Here are some available offerings, along with details on what makes each one special.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
Amazon's Fire TV Stick packs some powerful features, including Alexa search and a quad-core processor. It's an affordable device that relies on its bundled controller for input and commands. More than 7,000 apps and games are available for download, including Amazon Video, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Netflix and YouTube. If you've used the online retail giant's tablets in the past, you'll feel right at home with Fire TV.
The device's 8GB of storage and 1GB of RAM ensure that performance is smooth, especially because it does not run any advanced software. And if you're an Amazon Prime member, you'll get unlimited access to a vast collection of movies and TV shows, as well as music with Amazon's Prime Music service. You're locked out of accessing certain services that aren't currently supported on the platform, but the catalog of content available will more than suffice.
The Stick only does 1080p HD, but the full Amazon Fire TV box supports anything up to 4K (UHD) if you have a screen that can pump out that high-quality video.
There are dozens of ways to stream media from the internet to your TV or stereo. Chromecast is one of the most popular options, because of the way it lets you control everything. You control the stick using a smartphone or web browser, and you can handoff control between devices to allow multiple people to get in on the fun. It's a great way to pass controls to different users, and the UI is simple because everyone already knows how to use smartphones.
There are three variants of Chromecast to choose from:
- Chromecast Audio: As the name suggests, this device is mainly used for streaming music from the internet. It's audio-only so you'll be locked to Spotify, Google Play Music and other sources.
- Chromecast: This stick allows for media streaming of audio and video. It requires a single HDMI and USB connection for data and power.
- Chromecast Ultra: This is a super-charged Chromecast unit that can pump out content in 4K (UHD), and it provides a quality viewing experience for any living room.
Chromecast is an inexpensive option to bring media to the big (and best) screen in your house, and the added benefit of being able to use a smartphone as a controller makes it super-easy to get started with. Depending on the services you'd like use, however, you may need to look elsewhere, especially if you're hooked into Amazon's ecosystem. If you want to enjoy a true stick experience, there's always the Chromebit.
Computing on something the size of a mobile dongle is a unique experience. A PC stick plugs into an HDMI port, much like other offerings, but it comes packing a full version of Microsoft Windows. That means you'll be able to easily hook up a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to take advantage of living-room-friendly computing, browsing the web, checking emails, and running software much like you would on a desktop or laptop PC.
The devices are powered by Intel processors and can be purchased from a number of manufacturers, including Hanspree, ASUS and Lenovo. Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth allow for a simple install process; you plug in the unit to the TV, insert the power cable and you're good to go. Since it's Windows, any software you may use on a laptop or PC for consuming media will work on the stick, it's just a question of how stable it'll be.
There are some downsides to using PC sticks, especially the more affordable (and even sometimes expensive) models. The main issue is power — or rather a lack of it. These units must power not only a full version of Windows, which can be intensive, but they also need to handle streaming, encoding, and other processes. If you want to do some heavy tasks, the PC stick won't be able to keep up.
If you're looking for a PC Stick, it's a good idea to pick one up with 4GB of RAM, and at least 64GB of internal storage (32GB with expandable slots also work).
Which is best for you?
This depends on what you want to do with your TV. A Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV Stick will be perfect for anyone who merely wish to stream some content from the internet. Be it audio, video or apps and games, these handy and affordable devices are easy to use. Should you need to do a little more on the big screen, like check emails, some web browsing or install software and use other streaming services, a PC stick may be the better option.
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