There is a debate that happens between the site owner, Kevin, and me about whether or not watching a film on a service like Netflix or Vudu is a pure cinematic experience. Kevin argues that he can see the compression of streamed video (companies compress file sizes of the films they offer so as to save bandwidth, much like an mp3 file is a compressed version of an audio track) vs. watching a film on Blu-ray. I can see the difference, but it’s not enough to stop me from fully embracing the streaming cinema revolution.
I’ve embraced ‘the cloud’ as my main source of movie watching. Sure, I own quite a few physical Blu-rays of films that I really love. However, most of my film collection is digital now. The current number of films I OWN digitally is 478, not to mention that I have subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.
Because I’ve fully embraced the cinema streaming revolution, I’ve worked hard to find the perfect ‘box’ that will provide me with the best experience and the most options. I will list the contenders below with what I liked and don’t like about them and then choose what I think is the winner at the bottom.
1. Apple TV
Apple makes quality products and provides a pretty seamless user experience for its customers. Purely going on the user experience, it’s pretty decent. It’s easy to use for most people, and especially for those who aren’t quite as tech savvy.
Where the Apple TV fails is in its options/content. While it is the only TV box that will allow you to play content that you’ve purchased from iTunes, it also limits what other providers you can access. You can access Netflix and Hulu and a few other providers, but it doesn’t have an app to access Amazon Video or Vudu or any other Ultraviolet provider (Ultraviolet is a digital locker system that allows you to keep digital copies of the films you own on the ‘cloud’). I think the reason they do this is because they consider both to be competition. They allow apps for these providers on the App Store, but just not Apple TV.
Good: Great user experience and fairly snappy experience
Bad: Lack of apps like Vudu and Amazon Video
2. Amazon Fire TV/Amazon Fire Stick
I got the Fire Stick the first day it came out and really fell in love with the user experience. I really think it’s a snappier and better experience than the Apple TV. Yet it suffers from the same problem that the Apple TV does: a lack of options. It has Netflix, Hulu, and a lot of other apps, but they don’t allow Vudu. So it’s really great if you just want to watch Amazon/Hulu/Netflix. But I wanted more.
You can play games on the Fire TV, which I did, but my experience was limited because I didn’t have the controller. It was fun and seems like it could be a great platform to play some Android apps on.
It also should be noted that the parental controls on the TV Fire OS are pretty ridiculous. If you put parental controls on, it requires a password for EVERY movie you want to watch, not just above a certain rating. This means that I could never allow my children to use the device because I’d have to type in the pin every time they want to watch Blue’s Clues.
The latest edition of the Fire TV has the ability to stream 4K, which if that’s something you’re into, then by all means. There is so little content available to stream in 4K that it seems too much at this point.
Good: Snappy user experience and fun gaming.
Bad: Silly parental controls and lack of options
3. Google Chromecast
The Chromecast is the most affordable device around and gives you a lot of bang for your buck. Using the Chromecast is a vastly different paradigm than any other device on here. The concept is that you open up an app on your phone, touch the ‘cast’ button, and then your phone becomes the remote. It’s hard for most people to grasp the concept, which is why it hasn’t taken over the world.
You can stream a web page, so technically you can watch almost any service on there. And lots of apps support ‘casting,’ just not Amazon or, obviously, iTunes.
The quality of the streaming experience differs from app to app, which can be good and bad. It can be very frustrating when trying to use an app.
Good: Super cheap and lots of providers
Bad: Quality differs between apps and a really different user experience
4. The Roku
The Roku is the best of all worlds, in my opinion. It has everything you could want in terms of apps/providers (over 2000 is what they claim). It’s also really easy to use and has some great functionality like the ability to hook some headphones directly into the remote (or even your phone with the newest model) and listen to your show without disturbing anyone in the room.
Its only flaw is its interface. It’s quite ugly and probably will never change. You can theme the interface, but those themes usually cost money.
The Good: Almost endless options/providers and innovative tech
The Bad: Clunky, ugly interface
Out of all devices I’ve ever used, any version of the Roku is just a cut above the rest. Although it’s got a clunky interface, it’s really user-friendly and has pretty much everything you need.
Which one is your favorite? Did I leave out one? Let us know!