Chromecast vs. Roku streaming stick? Guide on which one to buy


Roku introduced its streaming stick last week. Its aggressive $50 price point puts it in a direct competition with Chromecast. Which one should you buy? They look similar on surface, but once you realize they are targeting different market segments, the selection decision is a lot easier.

Chromecast is a second screen for Apps:

Whether your App is a Chrome tab or an App on Android or iOS phone, you can enhance your application experience by sending content to the TV through Chromecast. The Chromecast SDK is designed to support interactive applications with rich UI interfaces. It provides a bi-directional messaging channel from the App to communicate with Chromecast device, and the Chromecast device uses HTML5, which easily enables rich application interface.

Roku streaming stick is a set-top box that can be controlled by a remote:

Roku application is built to run mostly on the streaming stick. A remote device (the remote control, or an App on smart phones) can send commands to the Roku application. The command could be a key stroke or a control stick movement (up, down, left, right). Of course the command could be fancier, but it is not supported easily by the SDK. An application developer must build a bi-directional channel to communicate with the application running on the stick. The UI interface on Roku is built from a set of templates that are designed for navigating through video contents, that is why all the Roku applications look alike. If a developer wants a fancier look, she has to spend significantly more development effort.

Because these two devices are built for different markets, the user experience is very different. For example, the Netfix experience on Chromecast is that you browse through the collection on your phone, then when you are ready to view, you send the video to the TV. On Roku, you browse through the catalog on the TV with the remote controlling the navigation.

The difference also means you will see different applications developed for them. The Jamo (a Wii-style dance game) App (Jamo is also on Android now) we have developed easily replicated a game console experience with Chromecast, but we have not been able to with Roku due to its lack of bi-directional communication channel. Since Jamo runs entirely on the iPhone, it needs a second screen to send dance videos to in order to replicate the same experience that we have with dance games on Wii or Xbox.

Imagine a game of tic-tac-toe, where two smart phone users play against each other, and they use the TV as the game board. This kind of non-video-viewing application is a lot easier to build with Chromecast than with Roku.

Which one should you buy? If you are an App person, where you consume content mostly from a smart phone, tablet or a computer, but needs a TV to see it bigger, you should get Chromecast. But if you are a TV person, where you just want to surf for interesting videos to watch, you should get Roku. Of course, all these will change when Apple introduces their next Apple TV. Apple TV already has a great screen casting experience, and it already has a lot of TV content available. If the next Apple TV opens up more developer support or adds more contents, it does not matter if you are an App person or TV person anymore, you only need one device — the Apple TV — to fill both of your needs.


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