The Best Streaming Stick: Roku vs Fire TV vs Chromecast Ultra

best-streaming-stick

Roku Streaming Stick vs Amazon Fire TV stick: What’s the best streaming stick?

The best streaming stick to replace your cable or satellite setup is the Roku Streaming Stick.

It’s the easiest way to stream live TV while adding Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and YouTube to your TV. The new Roku Streaming Stick comes with a remote that controls TV power and volume, voice search and voice command capabilities.

For 4K HDR streaming, the Roku Streaming Stick+ is the best way to go. You’ll have the same remote, and it comes with an extra WiFi antenna to improve reception.

If you want a streaming stick that can bring Netflix, live TV chops and Android gaming to your TV, then there’s even more to consider.

An Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice remote has a well-built user interface for PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now and Sling TV. Just don’t expect to see a YouTube TV app on any Fire TV device anytime soon.

The Fire Stick is is the best streaming stick for casual gaming like Beach Buggy Racing, Minecraft and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Instead of buying a Amazon Fire TV gamepad for $50, there are a number of high quality third-party game controllers that can be had for as little as $20.

Comparing the Cable Killers: TV without cable

If you’re intent on getting rid of cable and replacing it with a streaming stick, then you should know where you stand with compatibility. Below is a list of live TV streaming services that support Roku and Amazon Fire TV. Apple TV is not listed because we are talking about streaming sticks. Read my cord cutting guide for more information on devices.

Roku Streaming Stick

  1. DirecTV Now
  2. fuboTV
  3. Hulu with Live TV
  4. Philo
  5. PlayStation Vue
  6. Pluto TV
  7. Sling TV
  8. YouTube TV

Amazon Fire Stick

  1. DirecTV Now
  2. fuboTV
  3. Hulu with Live TV
  4. PlayStation Vue
  5. Pluto TV
  6. Sling TV

Chomecast Ultra

  1. DirecTV Now
  2. fuboTV
  3. Hulu with Live TV
  4. PlayStation Vue
  5. Pluto TV
  6. Sling TV
  7. YouTube TV

Roku Express vs Roku Streaming Stick: What’s the difference?

If you don’t care about gaming or the universal remote features, the Roku Express gets the job done for $30. It’s an affordable streamer that’s plenty quick for watching Netflix or any other app.

Roku promises access to 350,000+ movies and TV episodes with the Express.

The latest generation of the Express has an upgraded processor that makes it much faster than its predecessor. It’s not the same as the quad-core processor seen in the more expensive Streaming Stick or Fire Stick, but it may not even be noticeable to you.

You just want to make sure that you have a decent WiFi router for streaming so that you can watch TV without any blips. The Express only operates on 2.4GHz, so you can’t depend on the faster, lesser-used 5GHz frequency available on dual-band routers.

The Express is shaped like a tiny box, and needs to be in front of your TV in order for it to work. The remote is a standard infrared remote, so you need to aim it right at the Express for it to work. You can power the Express from a wall socket or a USB port on your TV. The Express will take a little longer to boot up when you use the TV’s USB port for power.

Roku Streaming Stick specs

The Roku Streaming Stick remote doesn’t require a direct line-of-site aim for it to work. And you have voice search and command functions from the remote. Having a universal remote for your TV and all your streaming apps might alone be worth an extra $20 compared to the Express. The voice commands require you to press a button, but you can still get the Streaming Stick to launch Netflix or Hulu, and show you action movies by uttering a few words. In 2018, you can expect Roku to add more software upgrades to its voice search capabilities.

The Roku Express and Streaming Stick have private listening options, and voice search via Roku’s mobile app. Gaming on these devices are very primitive (think the equivalent of board games).

If you can pay the extra money for the Roku Streaming Stick, it is well worth the price compared to Roku Express or Express+.

What’s the Roku Express Plus?

The Roku Express+ is essentially the same model as the Roku Express, but comes with A/V inputs for use on an older television. The Roku Express+ is ideal for those who have an older TV, but want to stream content.

Amazon Fire TV Streaming Stick vs Roku Streaming Stick

Amazon’s Fire TV Streaming Stick is ideal if you subscribe to Amazon Prime, or just PlayStation Vue for cable channels. But the Fire Stick can’t stream 4K HDR movies or shows. You’ll need the new Fire TV dongle for that.

The interface for Fire TV devices were upgraded at the end of 2016 to deliver a Netflix-like experience. Fire TV’s menus now also pull in content from Netflix, HBO, Crackle and others, so you don’t have to go hunting for shows. Kodi fans can download the popular media streamer or a forked version called MRMC for local media that’s ripped to a hard drive or PC.

The Alexa voice remote allows you to search for content across more than 75 apps and channels including Netflix and HBO. Amazon Echo or Echo Dot owners can control the Fire TV Stick hands free.

Using your voice, you can also command the Fire stick to “rewind 30 seconds” or skip ahead to the next episode. The Fire TV stick also keeps you up to date with your favorite sports teams. Pick your favorite football, baseball and basketball teams to get the latest scores and game information.

Gaming on the Fire TV stick is more arcade-like compared to the Roku stick. You can play games like Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto Vice City when you buy a Fire TV game controller sold separately. The Fire Stick has 1GB of memory and 8 GB of internal storage.

There are numerous third-party game controllers that work with Fire TV as well. If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, you can also try out subscriptions to individual channels like HBO, Showtime and lots of others.

best-streaming-stick
The Fire TV stick shows channels and apps you subscribe to in the menu.

If you use YouTube quite a bit, then you should be aware of the ongoing fight between Amazon and Google. The YouTube app for Fire TV basically got killed off earlier this year. Then it sort of came back through the Silk browser on Fire TV. The Silk browser works pretty good for now. It is anybody’s guess how long that will last or whether the two companies will eventually patch things up.

Chromecast Ultra

Like the Roku and Fire TV streaming sticks, the Chromecast Ultra is a fast device. It operates on 802.11 ac – both 2.4GHz and 5GHz, but also has an Ethernet port. You will need a TV with an HDMI port, and a WiFi enabled smartphone, tablet or laptop to control Chromecast Ultra. There’s no independent remote control.

The power cable and adapter for Ethernet is included in the box. If you’re using a smartphone or tablet, the process to control apps is very simple. While using Netflix, Hulu or YouTube, a “cast” button will appear at the top right corner of your screen. Hit play and the cast button to start streaming to your television.

You can’t stream Amazon Prime Video on Chromecast Ultra directly. There is a workaround to stream Prime Video, but it’s not great. And you’re limited to 1080p content on Prime Video despite having a 4K streamer.

Live streaming TV bundles like Sling TV or PlayStation Vue work fine. Google-owned Chromecast was also one of the first devices compatible with YouTube TV. At $69, it’s hard to recommend a Chromecast Ultra for its shortcomings. Pay an extra dollar, and you’ll get a lot more 4K apps and controls for your TV with a Roku Streaming Stick Plus.

Best Streaming Stick for 4K HDR: Amazon Fire TV dongle vs Roku Streaming Stick+

If you’re looking for a portable, palm-sized device to stream 4K HDR content, then you should buy the new Roku Streaming Stick+.

Amazon’s competing product is All-new Fire TV with Ultra HD and HDR support. I’ve tested both of these new devices. Read my reviews on both the new pendant-shaped Fire TV and the Roku Streaming Stick+ for a deep dive into each of these new devices.

The WiFi antenna on the Roku Streaming Stick+ that attaches to the streamer, and the remote with TV controls is simply better hardware. The WiFi antenna is designed to improve streaming in hard to reach areas of a home. On the apps front, the 4K Spotlight Channel on Roku is a great feature that the new Fire TV lacks. The 4K Spotlight Channel aggregates 4K HDR shows and movies from across a number of platforms including Amazon Prime Video, Smithsonian Earth and CuriosityStream.

The new Fire TV will let you search for shows and movies using the voice-search button on the remote. Like with the Fire Stick, you can also control the Fire TV with your voice hands free when it’s paired with an Echo Dot or Amazon Echo.

The voice features are pretty slick, but overall I came away feeling that the Roku Streaming Stick+ is the best streaming stick for 4K HDR streaming.

What kind of streaming stick should I get?

The Roku Streaming Stick is the best streaming stick overall. It has neat new features like controlling your TV power and volume, and voice search capabilities. For 4K HDR TV owners, the Roku Streaming Stick+ is a very worthwhile device that will last you for years.

Roku does fall short with adding any kind of casual gaming that goes beyond using a remote control. If you occasionally want to play games like Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto Vice City, then an Amazon Fire TV Stick is the best streaming stick for you to buy.

What’s your favorite streaming stick? What apps do you use the most instead of cable? Tell fellow readers in the comments below.

* This article was originally published January 9, 2017, and updated March 7, 2018. All images and videos are property of The Cord Cutting Report.

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2 Comments on The Best Streaming Stick: Roku vs Fire TV vs Chromecast Ultra

  1. So the amazon fire stick and remote control are part of the package for $39.99? Is there only one model or generation or different versions? What is this Kodi stuff? How is that related to fire stick?

    • Yes, you get the Fire TV stick with a voice remote. Amazon is currently on the 2nd generation of the Fire stick. Kodi is a media streaming hub. You can use it for a number of third-party apps — some legal, some not-so legal. But honestly, I don’t use it much outside of tooling around with my HDHomeRun tuner. I prefer using Plex. You can read more about Plex under the reviews section.

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