Compared: What You Can Watch On Google Chromecast, Apple TV, Roku & Xbox

Want to stream content from the Internet to your TV? There’s a new player in town, Google’s Chromecast. It’s super easy to use and priced to move. What’s not to like? If you’re happy with just Netflix, you’re good. If you want Hulu or HBO Go, paying a bit more for Roku or Apple TV may make sense, unless you don’t mind using your laptop. Then again, for only $35, maybe you’ll decide Chromecast is worth being a second device.

The Players

Chromecast is entering a space where two other major Internet-to-TV devices already exist, Apple TV and Roku. Xbox, a gaming console, can also double as a streaming media device. Here’s a quick look at the players:

ChromecastChromecast: About the size of your thumb, Chromecast plugs into the HDMI port of a TV, and you power it using the supplied USB charger or using a USB cable plugged into a spare USB port on your TV or receiver. It connects to the Internet through your wifi.

Chromecast is controlled via your smartphone or tablet, via apps that are enabled to send to the Chromecast device. You pick a video you want to watch, tap to queue it to your Chromecast, and it’ll start playing. You can do the same for anything you’re viewing using Google’s Chrome browser, when on your desktop computer.

At $35, Chromecast is the cheapest of the devices.

Apple TVApple TV: About the size of your hand, you run an HDMI cable from Apple TV into your TV. It connects to the Internet through wifi or ethernet. You control it through a small remote, and it allows you to flip through various apps — think of them as channels — on the device. Select the content you want to view from within the apps, hit “Play” and off you go.

At $100, Apple TV is the most expensive of the dedicated streaming media devices, other than the highest-end of the Roku models. Apple TV, however, also features AirPlay, the ability for you to stream content on your iPhone, iPad or Mac to your TV.

Roku: Also about the size of your hand, Roku works just like Apple TV. It connects to your TV through an HDMI cable (some models also offer an analog connection). Roku connects to your wifi or via ethernet, with the high-end version.

You select channels you want to have on the device, and various content providers will stream their material through it. Pick content you want to watch from those channels, hit “Play,” and lean back.

Roku ranges from $50 for the low-end 720p-only model to $80 if you want the 1080p-version that matches what Chromecast and Apple TV do. Step up to $100, and you can play games.

Xbox: You can do more than just play games on Xbox. As with the other players, it will stream internet content to your TV. However, it’ll cost at least twice the price of Apple TV and even more compared to Chromecast and Roku, running from $200 for the basic Xbox 360 to $500 for the forthcoming Xbox One.

The high cost is because the Xbox is also a gaming console. That’s why initially, I didn’t include it in this round-up. My view is that anyone looking for a dedicated streaming media device isn’t going to consider the Xbox, because of the price and because it may provide them with more on the gaming side than they really want.

For more about that, see my column at CNET: Now that we have Chromecast, is it time for Xbox TV? And for those who want to know how it sizes up, you’ll find the chart below now includes Xbox.

NOTE: The cost is even higher than currently listed on the chart, because you also must have an Xbox Live subscription, which costs $60 per year or more, if not purchased for a full-year at a time.

The Content Comparison Chart

What can you watch on these devices? Lots of things! But the chart below has what I consider to be the major options. Anything marked as “Yes” is natively supported by the devices through apps (also called “channels”) on them or, in the case of Chromecast, through your smartphone.

Chromecast and Apple TV also support viewing content through mirroring, which requires opening a laptop to stream to your TV. I don’t consider that to be what most people are looking for when purchasing an internet-to-TV device. However, I have listed these options on the chart, and they’re explained in more depth below.

The chart above is based off one I did a few years ago, when Google TV first came out. At the time, it seemed like Google TV might be a rival in a space where Roku and Apple TV, much less Boxee, were still relatively new. But Google TV ran into an immediate problem. The promise that you could stream TV from any site on the Internet died quickly, as networks blocked it. A promised solution for Hulu still has never arrived.

Subscription Channels

Since that time, my view is that there are three major “channels” (in the US) that have emerged that, if supported by an Internet TV device, make the device a compelling choice. These are Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go.

I describe these on the chart above as being “Subscription” services. That’s because they allow you to watch anything you want for flat monthly subscription (with HBO Go, you effectively pay this to your cable or satellite TV company).

Here’s more about each of them, as well as Amazon Prime, a strong Netflix rival:

Netflix: For $8 per month, Netflix allows you to stream any of the movie or TV content it has. Of course, it doesn’t have everything. But there’s an amazing selection of TV content, especially, for the “binge viewers” out there. Netflix also has original content such as House Of Cards and Arrested Development. All players support Netflix.

Hulu Plus: Hulu offers a huge amount of content from the major US television networks of ABC, Fox and NBC, all of which are investors in the service. On the Web, you can watch some of this for free. But through an ITV (Internet-to-TV) device, you need Hulu Plus, for $8 per month. Roku, Apple TV and Xbox support Hulu Plus; Hulu says it’s working with Google to come to the Chromecast. We’ll see. Three years ago, Hulu said it was working on a Google TV app. That still hasn’t arrived.

HBO Go: Want to catch up on that HBO show you missed? HBO Go is great and comes with your cable or satellite subscription, allowing you to use Internet-to-TV devices to stream content. One caveat. Some providers like DirecTV might not allow HBO Go to work on particular devices (like the Roku). Hollywood can be weird. Google’s device doesn’t have HBO Go support through an app; the rest do.

Amazon Prime: If you’re an Amazon Prime member, for $80 per year, you get unlimited two-day shipping. But beyond that, you get access to tons of TV and movie content to watch for free, similar to the type of offerings that Netflix has. All players but Chromecast support this through apps or channels.

Rental & Purchase Options

Beyond the subscription channels, the device needs some type of rental facility, so that you can buy premium content: TV shows and movies that are not offered by the subscription services. Without a rental option (or purchase, if you want to own the content), I don’t feel a device will be that compelling. In my experience, the pricing and availability of content from any of these rental services is about the same.

Something to keep in mind about each of these services is how “locked” your content might be. If you’re just renting for the night, you probably don’t care whether what you’ve bought will play on your laptop versus your TV or your smartphone.

However, if you’ve purchased content to own, that might be a bigger deal. For more about that, see a story I wrote for CNET earlier this year, which has a handy comparison chart: How trapped are your digital movies and TV shows?

On to the rental options:

Apple iTunes: Surprise, Apple only offers TV and movie rentals through its own service, iTunes.

Google Play: Surprise again, Google offers TV and movie rentals through its own service, Google Play.

Amazon Instant Video: Just like Apple and Google, Amazon offers TV and movie rentals through Amazon Instant Video. It’s one of two choices that Roku offers to its users. Xbox will allow you to play video you’ve purchase from Amazon, but only if you purchase that on Amazon itself. You can’t buy through the Xbox, so I’ve listed this as a “View but can’t buy” on the chart.

Vudu: Backed by Walmart, Vudu has a huge offering of TV and movie rentals. It’s the other choice on Roku. Xbox also supports it, allowing for direct purchases.

Xbox Video: Microsoft’s own rental service, offered on the Xbox.


There’s also YouTube out there for video content. While YouTube serves as an alternative face for Google Play rental content, my focus in listing it on the chart above is whether you can stream “free” YouTube content through your device, everything from your personal videos to whatever’s going viral at the moment.

You can, other than for Roku — which is the main weakness of that player. On Apple TV, the weakness I’ve found is that the search capability for YouTube content often seems poor. With Chromecast, it’s pretty awesome.

Remote Apps & Cross-Channel Search

It’s awesome because, unlike with Apple TV and Roku, you’re actually finding the content you want on your smartphone or your computer, making use of its keyboard, then telling the Chromecast what you want. After that, Chromecast itself fetches the content. With the other players, you’re using a “dumb remote” with no keypad (though you can get apps for Roku and Apple TV to help).

Roku is outstanding among the devices in offering a “cross-channel” search feature, which I might revisit in more depth later. Basically, you can search across various channels on your Roku to see which has the content you want and for how much. Xbox also offers this, though I haven’t used it much.

Google TV had this and still does. It’ll be interesting to see if somehow this gets turned into an app that can work with Chromecast. The problem with Google TV’s search, however, was that you couldn’t “tune-in” to some of that content that it pointed to on the Web, because of network blocking.

Mirroring, Chrome & Chromecast

That’s where Chromecast shines. It supports mirroring from Chrome on a desktop computer. Whatever you see in Chrome, you can send to Chromecast. That includes any content you might find on a TV network’s site. So, if you don’t mind opening up your laptop to get that show, Chromecast has you covered.

Will the networks be able to block this? Nope. Well, not easily. Google tells me that all the content fetching comes from your Chrome browser itself. That means the networks can’t block Chromecast in the way they could block Google TV. To block Chromecast, they’d have to block anyone using Chrome. That’s a huge audience to alienate.

Initially, I didn’t list Chromecast mirroring support on the chart above, because as stated earlier (and as I’ll cover again), it’s not something I consider core to whether a typical consumer may want one of these devices. In the interest of completeness, however, I’ve added it.

On the chart above “Via Laptop” indicates where you can stream content using Chrome for the Mac or PC to Chromecast. In these cases, if you don’t mind using a laptop, then you can watch this content (iTunes & Xbox Video content remains a “No,” as you can’t view these through a browser). With the other devices, no laptop is required for anything marked “Yes.”

Mirroring, AirPlay & Apple VT

Like Chromecast, Apple TV can do mirroring with its AirPlay feature (see The Verge’s comparison here). Unlike Chromecast, you’re not limited to just want you can see in your browser. However, AirPlay only works for iOS and MacOS devices.

The chart lists content you should find available for streaming to Apple TV, if you want to go the AirPlay route. Xbox Video, according to my testing, isn’t an option AirPlay or not.

The Limitations Of Mirroring

My assumption with this comparison is that most people looking for an internet-to-TV streaming device do not want to open up a laptop to watch video content on their televisions. If that’s the goal, they might as well watch that content on the laptop itself. Alternatively, they can buy a $6 HDMI cable to run video from many laptops to a TV.

So, while you can mirror using Chromecast or Apple TV, I don’t see this as a major advantage for these devices, not if your primary desire is to sit on your couch and watch internet-to-TV video with as little effort as possible. Instead, I think you have to focus on what’s natively supported in the apps, if that’s your goal.

They’re All Pretty Great

In terms of major video content choices, I’d say the Roku gives the most options for the least price. Still, at $35, you’re not risking much with a Chromecast — and it can be pretty fun to have various people sitting around “flinging” YouTube videos at it.

As someone with all of these devices, I’ll say that you’re not going to make a bad choice whatever you decide. All offer great value and make getting video content from the internet to your TV much easier.

Related Topics: Apple: Apple TV | Channel: Consumer | Google: Chromecast | Google: TV | Google: YouTube | Top News


About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Pat Grady
  • Danny Sullivan

    The deal for three months free Netflix is over. The ability to get Netflix though the device is not.

  • Theodore R. Smith

    You left out a **Very** important detail: Apple iTV requires Apple products to mirror or stream. Google’s Chromecast works in every major operating system, including PCs, Linux, Windows, and Macs and iPhones and androids.

  • Kenny Tse

    Great article! Please add that Roku supports access to Youtube (and several other channels through server on another computer in the same wireless network.

  • RizzoMB

    With ChromeCast what content to I get for free, that I wouldn’t get on cable or from Youtube?

  • Greg Knieriemen

    I think this is a little premature – I think we can all assume the ecosystem of content is going to explode around Chromecast now that the SDK for app developers is available.

  • Greg Knieriemen

    Today, anything you can load in Chrome can be streamed to your TV (although it is beta).

  • Tom Labetti

    How about AeroTV? I’m considering Roku+AeroTV to replace FiOS set top boxes on the kids TVs. Chromecast+AeroTV might be a nice match.

  • Danny Sullivan

    It’s focused on the major content providers, of which Hulu is important. And Hulu’s track record of supporting Google TV products is dismal. But, maybe we’ll see a change.

  • Danny Sullivan

    The focus here isn’t on the mirroring aspect from the desktop, though thanks for noting that. It’s really, though, about what major channels you can receive.

  • Adam Helweh

    If I remember correctly, you can indeed add Youtube as a content channel on Roku by downloading it.

  • Meaux

    Can’t you watch Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime and HBO Go using Chrome Mirroring?

  • Zoyx

    Table is incorrect. You can open up Hulu or Amazon in a browser window, so you can stream these on a chromecast as well. You can also view your local content (stuff on your hard drive) through the browser.

  • Greg Knieriemen

    Just tested… I’m watching Hulu full screen through Chromecast on my TV right now. Any streaming media available through the browser can be played through Chromecast. No app required (but would be better as an app)

  • Greg Cohn

    Very useful article.

    Last time I checked, the YouTube implementation on AppleTV did not allow access to queued videos for watching later. I’d be interested in that level of detail on the comparison.

  • Danny Sullivan

    The table is about what apps/channels are native to each device. Opening a laptop is not native to these types of devices. That’s a great feature, of course, and I touch on it toward the end. But for the person sitting on their couch, looking for a way to get TV to their internet without opening up a laptop, this is what you can and can’t do.

  • Danny Sullivan

    yes. the article says this. I’m talking about what can be done via apps.

  • Dave4321

    You forgot you can play anything that you can play in your chrome browser you can play on chromecast.

  • RobOnMV

    I’d ad that with the program “Beamer” for Mac you can drag and drop any movie on your Mac to Beamer, and it’ll appear and play flawlessly on your TV wirelessly through Apple TV.

  • SethMcDonald

    One important note, anything you can watch on your computer (itunes included) can be sent through chromecast. HBO Go, Amazon prime, Hulu plus, all of it can be sent.

  • Steven Hollis

    Maybe for a different article, but I’d love to see some comparisons (subjective if need be) of the interfaces and usability of the devises. Especially when comparing apps that exist on multiple platforms. Which platform has the better Netflix experience, for example.

  • Jeff Baker

    Then the title of the article is a bit confusing.

    “Compared: What You Can Watch On Google Chromecast, Apple TV & Roku” should be more like Here are the official apps that support these products.

  • lakawak

    You know you are a blogger (meaning…worthless) when you leave out the device that by far the MOST people stream Xbox.

  • David

    This article is garbage. I hate crappy sites that are more focused on being “FIRST!!!” rather than being accurate and informative.

  • brwtx

    You keep saying, “The table is about what apps/channels are native to each device”, but that does not give an accurate picture of the capabilities of any of these devices. As has already been mentioned you can add capabilities to Roku using a desktop app, you can view ALL of the content on Chromecast mirroring chrome from the desktop, and I am not an AppleTV user but I suspect there are some tricks you can use to gain access to all or most of that using a nearby Mac as well. Wouldn’t your table be more accurate if you put a * next to the “No” with an explanation below the table?

  • fammtamm

    Looks ike Roku gets my votye. I like it.

  • Int3nsive

    There’s Airplay available for Windows PC and Android devices too.

    Just Google, for example, AirParrot.
    ( airsquirrels dot com )

  • tricky2000

    This article fails to mention that Apple TV also now has Watch ESPN. Its the only streamer besides the Xbox that has Watch ESPN.

  • James Price

    The chart is inaccurate. Maybe I missed some text, but Chromecast can technically play Hulu, Amazon, and HBO Go. Anything through your browser can be displayed. These services don’t yet have apps for the device, but they are already usable with it.

  • sti3

    Sure, and there are hacks to be able to play local videos on AppleTV… I think the point is comparing out of the box functionality that non-nerds will use.

    FWIW you can stream from iTunes on Windows through Airplay.

  • sti3

    Nice! Via laptop I assume?

  • Danny Sullivan

    You missed an entire section covering this just above the chart.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Thanks. I thought about adding that, but I figured sports were still pretty specialized. Glad to have it added to the comments.

  • Danny Sullivan

    I think it’s both accurate and informative. And your commend isn’t really explaining what it is that you find is incorrect.

  • Danny Sullivan

    I’m actually a journalist, which might still be worthless to you. But the Xbox is a completely different class of device from a streaming media device. A great device — I own one, but different.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Maybe. But I was focused on what I thought typical people would care about buying these out of the box and not having to mess around with them, including breaking out their laptops.

  • Danny Sullivan

    A great idea.

  • storm14k

    This is a little misleading. And I don’t mean to knock you or the article because Google didn’t really explain it this way upfront. Amazon Prime, Hulu and other similar content CAN be viewed with Chromecast. You can go to these sites on a computer, play the content cast the tab to a Chromecast device. If you go full screen in the tab the content shows up like normal full screen video on the TV. In this way essentially any content on the internet is available to Chromecast. Google has basically eliminated the need for individual apps a partnerships to get content on the device.

    Now what the SDK for Chromecast does is allow an app to tell Chromecast where to find the content and stream it directly to the device and TV instead of mirroring. This allows you to continue to use your device for other things along with controlling the content. Mirroring is taken out of the picture. This is like an enhanced experience but you can watch the same content with out it with a desktop or laptop.

  • LarryVandemeer

    By the end of this year, all your NO on your list for the Chromecast will be yes as 1000s of apps will be supporting CC (ChromeCast). CC is better than slice bread. Google will sell BILLIONS of them. I bought 4 of them for every TV in the house and it is awesome to be able to cast a movie to the big screen in the family room and move to the bedroom and cast it to the bedroom TV and continue where I left off. The sync and play list capabilities of Chromecast are unmatched by any of the yesteryear others. Chromecast is a totally revolutionary innovation. It is the future today. The Chromecast ecosystem is going to take off in a huge way. Both in software and devices. Think of your next receiver or TV with Chromecast build it. It is awesome!

  • Danny Sullivan

    By the end of the year, there’s an excellent chance that Hulu will still be a “No” given that Hulu has had three years to do a similar app for Google TV and has failed to do this, because of the television networks not liking Google. We’ll see about the others.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Google explains this just fine. I totally understand it. I have an entire section about it. If you want to open your laptop. you can stream virtually anything to Chromecast. But my position is that most people buying a streaming media device do this because they do NOT want to open up their laptops.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Yes, you can (as the article does say) show anything if you want to open up your laptop. Similarly, you can buy a $6 HDMI cable which is even less than the Chromecast and do the same and more, because you won’t be limited to what you can get out of Chrome.

    That’s the point. Streaming media devices are meant to save you from having to open the laptop. That’s why the focus here is on what you can do without firing up a computer.

  • The Shambolic Skeptic


    For Chromecast, you didn’t include “anything you can see in your browser window” which after all is the point of the thing.

    Tablet or phone open, stumble across something interesting and wish to throw it to the big screen in front of you.

    One tap and the web site / embedded media is streaming away on your TV.


  • Julian Allen

    What about devices like tlbb with the open source xbmc flavours? They offer thousands of apps also.

  • Kandiboyyy

    Hulu is already implementing the SDK

  • storm14k

    No need to get offended. But quite honestly if you were going to watch content from the web in general then you would have to do it from your laptop. There’s no mobile flash and some sites will block the content on mobile devices anyway. So its only a benefit to be able to instead put that same content on the big screen.

    And then that’s not even talking about experience. I often prefer to search for stuff on Netflix on my laptop and then just put it in my queue and watch on Xbox 360. Searching Hulu and Netflix on a set top box can be rather painful. So I often have my laptop around anyway if my phone isn’t. I’m sure I’m not alone.

    Sent via Android

  • Robotech_Master

    I’m confused. By mirroring, could I stream the services that Chromecast doesn’t support (Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc.) to my TV since I can view them in my browser? Your article doesn’t make this clear.

  • Danny Sullivan

    There is an entire section that makes this clear. Or so I thought. But I made make it clearer on the chart. The point is, natively, the devices it goes up against don’t cause you to make such efforts.

  • liveTexas

    to Danny Sullivan :
    I’d like to know if the Chromecast can be plugged into Google TV or even Apple TV for immediate enhancement. The next thing I’d like to know is what was included in the first iterations of both Roku and ATV. This is new and I’m liking it but its Potential is what I find most valuable.
    Thanks in advance.

  • liveTexas

    Plex has already announced its support for the Cast platform! Loves me my Plex with GTV !

  • Mopo

    I own an xbox and have tried apple and roku. Both were given away to my sis and parents. Once you have used the xbox, which also has a kinect option, the other ones seem to be cheap knockoffs.
    I will give chromecast a shot too as it seems like a low risk toy I can use in my room.
    I agree about the devices being in different categories, but it should be noted that MS is way ahead of the game.

  • Danny Sullivan

    It won’t enhance those devices. They can’t talk to it. It talks directly to your TV. But, you can run it alongside them.

  • Rob LaRosa

    Actually mirroring is a big attraction for me. Many of the Hulu Plus videos are “Web Only” which really ticks me off when using the Roku. With mirroring, this is no longer an issue.

  • Jeff

    Two suggestions for expanding on this chart. One, now that you’ve added Xbox, how about adding PS3? Two, how do they all stack up with supporting Crackle? (I swear I’m not a shill for Sony, honest!)

    Also, I think you are downplaying mirroring functionality a little too much. If the family wants to watch something together, would you rather crowd around a 15-inch laptop screen or zap content to a 52-inch TV? An HDMI cable of any significant length costs more than the Chromecast does (last time I checked, at least).

  • liveTexas

    Thank You.

  • Danny Sullivan

    I don’t have a PS3, so hard to test. Maybe. I’m hesitant now about adding the Xbox, also, because apparently if you don’t have Xbox Live Gold, you can’t stream. Maybe on Crackle. It’s nice. I’ve used it.

    The mirroring is definitely great for sending local content to the big screen. But as I said, I don’t think it’s the primary reason why people select these devices.

  • kirtinag

    Apple TV and Roku. Xbox, a vice console, can even double as a streaming media device. Here’s a fast investigate the players:

  • Arkady Zilberman

    Your statement regarding Chromecast that “You can do the same for anything you’re viewing using Google’s Chrome browser, when on your desktop computer.” – it is not true. Chromecast allows to play only three applications YouTube, Netflix and Google Play video. My attempts to open the Google Chrome browser and send it to Chromecast were not successful. If you know how to do it – please share your information in some details.

  • daveman1

    Question: Can Chromecast be directed to go to a URL, or is it limited to mirroring chrome from a pc/mac/phone. Ideally, I’d like to tell it (via my phone) to go to a site, then be able to use my phone for other stuff.

    Is this possible with Chromecast, or something else like it?

  • NigelTark

    You need to install the chromecast addon to the chrome browser. Then it will work.

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