There are several options available when you are looking for an easy way to watch videos from services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and HBO Go on your TV. Several of them, such as a video game console, Blu-Ray player, Smart TV or a computer with HDMI port, might already be in your home.
But if you are looking to purchase an affordable way to watch these videos, then a set-top streaming box is the way to go. These devices are easy to set up and use, and they provide the perfect solution for your video-watching needs.
But the set-top streaming box market is a little confusing, especially if you aren’t familiar with the devices. However, there are two budget options that will give you exactly what you are looking for, without breaking the bank.
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The Roku 1 (view on Amazon) and the Google Chromecast (view on Best Buy) can both be had for less than $50, they connect directly to your TV through an HDMI port, and they can be set up in minutes. So if you need to decide between the Roku 1 and the Google Chromecast, check out our comparison below.
Which One is Best?
We have chosen five of the most important categories to consider when comparing the two devices. Everyone has different priorities when they are making a purchase like this, so it is helpful to look at what characteristics are most important to you, then make your selection based on those criteria. But both of these devices are excellent products, and you can’t go wrong with either one.
The Google Chromecast is the less expensive option of the two, with a retail price of $35. The Roku 1 has a retail price of $49.99. If you do not have an extra HDMI cable, you will also need to factor that into the price of the Roku 1 as well.
The Roku 1 provides you with more content options, as you will have access to Roku’s channel library that contains over 1000 channels. The Chromecast’s channel selection is growing, but currently lacks popular options like Amazon Prime, Vudu and Redbox streaming.
The Chromecast does have an option that allows you to stream content from a Google Chrome tab on your computer, however, which can really open up your selection if you are able to use it.
The Roku 1 includes a one-stop search feature that you can use to search for movies or TV shows across all of your installed channels. This can make it much easier to find the videos that you want to watch.
The Roku 1 also has the option of connecting via AV cables, which makes it compatible with televisions that do not have an HDMI cable. The Chromecast can only be used on TVs with HDMI, so it is important to consider the type of television that you will be using when contemplating this purchase.
The Google Chromecast does not have a remote control, and instead relies on you to select content on your smartphone, tablet or computer and send that content to the device. You can still use your phone, tablet or computer for other tasks while streaming to the Chromecast.
The Roku 1 has a dedicated remote control that you can use to navigate its’ menus and control the content that you are viewing on your screen. There are also Roku apps for iOS and Android, so you can choose to control your Roku with your phone or tablet as well, if you so choose.
You will need to have an HDMI cable to connect the Roku to an HDMI port on your TV, while the Chromecast has an HDMI connection on the device. You can purchase cheap HDMI cables from Amazon here.
Both devices have a simple setup process where you connect the device to the TV, connect it to your home’s wireless network, then you’re ready to go. The wireless network is a requirement as well, as neither device has the ability to connect to a wired network.
Either device can easily be moved between televisions in your home, provided that each television is within range of your wireless network. The Chromecast is smaller and, therefore, technically more portable. The Roku 1 is also very portable, but is larger than the Chromecast. Additionally, many newer televisions will be able to power the Chromecast without an external power source, while the Roku 1 will always need to be plugged into a power outlet. Older televisions will likely need to use the Chromecast’s provided power cable, however, as they may not support the HDMI protocol that is capable of powering devices.
It’s a little difficult to evaluate the performance of these devices in relation to one another since they behave so differently. Everything that the Roku does is controlled on the screen, and the responsiveness is comparable to what you have experienced on your cable box, video game console or DVD player. All of your selections occur quickly, and you will not notice any type of lag after making a selection with the remote control.
The Chromecast controls all take place on your phone, tablet or computer. The content is synced and streamed from the device after you have made your selection, and any playback buttons that you press on your phone are applied on the screen in a timely fashion.
Both devices have similar wireless ranges and are capable of streaming 1080p content (the Roku will need to be connected via HDMI for HD content. The AV connection is only capable of transmitting 480p content).
The Roku 1 has a much larger selection of channels and content choices than the Chromecast. The Chromecast has only been available since late 2013, however, and additional channels are being added as quickly as Google approves them.
The Chromecast is notably missing popular channels like Amazon Instant and Vudu (at the time of this writing), plus hundreds of smaller providers that are available on the Roku. The Chromecast does have access to the Google Play store, however, which is an important factor if you have content on there, or prefer to make your content purchases through Google Play. The compatibility with the Chrome browser on your computer can provide access to a large amount of content that you can access online, which can be important if you are willing to set it up on your computer and use that to control your content.
Note that you will need to have a subscription to Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Amazon Prime, or other similar services in order to view their content on these devices. Owning a Roku 1 or a Chromecast does not give free access to these services.
So Which One Do I Get?
The correct choice is going to depend on what you intend to use the device for, and what you are comfortable with.
The dedicated remote control for the Roku just makes it much more convenient to use, at least for me. Controlling apps on your devices and computer is certainly not difficult, however, so this is a matter of personal preference. But I do find that I choose to use the Roku 1 more than the Chromecast, despite the fact that both devices are hooked up to the same TV.
If you are only going to be using the device to watch Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube and HBO Go, then the lower price of the Chromecast could make it the right choice for you. But if you have an Amazon Prime subscription, or if you want to have the option of browsing for additional content on the Roku channels, then the Roku’s library of choices can be very appealing.
You can also read owner reviews on Amazon for the Roku 1 here, and you can read owner reviews on Best Buy for the Chromecast here.
Matthew Burleigh has been writing tech tutorials since 2008. His writing has appeared on dozens of different websites and been read over 50 million times.
After receiving his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Computer Science he spent several years working in IT management for small businesses. However, he now works full time writing content online and creating websites.
His main writing topics include iPhones, Microsoft Office, Google Apps, Android, and Photoshop, but he has also written about many other tech topics as well.
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