The best streaming stick: Roku vs Fire TV, Chromecast Ultra

best-streaming-stick

Finding the best streaming stick comes down to price vs features

If you’re looking to get the best streaming stick on the market, the Roku Streaming Stick and the Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice remote are the best ones out there for people who insist on going wireless while streaming.

Both Roku and Amazon Fire TV have packed some powerful hardware in a palm-sized stick. Both streaming sticks have quad-core processors that deliver 1080p resolution and come with remote controls.

If you’re looking for a portable, palm-sized device to stream 4K content, then you should buy the Chromecast Ultra.

Picking the best streaming stick for you will depend largely upon price and must-have features.

Do you want a voice remote? Is 4K HDR streaming a must have for you? Do you want to be able to play arcade style games with a game controller?

 

Even if none of the above matters to you, you want a streaming device that runs quickly, and delivers a great picture without lag.

You will always get a faster, more reliable streaming experience using an Ethernet connection. The popularity of streaming sticks has been booming in the last 24 months. That will likely grow in 2017 as major players like Roku and Amazon refresh their products.

Our 2017 streaming stick guide will give you an easy to understand comparison to help you decide what to get. Prices on streaming sticks vary from $28 to $69.

Roku Express vs Roku Streaming Stick

Roku continues to make the most popular streaming devices on the market. And now there are two inexpensive options for a Roku if you are on a limited budget. The Roku Express offers all the same programming seen in other Roku streaming devices. But you can’t watch 4K content. That probably won’t matter if you are looking for an inexpensive streamer for streaming Netflix or HBO Now.

The Roku Express lacks the quad-core processor, but it does give you a basic remote control. Roku promises access to 350,000+ movies and TV episodes with the Express. It’s basically a portal for free content and movies or shows you can individually rent.

The Roku Express+ is essentially the same model, but comes with A/V inputs for use on an older television. The Roku Express and Express+ may be ideal for seniors or those who have an older TV, but want to stream content.

Roku Streaming Stick

For a little bit more money, the Roku Streaming Stick gives you a much snappier response time when firing up Netflix.

When the streaming stick came out last year, many reviewers considered it the best streaming device ever made. I’m not sure that assessment will stand the test of time. Streaming boxes that you can hardwire via Ethernet are now streaming 4K Ultra and HDR content.

But it’s definitely true that Roku broke new ground with a quad-core processor in a portable streamer.

The Roku Streaming Stick has no Ethernet port for a wired connection, but you can expect crisp video from Amazon, Hulu and even Sling TV, which streams live television.

I’m not a fan of its PlayStation Vue app, but that’s only one venue for watching live TV over the Internet. The Roku Express and Roku Streaming Stick have private listening options, and voice search via Roku’s mobile app. Gaming on these devices are very primitive (think the equivalent of board games).

If you can pay the extra money for the Roku Streaming Stick, it is well worth the price compared to Roku Express or Express+.

Amazon Fire TV Streaming Stick vs Roku Streaming Stick

Amazon’s Fire TV Streaming Stick is ideal if you subscribe to Amazon Prime, or just PlayStation Vue for cable channels. The interface for Fire TV devices were upgraded at the end of 2016 to deliver a Netflix-like experience. Fire TV’s menus now also pull in content from Netflix, HBO, Crackle and others, so you don’t have to go hunting for shows. Kodi fans can download the popular media streamer or a forked version called MRMC for local media that’s ripped to a hard drive or PC.

The Alexa voice remote allows you to search for content across more than 75 apps and channels including Netflix and HBO. Using your voice, you can also command the Fire TV stick to “rewind 30 seconds” or skip ahead to the next episode. The Fire TV stick also keeps you up to date with your favorite sports teams. Pick your favorite football, baseball and basketball teams to get the latest scores and game information.

Gaming on the Fire TV stick is more arcade-like than Roku. You can play games like Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto Vice City when you buy a Fire TV game controller sold separately. There are also numerous third-party game controllers that work with Fire TV. If you have Amazon Prime, you can also try out the Amazon Channels free trial for subscriptions to HBO, Showtime and lots of others.

Chomecast Ultra

Chromecast Ultra is the only streaming stick that streams 4K HDR content. With 4K televisions expected to drop in price this year, more people may be looking for a Chromecast Ultra as a mid-priced streaming device.

best-streaming device

Like the Roku and Fire TV streaming sticks, Chromecast Ultra is a fast device. It operates on 802.11 ac – both 2.4GHz and 5GHz, but also has an Ethernet port. You will need a TV with an HDMI port, and a WiFi enabled smartphone, tablet or laptop to control Chomecast Ultra. There’s no independent remote control.

The power cable and adapter for Ethernet is included in the box. If you’re using a smartphone or tablet, the process to control apps is very simple. While using Netflix, Hulu or YouTube, a “cast” button will appear at the top right corner of your screen. Hit play and the cast button to start streaming to your television. You can’t stream Amazon Prime on Chromecast Ultra. But cable bundles streamed over the Internet like Sling TV or PlayStation Vue work fine. With Vue, you may be limited in your channel selection if you are streaming from a tablet or smartphone.

Chromecast Ultra vs Mi Box

Netflix, YouTube and Vudu all have 4K video, and that list of platforms will likely grow in 2017. It’s hard to recommend Chromecast Ultra because for about a dollar more, you could get a Mi Box.

In our review of Mi Box, we noted that it comes with Google Cast, the same technology as Chromecast. But with Mi Box you’ll also get 4K/HDR 10 streaming, on Android 6.0 much like a NVIDIA SHIELD TV.

So if like the benefits of Google Cast, but want to play some games also seen on a NVIDIA SHIELD TV then a Mi Box is a better deal. Also, you won’t face any limitations on channels with the PlayStation Vue app for Android TV like with Chromecast.

Mi Box may seem off topic while picking the best streaming stick, but the prices of the two devices are only a dollar apart.

What kind of streaming stick should I get?

If you’re looking to spend under $50 for a streaming stick, then the Roku Streaming Stick or Amazon Fire TV stick is the best streaming stick to get. Both devices are fast and bring up to 1080p resolution.

For a 4K streamer around $70, you might want to choose a Mi Box over a Chromecast Ultra because the former gives you more for essentially the same money. But if portability is more important, the Chromecast Ultra is the better way to go.
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