by Andrew Heinzman on
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There isn’t much to say about the new Chromecast. It’s almost identical to its 2nd generation counterpart, even down to the $35 price point. Oh, and it doesn’t support 4K.
Google’s decision to cap the new Chromecast at 1080p seems near-sighted, especially when you consider that Amazon and Roku have 4K streaming devices in the same price range as the Chromecast. But let’s not forget that Google already has a 4K streaming device: the Chromecast Ultra! Problem is, the Ultra costs $69. That economic hurdle raises a powerful question: should you buy the new Chromecast, upgrade to a Chromecast Ultra, or buy a competitor’s streaming device?
The old Chromecast looked like a shiny air freshener for your car. It had a Chromecast logo in the center, and a bendy HDMI dongle sticking out the top. Fans of the old design will be relieved to know that the new Chromecast has the same old shape and the same old dongle. But Google replaced the old shiny plastic shell with a matte finish and swapped the Chromecast logo for the sleek Google “G” logo. There are two color options: chalk and charcoal. Personally, I think that the chalk design looks like a giant breathmint, or half an earmuff. Anyway, the Chromecast dangles behind your TV, so we can forget about appearances and move on.
I’m going to reiterate, the new Chromecast doesn’t have 4K. But Google has updated the hardware, so the new Chromecast supposedly runs 15 percent faster than the previous model. While the previous model could only run 30fps at 1080p, the new one can run 60fps at 1080. The Wifi range has also been increased, which is nice because the Chromecast still doesn’t have an Ethernet port.
Eventually, the Chromecast will have multi-room speaker support. You’ll be able to cast audio from the device to compatible speakers all over the house. While this feature may be useful to people with a bunch of Bluetooth speakers or Google Home devices, it may not be something the average consumer cares about.
The new Chromecast still uses a Micro USB adapter for power, which is fine. Even if the new Chromecast used a USB-C cable, would you really dig it out from behind your TV to plug something else into it? Probably not. Oh, and like its predecessors, the Chromecast still doesn’t have a remote, you need a phone or tablet to operate it. While this may be a deal breaker for some, others may prefer it.
The Ultra is just like the regular Chromecast, but a little bit better. Not only does the Chromecast Ultra support 4K, it also has an Ethernet port and extra processing power. Yes, these differences make the Ultra a lot more appealing than the regular Chromecast, but the Chromecast Ultra is almost twice the price of the regular Chromecast. That makes it a lot more expensive than the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K ($49.99) and the Roku Premier ($39.99).
Those who are familiar with Project Stream may wonder if Google is planning to make the Chromecast a compatible device. If they did, wouldn’t it be better with a wired internet connection and 4K? If support for Project Stream does come about (Google hasn’t indicated that it will), it may be smart to invest in the Chromecast Ultra. But as of right now, there’s nothing to suggest one way or the other, so until something official comes out that’s still a gamble.
Amazon’s newest streaming device is in the same price range as the new Chromecast, but it has the features of the Chromecast Ultra. The new Fire TV Stick is 4K compatible, supports Alexa, can access Amazon Video (the Chromecast can’t), and can be connected to Ethernet by an adapter.
Really, the Fire TV Stick 4K is a great option if you don’t care about the Google ecosystem, and it’s an especially good option if you have devices like the Echo sitting around your house. The biggest drawback is that the user interface is kind of clunky and disorganized. It may not be as streamlined as the Chromecast, but it does have all of the same key features.
You also have the option to trade in an old Fire Stick (or other streaming device) for $20 off the new one, which is a neat little deal. We have more info on that here—and if you’re curious how the Fire Stick 4K compares to Amazon’s other streaming boxes, we have a rundown that should help with that, too.
Roku’s new Premiere is reasonably priced at $39.99, which is only $5 more than the new Chromecast. Yes, it has 4K. But it doesn’t have an Ethernet input, so you’re going to need reasonably good Wifi if you’re going to be streaming 4K content.
The Roku Premiere is the cheapest device with 4K. If you just want to get a 4K streamer for as cheap as possible, this one will work fine. But if you can live without the 4K, you may just want to get the Chromecast. It’s a simpler device with a simpler interface, though Roku’s vast catalog of content can also be appealing.
The Premiere+ is just like the Premiere, except it has an Ethernet port and a… micro-SD card slot. If you insert a micro SD card into the Premiere+ it’ll use the extra memory to store more stuff. I’m not sure why you’d need to add storage to a box that primarily streams content, but I’ve never been too bright. Anyway, unless you download a ton of apps onto the Premiere+, you probably wont need to stick a card in it.
If you’re tired of your roommate or significant other blaring Buffy The Vampire Slayer at 2:00 AM, you may be intrigued by the Premiere+’s “Night Listening Mode.” What is this “Night Listening Mode?” Well, the Premiere+’s remote has a headphone jack, and a pair of earbuds are included with the device. You plug the purple earbuds into the remote, and the sound stops coming out of your TV, it just comes out of your earbuds. Pretty snazzy.
The Premiere+ is more expensive than the Chromecast Ultra, but if you’re into the Micro SD slot or the headphone jack, then feel free to buy it. Otherwise, you may want to take a closer look at the Chromecast Ultra—some would argue it’s more convenient than Roku devices.
Oh, and don’t buy this thinking that you can play media off of an SD card, because you can’t. That’s ain important note—the SD card slot is strickly for expanded app storage.
If you’ve decided on a Roku but aren’t sure which one is right for you, we have you covered there, too.
Here’s the thing, the Chromecast is the most straightforward streaming device that you can buy. You don’t need to deal with a clunky interface or a proprietary remote—it’s quick and convenient. It’s great if you want a YouTube queue for a party, or if you want to throw on a music playlist while you’re home alone. The Chromecast works great with Google Home and Google Assistant, and there’s a guest login that keeps your preferences on the device safe. The Chromecast has proven itself. Respect the Chromecast.
Let’s say you’re in the market for an inexpensive streaming device, but you’re stuck between the $35 Chromecast, the $39.99 Roku Premier, and the $49.99 Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. There’s one question you need to ask yourself: am I really that obsessed with 4K right now? If you’re really that obsessed with 4K right now, then you should throw down the extra $5 to $10 for the Roku Premier or the Fire Stick 4K. If you don’t care about 4K, or if your TV doesn’t support 4K, then you should seriously consider the Chromecast. You’d only be paying $35 for a device that’s super smooth and reliable.
But what if your situation is a little more complicated? What if you have a Google ecosystem set up at home, and you really want a 4K streaming device? The Chromecast already works great with Google Home and Google Assistant. And just imagine controlling a 4K Chromecast stream with your newest Pixel or Chromebook. Well, you can either buy the Chromecast Ultra for $69 or wait until the price drops. Maybe it’ll be cheaper on Black Friday. Sorry!
What if you’re stuck between premium devices? In that case, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K seems to have the best value. It does everything that the Chromecast Ultra and Roku Premier+ can do for $49.99 (only $10 more than the new Chromecast). Again, you can trade in an old streaming device (even if it doesn’t work!) to get $20 off, making it crazy cheap. It’s also integrated with Alexa and can access Amazon Video, which is a plus for any fans of Amazon’s service.
You can order the new Chromecast now for $35 or pick it up at a store. If the Chromecast Ultra has caught your eye, you can grab that thing for $69. The Fire Stick TV 4K is available for preorder from Amazon, and ships on October 31st. The Roku Premier, and Roku Premier+ are also available on Amazon.
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