Chromecast has helped kickstart a new wave of streaming devices that are available to Android users all over the world. There are now lots of new streaming sticks on the market, offering users different ways of getting the content that they want, when they want and we’ve taken it upon ourselves to discover which one is right for you. Our criteria for this group test was simple; we wanted to explore the various streaming options that each one of these devices offers and just how easy they’re to set up. It was also important to identify what areas each excel in and where each of them falters as well. Both the Chromecast and Roku are considered two of the best on the
market and both are featured here, but we’ve also taken a look at two of the more obscure choices currently available. The Elgato EyeTV and the Neo G4 offer a different variation on streaming, with the former being a highly regarded TV hotspot and the latter offering users a complete Android interface for your TV. But can any of the alternatives realistically take on Chromecast’s run-away streaming success? Read on to find out which one comes out on top. You might be surprised.
There’s no denying that the Chromecast brought streaming from your Android device into the mainstream. The tiny HDMI stick is lightweight, easily connects to your TV and despite not being the most aesthetically pleasing object, it’s unassuming when plugged into the back of your TV. Google’s willingness to make the Chromecast accessible for everyone certainly paid off, with installation taking only a few minutes. The accompanying app makes the process a breeze. Connect to your Wi-Fi and you’re off.
At its core, Chromecast is all about streaming from your favourite first-party apps. Google has implemented Chromecast’s streaming feature, Cast, into most of its apps. It’s simply a case of pressing the Cast button and waiting for your content to appear. Play Music let’s you stream your favourite tunes, YouTube enables you to keep up to date and you can work from home with Google Drive. It’s needless to say that the Cast integration works flawlessly.
Third-party support is also strong, testament to the open nature of Android. Apps like AllCast, Stevie and Plex have looked to expand on the features of the Chromecast; each with good success, but there’s been plenty of apps that haven’t been quite up to par. That’s not to blame the Chromecast, but poor performance will drive users away.
Streaming quality is entirely dependent on your Wi-Fi connection, which is both good and bad. Expect to run perfect 1080p with a decent connection, but make do with 720p if your broadband isn’t great. But if using first-party apps and the vast majority of third-party offerings, you’ll be hard pressed to find any faults with the quality. Quickly switching between different streaming apps is painless and even casting a tab from your Chromebook is rapid and responsive.
When making the decision on whether or not the Chromecast is right for you, you have to factor in a lot of things. It’s cheap, easy to set up and because it’s running on Android, there are various hacking options already available for it. Streaming quality relies heavily on individual broadband connections, but most people will get a solid stream – and did we mention how cheap it is? But on the downside, Chromecast still feels slightly rough around the edges. But it’s still in its early stages, so expect it to be a device built on for Android enthusiasts to explore.
Elgato EyeTV W
Although famed for its game recording software, Elgato has gone fairly under the radar with the EyeTV W. Where the rest of the units in this group test look to bring streaming from your phone to the TV, the EyeTV looks to do things the other way around. The completely wireless EyeTV W enables users to access live TV on any Android device.
The small black box is lightweight, if not a little too fingerprint friendly, with two LED lights at the bottom indicating power and battery life. The most integral part of the unit is the accompanying aerial, which screws into the side of the EyeTV. Once put together, the EyeTV feels like a well-made piece of kit that can easily be transported around.
Through the accompanying app, users can tune into a wide range of channels through the over-the-air Freeview service. There are various streaming options available, with users being able to choose the quality of stream they want to choose, but there are no HD capabilities at the time of writing. Initial setup of the EyeTV is slow and it takes a whole lot of precision to get the aerial to pick up anything more than Bargain Hunt on BBC One. After waving the unit around in the air, balancing it precariously on window sills and extending the aerial numerous times, we were able to finally get a good number of channels. Weirdly after the initial setup we had no trouble reconnecting it to the channels when we ventured back for further tests.
Streaming quality is superb. It’s as simple as that. Every channel works a treat and the app performs well to keep the feed from crashing. What makes it even better is that it doesn’t require an active internet connection to work, with the unit being its own built-in Wi-Fi hotspot. It also contains a rechargeable battery, which you’ll be using a lot as you’ll manage just a few hours of live TV before reaching for the charger, and watching TV while charging interferes with the signal, so that isn’t a good option.
The EyeTV looks to be a solid choice for those wanting a solution to stream TV wherever they may be. There’s enough choice on offer to keep users happy, but it does lack a good number of channels available for most other Freeview viewers. Initial connection has proven to be a painstaking affair and users will need to make compromises with battery life before we can highly recommend the EyeTV W.
Priced just above the Chromecast, the Roku stick has long been considered second best to Google’s own device. For the most part, both units are fairly similar with the Roku slightly chunkier. There’s little else to note design wise on the purple exterior of the Roku, apart from the mini USB port at the back of the unit that works with the AC adapter.
It plugs directly into your TV and ships with an accompanying remote used to control the Roku interface. The setting up process is made to be simple, but from our experience, it was tough going getting the unit to work first time around.
Instead of streaming from your smartphone, the Roku is solely based on your TV. The accompanying remote is used to get around the interface and is surprisingly responsive. There’s a wide range of controls to use on the remote, but most of the time you’ll stick with the simplest of inputs and many you won’t ever find a proper use for. There’s an Android app available for users to download and can be used to control certain aspects of the Roku interface, but we preferred just using the remote. Although the interface can’t really be customised, it’s simple enough to use for both beginner and advanced users. There are hints of Android throughout, but nothing initially that would make you instantly recognise the OS. That’s not a negative point, but we’d have loved to see a more Android-inspired interface used.
Without question, Roku’s main strength is its content. During our time with it we counted just over 500 channels, which is a staggering number. It easily trumps the content offering on all the other devices in the group test. All the standard subscription services are present, including the likes of Netflix and Now TV, but there’s also a good array of on-demand services like BBC iPlayer, Demand 5 and 4oD. Streaming quality is the best we’ve seen in this group, but it can also be changed to suit different internet connections. This might seem like a minor point, but it’s not something we normally see in streaming sticks and should be ideal for those with below-average broadband.
When weighing up the Roku, you have to look at it from two sides. For one, it can take a good while to get around the tricky setup process. But on the other hand, you have to applaud the amount of content that Roku has managed to cram in. For us, the streaming options far outweigh the setup problems and make Roku one of the best streaming units available.
Minix Neo G4
Minix isn’t a name that many people will be familiar with, but that isn’t to say it produces poor products. Out of the box, the Neo G4 looks likes your standard streaming stick, with the branding being the only noticeable feature on the chunky exterior. It’s lightweight and portable and full of ports for various connections, but doesn’t feel the most solid of devices.
Instead of plugging directly into your HDTV, users will need to use the HDMI port on the stick itself. It isn’t ideal to have the extra cable scattered around it, but it won’t be a problem for most. You then have access to several different ports that can be used to get Android content onto your TV. For one you can use the OTG port to connect it to your smartphone or tablet, the USB port to connect it directly to your desktop PC, or even the micro SD slot that can be preloaded with movies and APK files. The choice is fantastic and getting the files on each device onto the Neo G4 is simple enough. Using your smartphone as a remote control works really, but there’s also an official remote you can choose to use, but it does cost extra.
When the Neo G4 is connected to your TV, you’ll be greeted by a full Android display. It mimics Android very well and the dual-core processor within the stick makes getting around the Android menus easy. Enjoying your content is also simple enough, with users needing to either sign into their Google account to download apps, movies and more, or by accessing the micro SD, USB and OTG ports instead. One point to note is that the streaming stick doesn’t have access to all first-party apps directly through the Android UI, but if you know your way through the process of downloading and installing .APK files, then it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Where the Neo G4 lacks the refinement of similar devices is that content quality isn’t at the same level. Movies tend to be much lower quality and there’s no way to physically change it. Considering the unit does include a dedicated processor, it seems strange that there would be any issues with streaming.
When you first get your hands on the Neo G4, it certainly seems like an exciting proposition. There are plenty of ports, it’s easy to set up and it’s one of the few steaming sticks to bring the entire Android OS onto your TV. But sub-par streaming quality and the lack of access to many first-party apps leaves the Minix Neo G4 some way behind the competition.
The winner is… Roku
It’s a straight toss up between the Roku and Chromecast and it boils down to what you want from a streaming device. Roku currently has a wider selection of available channels on demand, while the Chromecast has much more potential with third-party app capability and tabbed streaming.
For the time being, we’ve gone for the former as the 500 channels it does contain is unrivalled from the rest of the group. What we learned from the likes of the EyeTV and NEO G4 is that streaming on Android is very much alive, no matter the scale and simplicity of it. Both the EyeTV and NEO G4 fall some way short of what both the Chromecast and Roku offer, but they do explore other features well enough. If some of the mainstream manufacturers can build on the idea of complete Android packages working on your TV and incorporating mobile hotspots into them, the future could see consistent improvements in the same vein as we’re seeing with our smartphones and tablets.
Plus, with the launch of Android TV imminently on the horizon, it seems that both Roku and Chromecast will have some very serious competition for what gets to control your living room, which is always good.
Despite the awkward setting up process of the Roku, it currently is the most well rounded streaming option for users who want all their content instantly and it’s reasonably priced for what you can potentially get from it. We implore you to take a good look at the Chromecast before making a final decision, but the Roku streaming stick just takes the crown for now.