TV doesn't have as many channels as Roku, but it does have basically every channel you need. It too can access Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Pandora, a number of sports channels and YouTube. The only major missing piece here is the lack of Amazon Instant Video.
Of the three devices, Chromecast has access to the least amount of content. For now, the brand new Google device can only receive content from Google Play movies and TV shows, YouTube, Netflix and Google Music. Pandora is also coming soon.
Although Chromecast lacks content, the good news is Google plans to offer a software developer kit for the device so that more developers can enable their apps to work with Chromecast.
At $35, the cheapest of the three devices is Chromecast.
The next device up is the Roku LT, which costs $49.99. This version of Roku, though, is limited. It can stream video only at 720p HD, and it's missing a useful rewind button on its remote. The Roku HD normally costs $59.99, but it's currently on sale for $49.99. It has the remote button that doesn't come with the Roku LT.
Next up is the Roku 2 XD for $79.99. This version of Roku can stream 1080p HD video, but its remote lacks motion-sensor capabilities. For that, you'll need the $99.99 Roku 3. The motion-sensor remote works with some games on Roku, including Angry Birds.
As for the Apple TV, that device costs $99.
None of these devices takes up much space, but the smallest one is Chromecast.
The new Google device is about the size of a USB jump drive. It's about 2 inches long and weighs 0.07 pounds.
The Apple TV and Roku, meanwhile, are both about the size of a hockey puck. Each is about an inch tall, and their sides are less than 4 inches wide.
When it comes to working with other devices, Chromecast and Apple TV are the better choices.
Google said Chromecast will work with both Android and Apple iOS devices. That means you can use a Samsung Galaxy S 4 or an iPad to start playing a YouTube video on your TV through Chromecast. To do this, users simply pick the content they want to watch and tap on a "Cast" icon on their device.
Besides smartphones and tablets, Chromecast also works with laptops. There, users can open a tab on the Google Chrome Web browser and "project" it to Chromecast. By doing that, users can put what they see on their laptop on their TV, giving them access to more content.
Apple TV has functions similar to Chromecast, but it only works with Apple devices.
Using the feature called AirPlay, users can send content from their iPhone, iPad or Mac computer to their Apple TV. You can also project your device's entire screen onto your TV using what Apple calls AirPlay Mirroring. This feature is very useful when giving a presentation.
Additionally, Apple's Remote app enables users to turn their iPhones or iPads into remote controls for the Apple TV.
Roku, too, has apps for both Apple and Android that enable users to control their receiver with their mobile devices. However, Roku users can only send photos and music on their devices to their receiver. They won't be able to stream video content from their devices the way users can with Chromecast and Apple TV.
Roku and Google both have a few extra goodies that make their devices more appealing.
Chromecast comes bundled with three free months of Netflix. This promotion, which is available for a limited time, is worth about $24, and both new and existing Netflix users can apply it.
Meanwhile, Roku's extra goodies are found on the remote control for the $99.99 Roku 3. Besides the motion-sensor capabilties mentioned above, the Roku 3 remote also features a headphone jack. Users can plug their headphones into the remote to listen to audio privately and shut if off from their TV's speakers. This is useful if you're going to watch TV while someone else is sleeping in the same room.
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