Americans are searching for solutions, each and every week, that can be an alternative for their extremely high cable or satellite service provider prices. Television Service Providers (TSP’s) have been increasing pricing each and every year, and consumer frustration with increasing pricing, constant outages, and poor customer service, have escalated along with the pricing. Video streaming devices have become the latest alternative to traditional TSP’s, as they allow you to pay for the services that you want, instead of paying for tons of services that you don’t use. So, whether you are looking to cancel your cable, cancel your satellite, or cancel your TSP, these video streaming devices are the primary options that you should be considering.
They have been dubbed “cable killers”, “satellite killers”, and “tsp killers”, and rightly so. They allow cable customers to say “no more cable” and satellite customers to say “no more satellite”, and save them over a hundred dollars a month in the process. Not only do these devices have amazing audio and video quality, but you can afford to upgrade your internet bandwidth service once you cancel your television service, ensuring that your newly purchased video streaming device achieves the maximum level of performance for you in every room that you choose to install one. We have one for every TV in our home, and never see any degradation in picture or sound quality. As long as your in-home network is configured properly, and your internet service is high-speed and high-quality, your video streaming experience will always impress anyone who comes into your home. Plus, with several of these models, the smart home features that they provide will enhance your own experience with the device, as well as amaze any visitors who haven’t purchased one yet!
Apple TV 4K HDR – Starts at $179.00
Apple TV doesn’t support Atmos, doesn’t support DTS:X, doesn’t support YouTube in 4K HDR, and doesn’t have Disney or Marvel movies in 4K HDR. However, Atmos is in the works, and Google/YouTube 4K HDR solution is being addressed. Plus, the Apple TV is currently the only standalone box that supports the Dolby Vision HDR standard.
Apple has deals with most major studios to offer 4K HDR moves at $19.99 instead of $29.99, and every HD move you’ve already purchased on iTunes will be upgraded to 4K HDR for free as they are remastered. So, if you have an expansive iTunes movie library, the Apple TV 4K is going to pay you back with free movie encoding upgrades when they are available.
Apple TV 4K remote is included has been redesigned, although some users are complaining about the new touch pad interface. However, you can also program the remote to control the other multimedia devices, such as your stereo, TV, etc. You can also use the Apple TV Remote App available within the iTune App Store.
Apple TV 4K won’t allow you to switch modes on your TV, and automatically upscales non-4K content into 4K HDR, running at the highest refresh rate that your TV supports. It also makes some 1080p content look worse than it did for the previous model Apple TV Gen3 during side-by-side comparisons of both units. There is a noticeable difference between movie quality from iTunes movies, versus the same movies from other apps – such as HBO Go, Netflix, and Hulu. However, Apple has noted these issues and are currently working to resolve all encoding upgrading and performance issues.
Siri is built into the Apple TV 4K, allowing you to use voice commands and queries to find and play the media that you’re looking for. Typing is minimized with this feature, and it allows you to play a specific movie, find movies with a specific actor, and even find all 4K HDR movies that are available for you to watch.
Apple TV 4K HDR stores account information, which allows you to re-use the account to log onto other apps. It was designed to be the most powerful multimedia device attached to your television by providing you with a single sign-on interface which allows you to stream media through multiple apps, allows you to search all media in all apps with a single query, store games and other media, and provides you with HDR video playback.
Apple TV 4K HDR has the same A10X Fusion chip as the iPad Pro, making just as powerful as some PC’s on the market. Apple TV 4K HDR is extremely secure, with Apple’s proprietary encrypted software and communications within Apple’s network and inter-device communications, makes them safer from hackers, pranksters, and government agencies.
Apple TV has had access to fewer apps overall, but has had a move slower strategy to properly integrate application services into their system when they saw conflicts with how applications were providing services. Amazon Prime was recently introduced into the Apple TV application library, which used to be one of the primary arguments against Apple TV that competitors pointed out when asked about how their product compares.
Android TV (NVIDIA Shield Pro) – $300
Enjoy the ultimate home theater visual experience with 4K HDR quality and the most immersive sound with Dolby Atmos and DTS-X surround sound pass-through. Google Assistant Built-In -Ask it questions and see the answers on your TV, including Google photos, your calendar, sports scores, and more. Plus, you can cast apps to your TV with Chromecast 4K built-in. Apps such as YouTube TV, Hulu, Sling TV, and PlayStation Vue can give you live access to TV and sports without the steep prices, additional hardware and cable messes, and the normal everyday stresses of having a satellite or cable box in your home.
NVIDIA-Powered Gaming -Stream games from your GeForce-powered PC to your TV in 4K HDR at 60 FPS. You can even get NVIDIA-powered cloud gaming on demand with GeForce NOW and explore SHIELD-exclusive Android games. Plus, the Shield Pro comes with a gaming controller!
Android boxes allow you to make all kinds of alterations to customize your experience. The Shield Pro has a built in ethernet adapter, a high speed usb 3 port, and links to other smart devices. The Nvidia Shield Pro has tons of features, bells, and whistles, making it one of the top additions to your “smart” home. It’s fully compatible with all Google content, including the Assistant, which allows you to use voice controls to search movies and shows from more than 60 streaming apps. Use smart home features such as using your voice to dim lights, turn up the temperature, view your Nest cam on the TV, and more. Add SmartThings Link to turn your SHIELD into a Zigbee and Z-wave smart home hub.
However, the Android TV boxes strength is also its weakness. The Shield Pro suffers from the same security concerns as their phone counterparts do. They are considered less secure and more easily hackable by hackers, pranksters, and government agencies. There are hardening tools and methods that one can do to secure this device on your network. However, to the average non-techie home owner, this may be too much effort or exceed their capacity to learn and apply advanced hardening methods.
Roku Premiere+ & Ultra – $89 or $120
Among the Roku line, the Premiere+ offers the best ratio of high quality features for the price. Firstly, even entry level Roku players support Atmos passthrough. Historically, the Roku has had access to more apps than Apple TV. In facts, the Roku Premiere+ offers 4K from 15 different applications, such as Amazon, Netflix, Vudu, Fandango Now, YouTube, Plex, Roku Media Player, UltraFlix4K, 4K Universe, Tastemade, Curiosity Stream, Toon Goggles, Smithsonian Earth, Picasa, Flickr and 500px. The Ultra uses HDR10 standard to support HDR content, however Dolby Vision isn’t supported by the Ultra.
Remote is included with your Roku Premiere+ or Roku Ultra purchase. The Premiere+ remote is definitely the best amongst the Roku line, as it is an RF “point anywhere” remote and includes a headset jack for private or night time listening. However, with the Roku Premiere+, the remote doesn’t offer voice search, like the Apple TV 4K HDR, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku Ultra do. The Roku Ultra offers voice search capability with its remote, and some games, for an additional $30. However, most people don’t see those two features by themselves as being worth the $30 upgrade.
Roku Ultra remote’s voice search is marginal when compared to voice assistants like Alexa on the Amazon Fire TV, Google Assistant on the Nvidia Shield TV, and Siri on the Apple TV 4K HDR, all of which can provide more useful information and better smart home integration by allowing you to control other smart home devices. The Ultra will automatically detect your TV over HDMI and program the remote with the correct infrared commands to control the TV’s power and volume. You can also control the Ultra through the Roku app for Android and iOS.
Amazon Fire TV – $70
Amazon’s catalog of 4K HDR movies is far smaller than its competitors, however YouTube does support 4K HDR on the Fire TV. Fire TV doesn’t run in HDR mode all the time, but runs in 60Hz 4K and switches to HDR as needed. The Amazon Fire TV does not support Dolby Vision, which is a short-coming in comparison to some of its competitors. There are no ports for full-sized USB, microSD, or ethernet. If you want wired internet connectivity, you’ll need to pay for Amazon’s $15 ethernet adapter.
Amazon did not include an infrared emitter or TV control buttons on its remote, which falls short in regards to remotes offered by top competitors. Amazon does offer a “Recommended By Your Apps” section, that organizes content from 150 apps into a single row. However, it isn’t intuitive or organized and does not allow for customization. Amazon also invaded your home screen with uninvited advertising content, which is right there and in your face. This uses valuable real estate for relevant content that you would rather see in that space, and is a huge distraction that will negatively wear down on customers over time.
Amazon figured out how to mix Alexa’s voice into a Dolby Digital Plus stream, contrary to Apple TV and Siri. You can control Amazon Fire TV with voice commands with your Echo Dot, but integration with the Echo Dot was also hit-or-miss. Some shows will play, while other shows which share a title with music titles may launch the song instead of the show. However, Alexa’s integration of the TV into it’s existing smart home features is definitely way ahead of other devices.
Chromecast Ultra – $69
The Chromecast Ultra is cheap, effective 4K, HDR streaming. It supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision formats, but Dolby Vision HDR standard is hit or miss. It has a built-in ethernet adapter, but lacks a remote. It’s ‘Ultra’ not only because it’s capable of 4K playback and HDR video, but because it has an attached ethernet port and improved internal components that make videos load faster and less prone to slowdown.
Unlike the Amazon Fire TV Stick or Roku Streaming Stick, there’s no central hub for apps that you can browse on the TV itself. It would be easier to navigate with an interface, which is a turn off to a lot of customers. Chromecast takes content from your phone, tablet or PC, or the default images, until you customize your configuration. That said, the Google Chromecast app – now rebranded as Google Home and discussed at length on the next page – serves as the main spot for checking out what content is available to stream and which apps you already have installed that work with your new streaming dongle.
The Chromecast Ultra has Google Home integration. However, there is no native Amazon Video support. Plus, it doesn’t have access to Amazon’s substantial 4K and HDR video library. However, it has an extremely simple setup and is easy to use. It has excellent video quality, and 4K streaming works great over WiFi and Ethernet. It’s compatible with most popular streaming services, but there was only marginal video quality improvement over 1080p devices. There is a limited 4K content selection at launch, and it’s twice as expensive as the regular Chromecast, so you have to weigh its utility and feature value for your multimedia and smart home configuration.
There are other problems with the 4K experience on top of limited content. For starters, the standard $9.99-per-month Netflix plan doesn’t include 4K streaming. Most people will spend weeks watching streams in 1080p before realizing that they need to upgrade their Netflix plan. If you want to watch 4K, it’s an $11.99 plan, which also allows you to watch four screens simultaneously, rather than only two. A note within the setup instructions, or a popup notification during setup, is definitely warranted as a fix.