The Best Media Streamer

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Last Updated: February 15, 2018

After 20 hours of research and streaming various types of content on to our HDTV, we think that the Google Chromecast is the best media streamer in India.

Media Streamers let you stream online content on your HDTV. They also let you share content from your smartphone or laptop to the TV. They are the simplest way to go cordless and to make a non smart TV into a smart television. Read on to see why you might need one and which is the best Media Streamer in India.

Updates: Updated to include the Amazon Fire Stick.

The Best Media Streamer

1. Google Chromecast 2

 

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The Google Chromecast is one of the cheapest and best ways to make your Tv “smart”. Its small, compact, easy to use and fun to play with. It is also one of the best ways to stream HD content, on to your Flat television. The Chromecast plugs into the HDMI port of the TV and you need to use your phone as a remote for controlling it and watching online streaming content and local video files.

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2. Amazon Fire Stick

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The Amazon Fire stick is a small USB stick that you plug in to your HDMI port. It’s different from the Chromecast as it offers a remote to control the device which many users find handy. The remote also has voice search which makes it easy to find content. It also supports a wide variety of services like Hotstar and Netflix apart from Amazon Prime Video which is it’s main offering.

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Why do you need a media streamer ? 

Gone are the days of DVD’s or playing downloaded content via USB. Smart TV’s and Media Streamers today, let you access a wide range of online content at a click. With almost unlimited content on Youtube, Netflix, iTunes, Play Store, for some people, media streamers have replaced traditional television. All of this is possible of course, only if you have high speed broadband with unlimited data. Media streamers also let you mirror your browser or laptop screen on the big screen which is great for wireless presentations. A media streamer can also give you easy access to the local content like movies, songs, etc which you already have on your computer and watch it wirelessly on your TV. The are also a great way to show family or friends the photo or video you shot by sharing your phone to the big screen so that everyone can see it instantly.

If you have a new Smart TV and all you wish to do is watch Netflix or Youtube on your HDTV, the Smart TV’s interface will probably suffice.  However you may not have smart TV or your old smart TV’s software may not be getting updated. Also, most Tv’s require you to type and search using the Tv remote which can get clunky. Its way more easier to type and search on your phone.  Instead of getting a new TV, a media streamer is enough to make your TV “Smart”.

How to select a media Streamer ? 

One decision is to choose between Android and Apple. If you are invested in the apple ecosystem , own content on iTunes, have and iPhone or iPad then the Apple TV will probably be the best bet for you, since it supports AirPlay and IOS mirroring. Do keep in mind that the Chromecast does support IOS as well. Another factor in your decision is whether you need a dedicated remote to control your TV. A chromecast relies on a smartphone, tablet, or PC with Cast-compatible apps to stream content.

 

The Best Media Streamer

 

1. Google Chromecast 2

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This is one of the simplest devices to use. Google’s Chromecast is a dongle that fits into your TV’s HDMI port. Simply connect your Chromecast to your home network and stream whatever you’re watching (from a Google Cast-compatible app) on your smartphone to your TV. It’s easy  to use and cheap. Chromecast works with your phone, tablet or computer, but they do not have to remain connected.

To use Chromecast, you’ll need a TV with HDMI and a fast broadband Internet connection on Wifi. You also need a smartphone or tablet running Android or iOS or a computer with the Chrome browser the same network to control it. Simply install the Google Home app and you are ready to go.

Some of the top apps that work on Chromecast are – Netflix, Youtube, Google Play Movies, Google Play Music, Plex, Videostream, Google Photos, Chrome Browser, Wynk. Do note that there are apps that still do not support Chromecast – e.g.: Apple Music, Hotstar. Most of these are online streaming services, though you can use apps like Plex, Videostream, All Cast, Local Cast which stream local content i.e. downloaded files on your phone or computer on your TV.

Another great thing is the ability to cast a tab from a Chrome browser using the Google Cast extension. You can use this feature to display Web pages on the TV screen, anything from Facebook to Google Docs. If you use Google Slides, you can show your presentations over this. Additionally, there are over 100 games on the play store which support Chromecast too. Don’t expect any graphically rich games. These are mostly simple ones like Angry Birds Friends, Chess, Sonic Jump Fever, etc. See the full list here.

The way Chromecast works is by searching for content on your phone and then casting the content on to the TV by tapping the Chromecast symbol from within the app. Chromecast then streams it directly and not from your device. You phone only functions like a remote.

Another great thing about the Chromecast is that multiple users can use  it at the same time. So if you have friends over, they can quickly add videos to a public queue and have some fun with it. They can also use the Guest mode that lets other people in the room to cast to Chromecast. This works even if they are not connected to the same Wi-Fi network.

It needs power to work. You can charge it via plug or using a USB-port on your TV. Chromecast 2 supports the 801.11/ac Wi-Fi standard, and can be connected to a 5GHz frequency. The greatest advantage of the 5Ghz network is that they suffer from less interference than their 2.4GHz counterparts since most cordless phones, microwaves etc work on that frequency.

The lack of a separate dedicated remote like the one found in the Amazon Fire stick, means you always need a smartphone, tablet or PC to use the chromecast; but then we all have our phones most handy nowadays, so we don’t think it’s much of a problem.

Its small size helps it stay hidden behind your TV and makes it easy to take with you when traveling to use. However do note that Chromecast doesn’t work on Wi-Fi networks require you sign in via a special Web pages like those found in hotels, Starbucks or free wifi networks.

Google has announced the new Chromecasts in October 2016 which includes support for 4k. They haven’t been released yet in India, but given the rarity of 4k content, we think this one works just fine for now.

 

 

2. Amazon Fire Stick

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The Amazon Fire stick is a small USB stick that you plug in to your HDMI port. It’s different from the Chromecast as it offers a remote to control the device plus an app to enter text which many users find handy. The remote also has voice search which makes it easy to find content.

The Fire TV Stick comes pre-loaded with apps. You sign in to your Amazon Prime account and you can access Amazon Prime Video service. While Amazon Prime Video is the focus of the device, apps like Netflix, YouTube, HotStar, Spuul , NDTV, Eros Now, Gaana, Voot, Plex are all pre-loaded.

As with most Smart TV interfaces the most difficult part is entering text on the TV screen using a remote. Amazon solves this by giving you the Amazon Fire TV remote app which can be used to input text and voice commands too. We found the voice based search a little inaccurate occasionally, but over all usable. The only downside to the voice search is that it will only display the results from Prime Videos, and not other streaming apps. The remote is a bluetooth enabled one, not IR and you don’t have to point the remote in any particular direction. The remote doesn’t have volume control and this is a small feature that is handy but strangely missing.

You need an Amazon account to use the Fire TV Stick, but you don’t need a Prime subscription. However, if you are an Amazon Prime member, it makes a lot of sense to get this. Amazon Prime Video comes free for all Prime members right now and it doesn’t support Chromecast. So the only way you get to see content on a big screen is if you connect your computer to your TV with an HDMI cable or by getting the Amazon Fire Stick. In the longer run, Amazon Prime is expected to get more expensive than the Rs. 599 per year fees right now. So if you plan to stick around with Amazon, get the fire stick.

The advantage with Amazon Fire TV Stick is that you don’t need your phone to cast the content onto your TV. However we still give the edge to the chromecast as it’s natively supported by Android and a lot of other apps via casting and also helps you mirror your phone, albums, music etc.

 

 

Other options

1. Apple TV (32 GB)

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The Apple Tv is a great streaming box for Apple fans. If you own content in iTunes and are invested in the Apple ecosystem – i.e. own and iPhone, iPad or MacBook, you can consider getting an Apple TV. An Apple Tv lets you stream audio and video from Apple devices and mirror your them on your TV through AirPlay. You can even use AirPlay to use your Tv as an additional Monitor for your MacBook.

The new Apple TV offers a very stylish Apple-like streaming interface, with a chargeable motion – sensitive remote that’s a step ahead of the competition.

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The Apple TV is the fourth version of the media streaming by Apple. Apple Tv supports direct streaming of content from apps on an iPhone or iPad using an Apple technology called AirPlay. If an app doesn’t support AirPlay you can mirror an entire iPad, iPhone and view the whole display. Apple TV now has its own App Store that lets you choose your own streaming services like Netflix, Youtube. It also comes with a voice control remote and Siri (though you cant use it in India as yet ).

The device comes in 2 storage option 32GB and 64GB. We think 32Gb should be fine for most people since you are mainly using this for streaming content.

It’s more than streaming though as Apple TV now supports playing iOS games on the big screen and the new apple Tv remote can be used for motion controlling during games. It’s a powerful device but it’s still very Apple-centric, with music services focusing more on Apple Music. Apple TV has a more comprehensive featurelist and will be very appealing for dedicated Apple users, who own content on iTunes and who wish take advantage of features like AirPlay and iOS mirroring. However its expensive and for those wanting content streaming on IOS, the Chromecast still works as well.

 

2. CloudWalker HalfTicket TV Android Smart Stick

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HalfTicket TV is a streaming stick from an Indian company Cloudwalker Streaming Technologies. This product, though based on Android is different from the Chromecast and does not require a phone to control it. Instead, it works on its own like a stand alone product and comes with a remote or an “air mouse”. The device is like a large dongle with an HDMI socket. It  comes with a Quad-Core 1.5Ghz CPU, 1GB RAM and 8GB of internal storage and also has a microSD slot for 32GB of additional memory.

It is based on Android 4.4 and  once plugged into your TV, you have access to the entire Google Play Store where you can install any app- whether “cast”supported or not. You control all of this by waving the motion controlled remote “air -mouse” and selecting options on the TV.

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The device’s OS is powered by Android 4.4 KitKat and is well designed. Most apps work well and you can just go to the Google play store on the TV screen and install apps. You can install apps like Amazon, Flipkart, Chrome etc on your TV and browse and shop. The advantage of the Chromecast is that you can also use apps like Hotstar which do not support the “cast”functionality. However not all apps are designed for large screen TVs and it is difficult to search and navigate using the remote. The main USP is the curated content, mainly from Youtube which are placed into channels which makes content discovery easier.

Another feature that differentiates this from the Chromecast is that the device also supports local streaming via DLNA and Miracast which can stream and mirror content from your PC to the TV.

It’s a well designed device providing a standalone Smart Tv functionality. However we still prefer using the phone over the remote and hence prefer the Chromecast to this.

 

References:

 

  1. Guardian Review of the Amazon Fire Stick
  2. Indian Express:Amazon Fire TV Stick review
  3. IndianExpress : Google Chromecast 2 in India
  4. Trusted Reviews : Chromecast 2 review

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