Media-streaming devices have come crashing down in price over the last few years, with devices such as the Sky Now TV Box now costs less than a pint and a portion of fish and chips. It’s no surprise then, that it’s become hugely popular for people to connect a media streamer to their current household television instead splashing out a lot extra for a smart TV. In fact, media streamers are probably a better investment because they are regularly updated and offer all the latest content, and if that changes, you can simply buy another for next to nothing.
So with that, let’s talk about where to start. There are plenty of media streamers on the market, but the two major players are Chromecast and Apple TV. How do you know which one is the best? If you think that the choice is easy and that the Apple TV is best for iPhone users while Chromecast is for Android users, you would be wrong. It’s actually a lot more involved than that, and the decision will largely come down to what you want to achieve.
The advantages of having a media streamer are manifold. You can stream films or TV shows from services such as Netflix or the BBC iPlayer without having to plug your laptop into the TV or have a noisy PC whirring away – all of these devices are silent in operation and consume very little power.
Apple TV vs Chromecast: Price
At just £30, it’s hard to argue that the Chromecast is anything other than amazing value. In fact, it’s almost an impulse spend. Apple TV used to be a lot more affordable, especially when Apple dropped its prices from £79 to £59. Unfortunately, the cheapest Apple TV (4th gen) you can purchase now is £139 for 32GB and £179 for 64GB. You can buy the Apple TV for slightly cheaper through the Apple Certifed Refurbished store (£119 and £149 respectively). I should also mention that there is the new Chromecast Ultra (4K streaming) that costs £69.
At £119 cheaper, the Chromecast is a lot more affordable, but with the Apple TV you get given a remote control and a box that can be operated as a standalone device; in comparison, the Chromecast is a receiver.
Apple TV vs Chromecast: Design
It’s fair to say that the Chromecast is one of the least obtrusive media streamer in the market. It plugs directly into one of your TV’s HDMI ports and is powered via USB, which can come from your TV or via the included wall adapter found in the box.
The Apple TV is a small square box, which is still very neat, although you will need to find the room to place it next to your TV. While the Chromecast is controlled entirely via a smartphone over Wi-Fi, the Apple TV ships with a remote control. This means that you need to place it so that its IR receiver is in line-of-sight to where you’re sitting.
While the Chromecast has only an HDMI port, the Apple TV has HDMI and an optical S/PDIF output, so you can hook it up to an older amp for better sound. Apple doesn’t provide an HDMI cable in the box, although it sells a soft-touch black rubber cable to match the bundled power cable (if you like that kind of thing). Alternatively, you can just use any old HDMI cable you’ve got lying around or just buy a new cheap one. There’s no point in buying expensive HDMI cables, as they don’t make a difference.
Apple TV vs Chromecast: Airplay vs Casting
Take the Apple TV’s built-in apps away and both it and the Chromecast work in a similar way, letting you use a smartphone or tablet to beam content to them. Apple calls its technology AirPlay while Google calls its technology Casting. Both technologies are conceptually the same. When using a supported app (audio or video), you can tap a button and select the Chromecast or Apple TV that you want to send the content to. Rather than streaming it from your phone or tablet, you pass over the information of where the original stream is, letting the Chromecast or Apple TV take control directly. With this method, you can use your handheld device as normal for other tasks, without interrupting the stream. Crucially, both technologies still allow you to control playback from your device. So, you can play/pause, and scrub through an audio file or video.
Apple calls its technology AirPlay while Google calls its technology Casting. Both technologies are conceptually the same. When using a supported app (audio or video), you can tap a button and select the Chromecast or Apple TV that you want to send the content to. Rather than streaming it from your phone or tablet, you pass over the information of where the original stream is, letting the Chromecast or Apple TV take control directly. With this method, you can use your handheld device as normal for other tasks, without interrupting the stream. Crucially, both technologies still allow you to control playback from your device. So, you can play/pause, and scrub through an audio file or video.
With this method, you can use your handheld device as normal for other tasks, without interrupting the stream. Crucially, both technologies still allow you to control playback from your device. So, you can play/pause, and seek through an audio file or video.
Apple TV vs Chromecast: Networking
Apple’s the hands-down winner for flexibility here. With 802.11ac with MIMO (dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz) and Ethernet, the Apple TV is the most flexible media streamer of the two, connecting to any network.
In contrast, the Chromecast has an 802.11n adapter that’s also dual-band (2.4- and 5GHz). It should be noted that the 1st generation Chromecast was only able to do 2.4GHz. You can also connect it to an Ethernet connection using a USB power adapter.
Apple TV vs Chromecast: Interface and Local Apps
Chromecast doesn’t have an interface as such. In fact, it’s really just a device that allows you send content to (called Casting, see the next section for more information). This means that it requires another device for it to work (such as a smartphone or PC).
Apple TV, on the other hand, is a complete media streamer in its own right, running tvOS. Apple’s tvOS is a great inclusion and came after years of not running its own operating system. You can now browse, download and use apps directly from your Apple TV device.
There’s a good range of apps including Netflix, Sky News, Sky Now TV, Flickr and YouTube. In addition, you can access all of your music and videos stored on your home computer via iTunes Home Sharing, and all of your Apple TV, movies and music via the cloud. It even integrates with iCloud, so you can view your Photo Stream on the TV.
Apple TV vs Chromecast: US Netflix
One trick that Netflix lovers are fond of is spoofing their location, so that they get access to US Netflix from the UK and its larger content collection. With the Apple TV you can easily do this, as you have access to the necessary network settings.
With the Chromecast, Google completely locked down the system, denying access to the required settings. It is possible to override the Chromecast, although any changes you make have to be network wide and you have to have a router that supports certain advanced functions. It was made even harder with the Android Netflix update.
Apple TV vs Chromecast: Which is Better?
These are two products that keep evolving, particularly as more and more companies turn on AirPlay or Chromecast support in their apps. But, with Apple massively increasing the price of the Apple TV, it makes the decision a lot easier.
If you’re looking to stream content to your TV, the Chromecast or even the Amazon Fire TV provide everything (and more) than you’ll need. If, however, you want an Apple-experience and want to use Apple’s tvOS platform, then you won’t find it on any other platform.