When you’re picking a streaming box, you have no shortage of options. Three of the most popular are the Roku, Amazon’s Fire Stick, and Google’s Chromecast. They each have benefits and drawbacks, but once you know the differences, you can make the right decision for your setup.
A Note About Versions
When comparing the Roku, Fire Stick, and Chromecast, you aren’t just thinking about three devices. Amazon and Roku each offer about a dozen different gadgets you can use to stream TV and movies to your living room; the Chromecast label also encompasses several versions of hardware. The specifics and features within these groups may vary widely, so this guide will try to stick with the primary points of comparison.
Interoperability: Roku Is the Odd One Out
Roku is unique among these three streaming sticks because the company almost exclusively makes devices like these. If all you want to do is watch TV, this feature won’t necessarily be a limitation; every version of the Roku comes with everything you need. You may, however, see advantages as the other two should work well with devices you already own.
Amazon and Google each have a slight edge for those looking to keep everything unified: They’re part of larger families of products. For example, if you already own another Amazon device like an Echo smart speaker, you will at least have a working knowledge of Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa, which the Fire Stick can use for voice searches. And you can manage your streaming device using the same app all of your other Amazon products connect to and keep everything unified without having to download anything separate or jump to a different program.
Similarly, if you’re already familiar with the Android framework, Chromecast works with Google Assistant. For similar reasons as above, this compatibility means that the streaming device will work with apps and systems that you may already have set up, making the entry and management a little easier for you.
Voice Searches: Universally Available
Regardless of which company made your streaming stick, a model is available that includes voice searches. This feature is an inherent advantage in any device since it saves you time and effort by letting you ask for what you want to watch instead of typing it into an on-screen keyboard using your remote.
The “flavor” of the voice interface does differ, however, and it can come down to your preference. If you’re used to talking to Alexa, you’ll have no trouble getting accustomed to voice searching on a Fire Stick. If Google Assistant is more comfortable, the Chromecast will be a quick learner.
None of the three has a clear advantage for specific searches; they should all be able to understand you just fine if you ask to watch Moana, for example. Alexa and Google Assistant may provide better options for natural-language search (e.g., “Show me musicals from the ’60s”), with Google’s A.I. tech possibly giving it a slight advantage.
Price: Basically the Same
Because so many different versions of each streaming device are available, it’s hard to compare prices between them. Generally, however, you can expect to spend between $30 and $50 on your gadget if you buy it new. The differences within that range will get you features like 4K, HDR, and the ability to control TV volume with the included remote. The price differences are so slight, however, that this probably won’t be your motivating factor.
Visuals and Channels: They’re All Covered
None of the three has a clear advantage in compatibility with the highest-resolution picture and sound. If you have a 4K TV, you can find a Roku, Fire Stick, or Chromecast that can handle those images.
Older Chromecasts had a clear limitation in that they didn’t support local playback; that is, you could only watch the content you streamed from your phone or tablet. But newer models have caught up to the others by providing a dedicated interface and phone-free use, so this is once again basically a three-way tie.
You can say the same for the available channels since every family of devices will let you watch programming from HBO, Showtime, and even Apple’s TV+. Chromecast may have a slight advantage here, though, since it provides the fastest “in” to Google’s YouTube TV platform, which includes local channels and the ability to record live programming and watch it later.
Having said that, however, YouTube TV is also available on both Roku and Fire Stick devices, but the Chromecast will at least save you a login because you’ll already be signed in to your Google account to use it.
Which Streaming Stick Is Best?
Between the picture, channel, voice searching, and other basic features, it’s hard to pick a clear winner here. The one you ultimately end up going with may depend on which ecosystem you’re already using. Android users will lean toward the Chromecast, and Amazon superfans will find it appealing to add the Fire Stick to their fleet of Echos, Shows, and Fire Tablets.
Roku is hardly the “loser” since it can still do about everything the other two can. It’s a solid choice if you don’t strongly prefer an interface or virtual assistant.
How do I set up a Roku streaming stick?
To set up your Roku device, whether it’s a streaming stick, Roku TV, or Roku box, connect and power on the Roku (or the TV to which it’s attached) and follow the setup prompts, including language selection and wireless network connection. The Roku remote should pair automatically; if it doesn’t, you can pair the Roku remote manually. Create an account on the Roku signup page, and then follow the activation code prompts to complete setup.
How do I connect an Amazon Fire Stick to a TV?
To install your Amazon Fire TV Stick, plug one end of the power cable into the power adapter and the other end into the Fire TV Stick. Plug the adapter into a power source and plug the Fire TV Stick into an open HDMI port on the TV. Turn on the TV and set it to the correct input; the Fire TV stick will search for and pair with the remote control automatically. On the remote, press Home > Play, and then follow the prompts to select a language and connect to Wi-Fi. Log in to your Amazon account and register your Fire TV Stick.
How do I set up a Chromecast?
To set up a Chromecast, plug the Chromecast into the TV’s HDMI port and download the Google Home app; if the app doesn’t automatically detect the Chromecast, tap Add (+) > Set up device > New Device. If you’re using Chromecast with an iPhone, you’ll need to turn on Bluetooth.