Chromecast vs. Roku: Which Streaming Device is Better?

Both have great features but one stands out

Product lineup of Roku and Chromecast digital streamers

It's Chromecast vs. Roku. Both are strong video streamers that have consistently added features and software updates to improve upon their previous incarnations, but at the end of the day, which is better?

The easy answer? It depends. The better answer? They're both strong options, but one has a feature set that puts it head and shoulders above the other.

Roku or Chromecast: Great Things Come in Small Packages

Their shared features are definite wins for the streaming media consumer:

  • HD Video: Both deliver HD video streaming through an available HDMI port in your television, then connect to your home’s Wi-Fi network. As long as your internet service provider is delivering sufficiently fast bandwidth to handle high-definition video, you’ll enjoy a crisp, clean digital picture and sound. Both Roku and Chromecast offer basic models that support standard HD streaming, but if that 4K TV of yours craves something more, Chromecast Ultra and Roku Ultra will both deliver.
  • Mobile Apps: Both offer easy-to-use smartphone/tablet apps for both Android and iOS.
  • Available Content: Both offer content from hundreds of premium and free streaming providers, including networks, premium cable, and web-only sources.
  • Easy setup: Both are fairly straightforward to set up out of the box as long as you've got your passwords handy. We've got great set-up guides for both Roku and Chromecast.

Both devices are even so far, but gaps between the two open up in their day-to-day use. Let's take a closer look.

Roku: Best Choice for Finding Something to Watch

Roku home screen showing line up of channels including Netflix, Pandora, hulu, ESPN, YouTube, HBO Now, Amazion Prime Video, PBS Kids, and CBS All Access
 Roku

Roku

  • Roku's remote is easy to use, intuitive, and anyone can control what's on.

  • App use is optional.

Chromecast

  • Chromecast is controllable through a smartphone or tablet.

  • Watching with Chromecast requires you have the app for that channel or app on your phone.

Roku delivers content through Channels and Apps

After a brief start-up, you navigate through Roku's easy-to-navigate, stacked screen of channels and apps. Both the Roku remote and the official app (downloadable from the iTunes App Store or Google Play) are intuitive, using a familiar D-pad and OK button.

Google Chromecast's approach is different

Chromecast does not include a remote. Instead of a centralized space to choose what you want to watch, you Cast from individual apps on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. It's a less centralized approach, but one that may feel more familiar to those who watch lots of video on their phone or tablet. The Google Home app offers rudimentary controls for apps once they're Casting, but on the whole, you do most of the control from within the app that's currently streaming. As a result, if you have 6 different sources for streaming video, you'll be hopping back and forth between 6 apps.

Advantage: Roku

Switching inputs with your TV remote to get to the Chromecast and Roku's content is a drag. Happily, both platforms support HDMI’s CEC protocol, meaning when you start playing a movie or show, the device sends a signal to a compatible TV/monitor to power on and switch inputs to the correct source. Make sure your display is set up to handle HDMI-CEC commands.

Chromecast: Best Choice for Voice Control In Your Connected Home

Google Chromecast being plugged into the back of a television.
Google Inc.

Roku

  • No native voice capability.

Chromecast

  • Google Home has natively integrated with only about a half dozen or so video providers. This means you'll be able to control a limited number of video sources from within the Google Home app.

  • Google Assistant can also control your Roku!

Almost no contest really; give this one to Google. Using either Google Assistant or a properly set-up Google Home unit, just say, for example, "Hey Google, play Ballad of Buster Scruggs on the Living Room TV" and like magic, the Coen Brothers' revisionist love letter to Westerns is playing on your TV.

In what almost doesn't seem like a fair fight, Google Assistant can also control your Roku with a few quick set-up steps. While Google Home only connects with a few content providers, Chromecast's amazing connection capabilities may outshine the limited channels it's integrated with.

You can also control your Roku with your voice. The Roku mobile app for iOS and Android, enhanced voice remote, Roku TV Voice Remote, and Roku Touch tabletop remote can all search for content, as well as handle all the Playback commands you need for complete control.

Advantage: Chromecast

Roku: Best Choice of Channels and Apps

Search results in Google's listing of Chromecast-enabled apps.

Roku

  • Broad swathe of content.

  • Agnostic about providers, so no content fights like the Amazon vs. Google showdown.

Chromecast

  • Chromecast's lack of Amazon Prime Video keeps Google's cute little puck from being named the One Streamer to Rule Them All.


Cordcutting.com lists more than 8,600 channels and apps available on Roku. From well-known free TV like ABC, CBS, and NBC, to premium cable streamers like HBO, and everything in between, there's a lot to see on Roku. Chromecast's webpage lists more than 2,600 Chromecast-enabled apps that cover a similarly wide range.

The top content providers are found on both, such as YouTube, Netflix, HBO, ESPN, the news networks, the major sports broadcasters, and more.

However, Chromecast is missing a key provider: Amazon Prime Video.

Sadly, the home of breakouts like Man In The High Castle, Mr. Robot, The Romanoffs, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a no-show. You can Cast Prime Video from a laptop, of course. But for a nation of fans loyal to Prime Originals, the inability to stream natively makes Roku the only option.

Advantage: Roku

Chromecast: Easiest Buying and Out-Of-The-Box Experience

Roku

  • Roku's setup guides you step by step, making it very clear what you're doing and why.

  • Roku's setup requires creating a Roku account, then linking it with PayPal or a credit card to purchase content.

Chromecast

  • Google's simple product lineup makes purchase easy. If you've got a 4K TV, buy the Ultra.

  • You're linked into the Google ecosystem, which is either a plus or a minus depending on your privacy-related perspectives.

Google Chromecast

Chromecast's video-capable product lineup is straightforward and aggressively priced. Google offers streaming video in two flavors.

  • Chromecast: $35; 1080p HD video and audio via HDMI, Wi-Fi networking.
  • Chromecast Ultra: $69; 4K HD video and audio via HDMI, Wi-Fi and ethernet networking.

A growing number of TV manufacturers are baking Chromecast into their TV sets, but with only two choices of dongle, you're really choosing the Chromecast that can deliver the picture your TV's capable of handling.

Chromecast setup is simple. Plug into an available HDMI port, log into your Google account through the Google Home app and connect your new Chromecast to your home's Wi-Fi network. You'll need to log in to your TV or cable provider's account to access premium and streaming TV channels. And you'll purchase subscriptions or rent content through the Google Play store.

All of the input needed to get Chromecast connected and streaming is through the screen on your phone or tablet. Getting Chromecast set up took about 20 minutes due to the need to pop in and out of multiple apps to log in and authorize the Chromecast to access various services.

Roku

There are seven Roku options available, and all of them stream 1080p HD video at minimum, connect to your home's Wi-Fi network, and are controlled by compact, easy-to-use remotes.

Prices start at $29.99 on Roku's site; mid-price-tier models add a voice-controlled remote, while the top-of-the-line Roku Ultra adds 802.11ac dual-band MIMO and ethernet networking, memory expansion via USB or micro SD, and a pair of JBL headphones. It'll set you back $99.99.

Roku's setup is slightly more involved. You'll need to open an account with Roku, provide a credit card number, and you'll need to log in to your TV or cable provider's account on your Roku to access premium and streaming TV channels. Providing a payment source allows you to purchase premium channel subscriptions, buy or rent movies and TV shows, or make other Roku Channel Store purchases.

At first startup, Roku walks you through every step of the setup, and within about 15 minutes, you should be watching a movie. That said, entering passwords for Wi-Fi networks, subscriptions, and the like can be a bit of a bother.

Download the Roku App and tap the Keyboard icon for an actual keyboard to load usernames and passwords, thereby saving you time and frustration if you're practicing good password safety.

Advantage: Chromecast

The Final Decision. Roku or Chromecast?

So which offers the best bang for your buck? The Roku and Chromecast each have their advantages, and both are strong options.

Hand holding up trophy against a glittering gold background
Nednapa Chumjumpa / Getty Images

Roku

  • Best for finding something to watch.

  • Best choice of channels, including non-standard ones.

Chromecast

  • Best integration with a voice-command Connected Home layout.

  • Easiest out-of-the-box experience.

However, while Chromecast's simple product lineup and price make it an attractive option, the Roku wins here.

Roku's ease of use, content offering, and a dedicated remote make the entire Roku user experience more intuitive day in and day out, but the real difference-maker is it streams Amazon Prime Video natively. Chromecast does not.

Given the quality of Amazon Prime Originals and Prime Video as a native channel, its inclusion makes Roku the streaming device to beat.