Chromecast vs. Apple TV: Which Is the Best Streaming Device?

Chromecast vs Apple TV
Apple TV image copyright Apple Inc; Chromecast image copyright Google Inc.; TV image copyright Samsung

Last Updated: March 9, 2015

Devices that get web-based entertainment like Netflix and Hulu to your living room TV are some of the hottest gadget these days, and two of the hottest are the Apple TV and the Google Chromecast. Both are small, relatively inexpensive devices that connect to your TV and stream all kinds of content to it—but they're very different kinds of devices. If you're thinking of buying an Apple TV, a Chromecast, or another device that can get your HDTV online, you need to understand how the devices are different and what you're getting for your money.

 

Standalone Platform vs Accessory

When thinking about which device to buy, it's important to understand that the Apple TV and Chromecast have been designed to do two very different things. The Apple TV is a standalone platform that doesn't require any other purchases from Apple, while the Chromecast is really an add-on to existing computers or smartphones.

The Apple TV give you everything you need (other than a TV and an Internet connection, that is). That's because it has apps built into it. It's got Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, WatchESPN, HBO Go and dozens of other apps pre-installed so that if you've already got a subscription to one of those services, you'll be able to start enjoying entertainment right away. Think of the Apple TV like a miniature computer, designed specifically to get stream entertainment over the Internet (since that's what it is).

The Chromecast, on the other hand, depends on other devices for its usefulness.

It's an add-on, not a standalone device. That's because the Chromecast doesn't have any apps installed on it. Instead, it's basically a conduit by which a computer or smartphone that has certain apps installed on it can broadcast content to the TV that has the Chromecast connected. And not all apps are Chromecast compatible (though there is a way around that, as we'll see in the Display Mirroring section).

Bottom Line: You can use an Apple TV on its own, but to use a Chromecast, you need additional devices. 

Built In vs Additional App

Another way that Apple TV and Chromecast are different has to do with how they're integrated into compatible devices like smartphones and computers.

The Apple TV can be controlled by iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad, as well as by computers running iTunes. Both iOS devices and iTunes have AirPlay, Apple's wireless streaming media technology, built into them so there's no need to install additional software to use them with the Apple TV. That said, if you use an Android device, you will need to install extra software to make it and the Apple TV communicate.

Chromecast, on the other hand, requires that you install software on your computer to set up the device and to send video from your computer to your TV. For apps on smartphones, there's no built-in Chromecast support in the operating system; you'll have to wait for each app you want to use to be updated with Chromecast features. 

Bottom Line: The Apple TV is more tightly integrated with its compatible devices than Chromecast.

iOS vs Android vs Mac vs Windows

As the name indicates, the Apple TV is made by Apple.

Google makes the Chromecast. It probably won't surprise you to learn that you'll get the best experience with the Apple TV if you have an iPhone, iPad, or Mac—though Windows computers and Android devices can work with the Apple TV, too.

Chromecast is more platform-agnostic, meaning you'll have about the same experience with it on most devices and computers (thought iOS devices can't mirror their displays, only Android and desktop computers).

Bottom Line: You may enjoy the Apple TV more if you have other Apple products and a Chromecast more if you have Android devices.

     Related: iTunes and Android: What Works and What Doesn't?

Price

While both devices are fairly inexpensive, the Chromecast carries the lower sticker price: US$35 compared to US$69 for the Apple TV. Not such a big difference that you should buy on price alone—especially when the functionality is so different—but it's always nice to save money.

Built-In Apps

The Apple TV comes with dozens of apps built in, including Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, WatchABC, iTunes, PBS, MLB, NBA, WWE, Bloomberg, and many more. The Chromecast, because it's an add-on to existing apps, doesn't have apps installed on it.

Bottom Line: This isn't exactly a comparison; The Apple TV has apps, Chromecast doesn't because it isn't designed that way. 

Install Your Own Apps

While the Apple TV may have lots of apps pre-installed, users can't add their own apps to it. So, you're limited to whatever Apple gives you.

Since Chromecast can't have apps installed on it at all, again, the comparison isn't apples to apples. For Chromecast, you have to wait for apps to be updated to include compatibility with the device.

Bottom Line: It's for different reasons, but whatever device you have, you're not installing your own apps.

     Related: Can You Install Apps on the Apple TV?

Display Mirroring

One cool workaround for not having apps that are Apple TV- or Chromecast-compatible is to use a feature called Display Mirroring. This allows you to broadcast whatever is on the screen of your device or computer directly to your TV. 

The Apple TV has built in support for a feature called AirPlay Mirroring from iOS devices and Macs, but doesn't support mirroring from Android devices or Windows.

Chromecast supports display mirroring from desktop computers running its software and Android devices, but not from iOS devices.

Bottom Line: Both devices support mirroring, but they favor the products from their parent companies. With its desktop software, Chromecast is more compatible. 

     Related: How to Use AirPlay Mirroring

Non-Video Content: Music, Radio, Photos

While a lot of this article, and a lot of the use of these two devices, is focused on getting video from the Internet to your TV, that's not the only thing they do. They can also deliver non-video content to your home entertainment system, like music, radio, and photos.

The Apple TV has built-in apps and features for streaming music from iTunes (either your computer's iTunes library or songs in your iCloud account), iTunes Radio, Internet radio, podcasts, and for displaying photos stored in your computer's photo library or in your iCloud Photo Stream.

Again, because the Chromecast doesn't have any apps built in, it doesn't support these features out of the box. Some common music apps—like Pandora, Google Play Music, Rdio, and Songza—support Chromecast, with more being added all the time.

Bottom Line: The difference between the Apple TV as a platform and Chromecast as an accessory means that the Apple TV delivers better on more varied types of content—for now, at least. Chromecast may end up with more options, but for now it's a bit less refined.