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'Streaming stick' comparison test

NEW YORK — 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 into 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. With all of these devices, separate subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu and other services are required.

Google Chromecast

Price: $35

Take it out of the box and plug it into your TV's HDMI port. There's also a cable to connect to the TV's USB port for power. 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, and the list is growing. There's no app for Amazon Instant Video, iTunes or ESPN. 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 phones. It's one of the few to support video and music through Google Play, and it lets you mirror a personal computer's browser tab.

Cons: App selection is small. If your phone loses the Wi-Fi connection with the Chromecast, there's no way to forward, rewind, pause or stop the video on the TV.

Roku Streaming Stick

Price: $50

Just connect the device to an HDMI port and a power cable to the USB port. The Roku stick comes with a remote, so it's easier to navigate. It runs the more than 1,000 apps available, including games and language lessons. The main exceptions are games that require the Roku 3's motion sensor remote. Neither Roku device has iTunes or Google Play. The device's processor also isn't as fast as the Roku 3's, so it may take longer to navigate and open apps. As is common with many streaming devices, expect some audio and video synching issues.

Pros: The stick works with lots of apps, and its remote offers excellent control compared with rival streaming sticks. Its apps include Amazon Instant Video, something other sticks don't offer.

Cons: If you sit on the remote, you may accidently disrupt your viewing.

BiggiFi

Price: $89

Plug it in, then control it with the BiggiFi app on Apple and Android devices. On the TV, you'll see an Android home page with some apps. Get others through Google's Play store. To tap an icon, you have to figure out the corresponding position on your phone. Tap the phone too far to the left and you get the app to the left of the one you wanted. You then have to guess where the back button is. BiggiFi does let you snap a screenshot so what's on the TV appears on your phone, but once you tap your selection, it's out of synch again. There's a mouse mode that turns the phone screen into a touchpad, though I couldn't scroll with the iPhone version.

Pros: There's a variety of Android apps, though that still excludes iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.

Cons: Interface is far from friendly. Not all Android apps work.

'Streaming stick' comparison test 05/23/14 [Last modified: Sunday, May 25, 2014 9:53pm]
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