Our most popular question over the last few years has had to do with "smart devices" and normally goes something like this, "I need to get me one of those smart TVs...which one should I buy?" After we let our client know that you normally DON'T need a Smart TV (we'll get into that later) and some education, our conversation normally turns towards, "What is the best streaming device to buy?". Here's some tidbits on our two favorite streaming devices; the Roku and the Apple TV.
You'll see our video above that details our "Roku vs Apple TV" face-off. This details some of the benefits of choosing one vs. another. Below is a summary of each device and our thoughts. NOTE: There are MANY streaming devices on the market including Amazon Fire devices, Nvidia Shield, SuperBox, gaming systems and more. We are just focusing on the Roku and the Apple TV 4K streamers as we feel that they are best for most of our clients and to keep things simple. We also explain this below.
What is the best streaming device?
Benefits of Apple TV 4K vs Roku:
Access to purchased/rented content through iTunes/iCloud: If you have previously rented/purchased music, videos or movies through Apple, an Apple TV device can "see" this content and bring it up on-screen for you to easily access. You don't have this simplicity with a Roku device with Apple-purchased content.
Ability to screen mirror: If you have an "i" device (iPhone, iPad, iMac, etc.), you can easily screen mirror the content on your device to your TV. Ex: You are working on your iMac with a 13" screen. Wouldn't it be nice to "zap it" up on to your 85" TV? Apple TV streamers make this process much easier than doing it through a Roku streamer. NOTE: This used to be impossible but Roku fixed this a while back. See our support video below that shows how to Airplay or screen mirror on a Roku.
Plays nicely with others: Over the last couple years, we've seen that Apple TV players seem to work with more major apps than Roku devices do. By major apps, we are referring to apps from large companies such as Spectrum, ESPN, etc. An example of this is the Spectrum app. This app stopped working on Roku devices and started working with Apple TV. Apparently Apple has deeper pockets or better negotiators. We've seen this with other apps as well.
The benefits of Roku vs Apple TV
Cheaper: You'll save a couple bucks opting for Roku streamers vs. Apple TV. Apple TV 4K players start at $179.99. Roku devices start at about $29-$39, depending on the sale of the day. NOTE: We don't recommend choosing Roku STICK-type units for a bunch of reasons (they run hot, they can't be programmed into universal remotes, they lock-up frequently, etc.). Our favorite Roku device is the Roku ULTRA which retails for $99.99.
Universal remote capability: We LOVE universal remotes and our clients do as well as they make operation of your technology simple. See HERE for why. AppleTV devices as well as Roku players both work with today's universal remotes including models by URC, RTI, Control4, Savant and others. The added benefit of a Roku is that we can make your system automatically turn on AND go into your favorite app like Netflix, Amazon, Youtube and others. This saves the user from having to navigate through menus to find the app. Got a 95 year old at home that wants to watch Netflix? It is much easier for Grandma to push the button on the universal remote that says "NETFLIX" as opposed to having Grandma push the button that says "Apple TV" and then she has to go up/down/left/right to find the Netflix icon and app. This direct-key access can be very helpful.
What is the most reliable streaming device?
We have typically seen that any of the Stick streamers are the least reliable. There are popular models from Amazon (Fire TV Stick) and Roku. These units typically run hot, have no decent way to get rid of the heat and lock up lots as a result. Tip for the day: Stay away from sticks.
We've seen better luck out of the Apple TV 4K streamers and the Nvidia Shield pieces. The full-size Roku units also run very hot and we see fewer defects with Apple vs Roku. Looking for longevity out of your streaming device? We can't predict the future but we'd say to go with an Apple TV 4K unit or a Nvidia Shield streamer.
Nvidia Shield vs Apple TV
Some of the other streaming device brand/makes on the market are better for clients that want to access content on their computers, someone that wants to "jailbreak" their streamer (so they can access any app known to man), someone that wants to access questionable websites or apps, etc. The Nvidia Shield and the Firestick TV would be better for someone that wants these possibilities. The Nvidia Shield is more like a computer in this regard where devices like an Apple TV or a Roku are more of a closed system that are meant mainly for watching or listening to apps. However, for most of our clients, they want something that is reliable, plays nicely with others and that just works. This is why 95%+ of our installations feature a Roku or an Apple TV instead of Amazon Fire, Nvidia Shield, etc.
Which do we like best? See the video above for our champion!
Do you need a Smart TV?
A "smart TV" is just a TV that had apps and a way to reach out to the Internet to play these apps. These days, almost every device you buy is a smart something so you don't need to buy a "smart TV" for the sake of it being smart. Virtually every set you buy these days has this capability.
There can be problems with using a TV for its smart section. Some of the things we see regularly are:
1 - You need extra cables or you have to rely on ARC: If you have a separate surround sound system, you have to get the sound from the TV to your AVR (surround sound receiver). This is done by running a separate type of cable called an "optical cable" OR by relying on a protocol called ARC (audio return channel). An extra cable run costs money and ARC is a format that guys like us that are in the industry hate. Why? Because it isn't reliable. There are times where ARC will stop working...for no reason...just because and then sometimes you have to perform the next step.
2 - Need for power-cycling: MANY of todays devices need to be power-cycled regularly to make them behave. Thi is just like when you reboot your computer when it locks up. The problem with power-cycling and TVs are that they seem to lock up more when using the smart portion of the TV and the biggy...what if your TV is on a flat bracket and you can't access the power? If you can't unplug the TV...it is hard to reboot it. You can use methods like resetting the breaker but this isn't intuitive for many people.
For the above reasons (and a few others we didn't mention), we recommend using a separate streaming device instead of using a smart TV to get your favorite apps.
Need help in the Southern California area or San Diego with smart homes, today's technology or audio/video toys? Let Aire Theater Designs be your guide to the best streaming devices and more!