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Google Chromecast Vs. Apple TV: Which is better and for what type of users?

By Simon Cohen

Now that Google’s diminutive WiFi media player is available in Canada, how does it stack up to Apple’s set-top box and which should you buy?

It’s been several months since Google unleashed the Chromecast, a tiny dongle-like device that turns any HDTV into a Wi-Fi enabled display. Initially only available in the U.S., the $35 gadget was very well received and our own Gadjo Sevilla found it to be an easy and reliable way to stream content to a TV.

But if you wanted a Chromecast back in 2013, you needed to order one via the U.S. and frankly that was a hassle. Now that it’s being sold in Canada for $39, the time is right to take a look at this new player and see how it compares to one of the most popular devices in this space: Apple TV.

What is Chromecast?

Chromecast is very small Wi-Fi-only media receiver that has an HDMI output at one end (which you plug into a TV) and a micro-USB input at the other end (which is used for power only at this point). You can power Chromecast via an avialble USB port on your TV, or if your TV doesn’t have one, you can plug Chromecast into a wall outlet with the included AC adapter.

Once set-up, Chromecast acts as a universal receiver of multimedia content including video, music and even the content of web-pages.

But the Chromecast is not a typical set-top box. There are no menus. It doesn’t come with a remote and you couldn’t control it with one even if you tried (there’s no infrared receiver). The only way to get it to display anything on your TV is by “casting” content from a compatible app running on a compatible computing platform. Pretty much all of the major platforms are represented: iOS, Android, Windows, Mac OSX and those that aren’t will be soon due to Chromecast’s open-source programming.

Casting is as simple as opening the app you want, say, Netflix, choosing the movie or TV show, tapping on the casting button, selecting your Chromecast from the menu and then sit back and watch TV. All playback functions are done within the Netflix app itself.  Again, no remote required. You can begin casting from an app on one device, but if the owner of that device leaves the house (and takes their device with them) you can take over control of Chromecast from any other compatible device that is on the same WiFi network.**

At the moment, the number of apps that support the casting function is limited to a handful. But you can expect this to grow rapidly as Chromecast sales accelerate and more developers jump on the Chromecast bandwagon.

One notable app that has been Chromecast-enabled is Plex. Plex is a fantastic media server platform that you run on your Mac, PC or NAS. It then lets you stream all of your downloaded content (music, movies etc.) to other devices both on your network or remotely when you’re away from home. Using the Plex App on iOS or Android, you can watch all of the content that Plex supports through your Chromecast. It’s currently the best way to watch your locally-stored content on Chromecast.

You can even cast the contents of a tab within Google’s Chrome browser, although not all components of the page will necessarily work. (** and this is the one application of casting where you will need to keep using the device that began casting the Chrome tab)

What Chromecast isn’t

Chromecast is not a computer. It isn’t a media player or media extender. It isn’t a set-top box. It has no real computing power beyond the ability to receive a stream of media data and display that stream on your HDTV.

Because of that, any future functionality will be strictly determined by app developers. For instance, if you were hoping to play Angry Birds using Chromecast, Rovio (the game developer) would have to add a casting button to the app, then give you control over the games’s mechanics via the device the app is running on. Not impossible, just a little tricky.

You cannot playback media stored on an external drive like a USB key or portable hard drive. First, there’s no way at the moment to plug that drive into the Chromecast device (the USB port is being used for power). Second, even if you could plug one in, Chromecast has no way of navigating the file structure on that drive or playing the files on it (Chromecast can’t decode media files – it needs Chromecast-enabled apps to do that).

What is Apple TV?

An Apple TV is a true set-top box. It has built-in memory, a reasonably powerful CPU, it runs an OS (albeit a heavily locked-down OS), can be controlled by the included infrared remote or by any programmable universal remote as well as an iOS powered device through a free downloadable remote app.

It doesn’t need any other device in order to play media content on your TV via HDMI. It has both Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections. It has Bluetooth (currently only for wireless keyboards). It has its own set of apps that are updated by Apple remotely.

It currently has apps that let you stream movies (iTunes, Netflix, CrunchyRoll etc.) sports (MLB, NHL) photos (Flickr, iPhoto) and music (Internet Radio, iTunes), videos (YouTube, Vimeo, Vevo). You can rent or buy content directly from Apple’s iTunes store without needing a Mac or PC or any other device.

Using Apple’s own AirPlay functionality, you can stream content from your iOS or MacOS device to your Apple TV, with late-model Macs having the ability to mirror their entire display to the Apple TV via AirPlay.

What Apple TV isn’t

Apple TV isn’t open. Meaning that, unless you jailbreak it (not recommended unless you are willing to forego your warranty and any support from Apple) the device will only do what Apple has programmed it to do. Unlike iOS, there is no App Store for Apple TV. You can re-order the apps that it comes with but you can’t add or remove apps.

The only media that you can access from your personal collection is whatever you’ve got contained in your computer’s iTunes library. If you don’t have iTunes or iTunes can’t read your media files (probably because they are in a format that iTunes can’t decode) you’re out of luck.

There is no supported way to play media from an external drive, even though there is an open micro-USB port on the back of the device.

AirPlay can be used to play content from your iOS device to your Apple TV, but in my experience this can often be buggy and unreliable, especially in areas where Wi-Fi reception is anything less than very strong.

Which one do I buy?

For starters, let’s look at price. It’s not the only consideration, but there’s a big spread: $39 for the Chromecast, $109 for Apple TV (both prices in $CAN).

So that’s more than double the price of a Chromecast for an Apple TV.

But it may be worth it to you if: 

  • You don’t have a Wi-Fi network and you don’t want to set one up
  • You don’t own any iOS or Android devices or you find these kinds of devices intimidating
  • You have an iOS or Android device but you want other people in your house to control the content they’re watching even if you leave the house with your device
  • You have an extensive iTunes library of movies and music or are happy renting content from iTunes
  • You want to be able to view photos from your iPhoto or Flickr collections on your TV
  • You own a late-model Mac and you need to be able to mirror your computer’s screen to your TV for slideshows and even presentations

If none (or few) of these points seem like deal-breakers, you’re probably better off with a Chromecast. Heck, at $39, you might as well buy two of them and be able to watch content on more than one TV.

There’s one last consideration. If you own a PS3 or Xbox360 (or PS4/XboxOne), you probably don’t need a Chromecast or an Apple TV. All of these gaming consoles possess most of the features that these two devices offer, and in some cases they can do even more (e.g. play media from an external hard drive).

But if you’re not amongst the gaming crowd, and you’re looking for an easy, inexpensive way to enjoy streaming content on your TV, Chromecast fits the bill nicely.


Simon Cohen is one of Canada’s most experienced consumer technology bloggers. He has regularly appeared on national TV and radio as a tech expert. You can find more of his work at

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Reader Comments (1)

I already have Apple TV and was given Chromecast for Christmas. Should I keep both?

December 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMCS

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