Google's much-talked-about $35 Chromecast streaming device is remarkable for its low cost. Its main problem, however: It works with a limited number of video services.
Recently, Roku and a few small startups have come out with low-cost devices that allow you to stream video content from Netflix, Hulu and other services to your television. This relatively new class of device is known as the streaming stick. Each is about the size of a cigarette lighter and plugs in to your TV's HDMI port.
There are more expensive streaming gadgets, such as Amazon's new Fire TV, the Apple TV and the Roku 3, all of which cost about $100 and take up more space -- as much as a plastic CD case. I believe all three are better deals than cheaper streaming devices. But streaming sticks will do the job if cost or space is an issue.
One of these cheap sticks comes from Roku and offers most of what the Roku 3 does, at half the price. It's the best of the four sticks I tried.
The other two are essentially Android tablets without the touch screen. They are clunky to use, but they can do more -- Facebook, Web browsing, Kindle e-books and just about anything you can do with a regular Android tablet.
With all of these devices, separate subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu and other services are required.
Google Chromecast ($35):
Just take this out of the box and plug it in to your TV's HDMI port. There's also a cable to connect to the TV's USB port for power. But when you turn on the TV, nothing happens. The Chromecast is quite dumb by design and is essentially a conduit between the TV and your mobile device.
You need to download the Chromecast app to your iPhone, iPad or Android device. You then download an app that's supported. There are more than 50 video, game and other apps to choose from, and the list is growing. But many of them are no-name apps, such as "TicTacToe" and something called "Up Down Fish." There's no app for Amazon Instant Video, iTunes or ESPN. But you do get Netflix, Hulu Plus and YouTube.
Pros: Households with multiple Netflix and Hulu accounts can keep them separate by controlling Chromecast with their own phones. That's not the case with other streaming devices. Chromecast is also one of the few to support video and music through Google Play, and it lets you mirror a personal computer's browser tab. (continued...)
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