Chromecast is the smart TV stick that’s taken the UK by storm in recent weeks. But how does it compare to the more established Roku streaming devices?
Google’s HDMI dongle has a lot of promise but Roku’s channel store has been around for longer. While both platforms give you BBC iPlayer and Netflix, Roku’s got some aces up its sleeve in the form of Spotify, Vimeo and premium Sky TV content via the Sky Store and Now TV apps.
Let’s take a closer look at the stats and prices of these two platforms and see how they measure up - as with our Apple TV vs Chromecast comparison, we’ll mention if you’ll be able to get eighties Pierce Brosnan hit and Black Squadron favourite Taffin.
- Cost: £30
- Dimensions: 72 x 35 x 12mm
- Apps Available: Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Google Play Movies, Chrome Beta, Red Bull TV
- OS Support: iOS, Android, OS X, Windows, Chromebook
- Taffin: Yes (£2.49 to rent from Google Play, £7.99 to buy)
Chromecast been out in the UK less than a week but we’re seeing a lot of love in the comments and on Twitter for Google’s £30 stick.
Discreet, inexpensive and easy to set up, it’s got a number of advantages over the Roku 3. Thanks to its tiny dongle dimensions, Chromecast can be tucked away out of sight. As it plugs directly into the TV, there’s no HDMI umbilical trailing down from the port, unlike the Roku 3, which squats on your valuable TV stand space.
While Chromecast apps are few and far between, we’re seeing a number of interesting apps hitting Google Play. The jury’s still out on whether services like 4oD, Now TV and Prime Instant Video will come to Chromecast.
For now, Chromecast can’t hold a candle to what Roku can offer in terms of apps. Luckily what you can do right now is use Chromecast to access your own content stored on your home network through services like Plex, Avia Media Player and RealPlayer Cloud. If you’ve got plenty of music and video files to stream already then Chromecast provides an easy way to get all of your own media onto your TV.
As we’ve noted in our Chromecast Tips and Tricks piece, features like casting tabs from the Chrome browser and full desktop mirroring are very much in the early experimental phase. We’re confident Google will roll out updates in the future but for now Chromecast feels a bit of a work in progress.
- Cost: £99
- Dimensions: 89 mm x 89 mm x 25 mm
- Apps Available: BBC iPlayer, 4oD, Demand 5, Spotify, Sky Store, Now TV, Vimeo, Netflix
- OS Support: iOS, Android (mobile apps)
- Taffin: Yes (via Netflix)
Roku’s third streaming device may be three times the price of Chromecast but it’s got a number of advantages.
Firstly, there’s the Roku Channel Store. This has over 450 apps and channels for you to sift through. Apps include 4oD and Demand 5, which have yet to launch on Chromecast. There’s also Vevo, Sky News, TED:talks, WSJ Live and more recently the WWE Network channel, for fans of muscled men in spandex.
You get the Sky Store and Now TV as well, which gives you access to premium Sky Movies and Sky Sports content as well as hit shows including True Detective, Game of Thrones, Mad Men and The Blacklist.
Secondly, there’s a decent, if not exactly huge selection of games. Games like Angry Birds, Jeopardy and Storm in a Teacup are hardly triple-A titles, but several rungs above what passes for gaming on Chromecast right now.
It’s worth mentioning that the Roku 3 is a dual-band WiFi device, while Google Chromecast is a single-band 2.4GHz WiFi device. What this means is that the Roku 3 won’t be as badly affected by congestion on your wireless home network.
You’ll need to be using a dual-band wireless router, like the BT Home Hub 5 or the Virgin Media Super Hub 2 to really see the benefit of this though.
Like Chromecast, you can send media stored locally on your phone to your TV. Unlike Chromecast, you can do all this through a dedicated Roku app instead of a third party solution like Avia or Plex.
As well as accessing content stored on your phone, you can also connect your Roku 3 to an external hard drive with the micro USB port and access media files this way. This is useful if WiFi signals in your living room aren’t up to streaming media or you just prefer a more direct method of accessing files.
Finally, the Roku remote control, which comes included acts as a wireless pointer allowing you to play games on your TV, Nintendo Wii-style and it also features a headphone jack, letting you listen to music or audio from films in private.
Chromecast vs Roku 3: Verdict
It’s still early days for Chromecast. Google’s TV stick shows a lot of promise and it is very cheap. The £30 price tag makes it a very attractive impulse buy.
Many of the things you can do with the Roku 3 you can do with Chromecast BBC iPlayer? Check. Netflix? Check. Stream local media files? Check.
Roku might cost more - three times more - but there’s arguably more in its favour to justify the cost.
The greater variety of apps, ability to directly access external hard drives and dual-band WiFi support make the Roku 3 a more versatile device.
Roku sits somewhere in between Chromecast and Apple TV: you’ve got the freedom to attach your own network drives and access content on your home network, and you’ve got the option to view content from a shop - Roku’s Channel Store is its equivalent of iTunes.
Which one to opt for depends greatly on how much you're willing to spend and your viewing habits. If you've got a Netlfix and a Now TV subscription, then the Roku 3 is obviously the best choice for you. Same goes if you've got plenty of media stored on external drives.
If renting TV and movie titles on a pay per view basis is more your thing, then you've got options with both Chromecast and the Roku 3. Chromecast has a slight edge here, as you get access to Google Play (TV and movies) whereas Roku 3 only gives you access to movies from the Sky Store.
If you don't subscribe to streaming services but like the idea of getting iPlayer on your old, non-smart TV, then Chromecast might be more suited to your tastes.