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Sizing up the three popular Internet TV streaming sticks

Jennifer Tuohy, writing for Home Depot | Jan. 19, 2015
Currently available in one of three flavors — Roku's Stick ($50), Google's Chromecast ($35), and Amazon's Fire Stick ($39) — these three devices can deliver pretty much any online content you could wish for directly to your living room

The argument for getting a Chromecast is the price point and ease of use. Just plug it into the HDMI port on your TV and "cast" anything you can pull up in your Chrome browser (on any device) to your big screen. This works for streaming movies, but also for making presentations or providing demonstrations, giving Chromecast a strong use case in the business world. If a device has an HDMI port you can stream to it — there are no compatibility issues to worry about. There are also a large and growing number of apps for Chromecast, thanks to the open source API, and a cool screensaver feature that turns your television into a beautiful backdrop you can customize with artwork, personal photos, weather, date and time.

The Fire Stick is the newest entrant and boasts some impressive specs: a dual-core processor, 1GB of memory, 8GB of storage, Dolby Digital Plus certified surround sound, and a dual band Wi-Fi antenna. While you can watch all the Internet TV you want via Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Showtime et al, you can also do many of those things we've become accustomed to turning to our tablets for: play games, listen to music, display personal photos and videos, and download apps to help us with things like cooking, getting fit and teaching our kids math.

Fire also integrates voice search, which addresses a huge hurdle with Internet TV streaming on televisions — the hunt-and-peck disaster of current search capabilities. With a Fire Stick you just pick up the remote and say "Dexter" and up pops all the available ways to watch (currently search is limited to Amazon, Showtime, Crackle, Hulu Plus and Vevo). Voice search also launches any app on the system, so you can fire up Spotify from your phone and play it through your TV without typing in a single letter. Voice search can be used for free via the smartphone remote app or you can buy a remote with the capability built in for $29.99.

What really sets the streaming sticks apart from their set-top siblings is portability. Carrying one of these around on a business trip or a visit to grandmas is as easy as popping a flash drive in your pocket. This makes a streaming stick more than just a way to turn your dumb TV smart — it sets these devices up to be reliable counterparts, or even replacements, for many common scenarios where we currently reach for our tablets. While you can take your iPad to grandma's to show off pictures of the kids, or to the conference to display photos of your new project, it's way cooler to just plug your stick into a nearby television and be up and running with a big-screen slideshow in seconds.


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