Consoles Clash: Apple TV Vs. Nexus Player Vs. Roku 4
There are almost as many set-top box companies as there are TV shows that you swear you are going to watch in the coming days. Today we’re examining three of the best: Apple TV, Nexus Player, and Roku 4.
In this duel, we’ll focus exclusively on three popular stand-alone devices with their own storage, operating system, and remote controls. If you want more affordable and minimal options, you can check out our streaming showdowns . Here are the boxes we looked at:
- Apple TV ( $ 150 ) For years, Apple set-top box was one of the most outstanding players, though, because she was the only player of this caliber. It’s still one of the more expensive on our list (barring some Android TV options), but it has everything you’d expect from an Apple product.
- Nexus Player ( $ 70 ): Unlike others on this list, Google has a multi-device platform called Android TV that you can use across multiple devices. I tested the Nexus Player which was released in November 2014. You can find newer and more expensive devices such as NVIDIA’s Shield TV ($ 200) or Razer Forge TV ($ 100), however the old Nexus Player lagged in my testing. just fine, presumably thanks to some much needed updates since its first launch .
- Roku 4 ( $ 130 ): The Roku 4 is the newest Roku set-top box. It supports 4K streaming, and as we learned during the streaming demo, Roku is platform independent, which means you don’t have to worry about one company (like Apple or Google Cough) promoting theirs. own content library at the expense of others. …
Of course, this is not a complete list. We left out Fire TV after it came out in opposition to streaming. However, if you are a heavy user of Amazon Prime Video and don’t use much, it might be worth taking a look at. However, if you enjoy a variety of services, read on. We also did not review Western Digital WD TV or any game consoles because, to be honest, there are too many of them to compare. Here are our top three choices.
Setting them up
Getting started with your set-top box is easy, no matter what platform you are on. You need to enter your Wi-Fi password, log into several services, and all that comes with most devices is a tiny remote without a keyboard. Whatever you do, it will be a bit of a hassle. However, with some boxes it is a little easier than with others.
As with most things in the Apple-verse, how easy the setup process is for an Apple TV depends largely on whether you own other Apple products. Once you connect the set-top box to your TV, you can set it up using an iOS device (requires iOS 9.1 or later) or do it manually. The former will connect to your phone via Bluetooth and will allow you to enter Wi-Fi as well as all services using your phone or tablet keyboard. It is very comfortable.
On the other hand, manual tuning is awful . The current generation Apple TV comes with a touchpad remote (as opposed to the D-pad like most other consoles). While this is handy for gestures, it makes typing harder than usual. To make matters worse, on the Apple TV on-screen keyboard, each letter is on a single line, which means you have to make wide swipes to step through the alphabet and then precisely select individual letters using the touchpad. God will help you if you have a long and complex password . You will also need to use this process to sign into your other services, such as Netflix. Without an iOS device, there is no way to enter logins, which puts Apple TV at a disadvantage for non-Apple households.
The Nexus Player has the same settings as the Apple TV, but with more flexibility. When you first connect your device, you will need to connect to Wi-Fi. You can use the included remote to manually enter the Wi-Fi password, or connect it to your Android phone to connect to Wi-Fi and add a Google account directly.
Once connected to the internet, you can visit g.co/AndroidTV to sign in to your Google account. You can enter your login information from a browser on any phone, tablet or laptop, which is much easier than using the onscreen keyboard. Once your Google account is connected, if you are using the Google Smart Lock password manager , certain apps will log in automatically, so you don’t have to enter your account details manually. Unfortunately, Smart Lock support has to be added by every app developer. In my testing, only Netflix found my password. Luckily, other apps like Hulu and Plex had their own web-based login system, but any service that doesn’t build its own simple login solution or use Google Smart Lock will require you to use a tedious onscreen keyboard.
Unlike the other two players, you cannot use your phone to connect the Roku 4 to your Wi-Fi network. You will need to use the navigation bar and on-screen keyboard to manually enter the password on first launch to connect to the Internet. Fortunately, this makes the process much easier.
As with the Nexus Player, you can connect to the Roku Link to log into your Roku account. However, you can use your Roku account to sign in to pretty much any service for which Roku has an app. From your laptop, you can log into Netflix, Hulu, and many other services. Your account is then synced to the Roku 4 on your TV.
Using the interface
Every set-top box in the world has a basic interface with a set of windows on the screen and a navigation bar on the remote control. How different can they really be? It turns out, quite a bit! Between Apple TV voice control, Google Cast Nexus Player and Roku … well, actually, Roku is pretty straightforward. However, here are some of the main differences.
As I mentioned in the previous section, I have mixed feelings about Apple’s touchpad remote. While touchpads are great for flipping through lists, the TV interface doesn’t respond as often to these gestures as you might think. Luckily, Apple’s remote has a handy backup option: the Siri button.
You can press and hold the Siri button and speak the name of an app or show, and Apple TV will either launch that app or open the landing page for that show. The show page will list several services where you can find that show or movie, and if you scroll down you can get information about the cast, related shows and reviews. If you have the appropriate app installed, you can click the service and go straight to the app demo page. For example, if you ask Siri about South Park episodes, it will show you Hulu and iTunes. Click Hulu and the South Park page in Hulu will open. The Siri button worked flawlessly every time I used it.
However, there are still a couple of oddities in the remote. One of the six buttons on the remote is labeled “Menu,” and in some places you can use it to access additional options in the app. However, in most cases it is used as a back button. So, for example, if you go to your YouTube subscriptions and then select a specific channel, clicking “Menu” will take you back to your subscriptions page. Pressing Menu again will display the navigation menu at the top of the application. This is very confusing at first. Once you get used to it, it’s simple enough, but confusing and inconsistent.
The Nexus Player remote is much less confusing than the Apple remote as it uses a regular D-pad. Although, if you like the swipe gesture, you might want to skip it. Like the Apple remote, the remote has a built-in voice button that lets you search for shows, movies, or videos. In my experience, using the voice command was a little more finicky than the Apple remote, but waiting just a second to make sure the player is ready to listen made it clear.
Search results in the Nexus Player were mostly similar to those of Apple, with a few key differences. For starters (and this is a bit strange), Google has been more aggressive in promoting its own content store than Apple. While the Apple TV displayed that the show was available on Netflix and iTunes at the same time, Google displayed the show available on Google Play at the top of the results, but you had to scroll through the cast and related shows to find it. on Hulu or YouTube. Even worse, there are no direct links to shows on Netflix, but I was able to find my own Plex library. This could be because Netflix simply doesn’t include search functionality in its app, but it’s still a glaring omission, no matter who is at fault. Another weird feature: when you’re looking for a music artist, you’ll find suggestions for finding them in apps like YouTube or Hulu, with song and album suggestions below, usually with a link to Google Play Music.
However, I only discovered this when I forced myself to specifically use the voice search feature. In practice, I have used Google Cast much more often to play videos on the Nexus Player. The box works exactly like a Chromecast, which means you can find the show in the Netflix app on your phone and send it to your player right away. After playing, you can use a physical remote or phone to control it. Either way, it was the perfect Chromecast experience for me.
The Roku 4 doesn’t have the same design perfection as Apple or Google, but that doesn’t make it any less functional. Surprisingly (seriously, I didn’t expect this), Roku, like others, has a voice search function. Unfortunately, it is a little more limited. You can search for films, directors and actors, but nothing more. Searching for “Comedy” simply returned movies and TV shows with the word “comedy”. Music artists didn’t come up with anything if they weren’t also actors.
In addition to the voice search button on the Roku remote, there are four buttons to quickly launch popular apps: Netflix, Amazon, Sling, and Rdio, which have been pretty awkwardly disabled . If you are not using one (or any) of these services, unfortunately, you are stuck with a permanently useless button on your remote. And at the time of this writing, the Rdio button is guaranteed to be useless. It’s kind of a nuisance, but not a big deal. And if you do use any of these services, this is a very handy shortcut.
The Roku 4 remote also has a feature that every remote in the world should have: a headphone jack . If you’re watching a show on your Roku, you can plug in a pair of headphones and the TV sound will be redirected to your ears and your ears only. While this may not be useful for everyone, it is very convenient if you want to watch TV without disturbing your roommates, children, or neighbors.
Looking for material to watch
When you sit down on the couch, you may not yet know what you want to watch. Ideally, your set-top box, with all of its immense online capabilities, should give you some tips. This is how the troika we looked at stacks up in this regard.
It’s hard to say that Apple TV really helps a lot in content discovery. Most of the content on Apple TV is stored in a variety of applications. If you are looking for a specific show or movie, Apple will tell you different places where you can find it, but there is no place where you can watch multiple services at the same time.
On the Apple TV home screen, if you hover over the iTunes Movies or TV Shows apps, you’ll see a Top Movies or Top Shows selection at the top of the screen. This is useful if you want to watch the latest popular movies and shows, but not very deeply. Doing a voice search by genre isn’t that far. In my tests, a search for “Comedy” just showed me the same movies and TV shows from the list of the best shows I’ve seen, with all non-comedies filtered out. If I really wanted to wander the world, you had to log into the app. While this isn’t a huge inconvenience, it also means the Apple TV hardly stands out as Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube tend to have the same viewing experience across different platforms.
Nexus Player did a little more than Apple to give me advice on what to watch if I didn’t already know. At the very top of the home screen, you will see a feed of TV shows, movies and videos received from the applications you have installed. I found suggestions for shows that I added to my Plex library alongside YouTube videos that Google thinks might interest me. While it’s pretty limited – only about 25 items are shown in the feed and no new suggestions are added when you get to the end of the list – it’s still better than nothing.
In this regard, voice search also turned out to be slightly more useful. Searching for a genre like Comedy would show me some of the latest best films I’ve seen (hello for the millionth time Ant-Man). However, he also showed me YouTube videos and shows on Hulu, which were categorized as comedy. It’s not a super-great discovery tool, but it’s something.
The Roku platform has a unique feature called My Feed. With it, you can put movies that aren’t already on streaming services into a watchlist. When this movie becomes available, My Feed will show you where to find it and how much it costs. This is a handy feature for those who want to watch a movie, but then forget about it right away. Sorry, you can add TV shows.
Apart from that, however, the Roku 4 suffers from the same problem as the Apple TV. Without going into apps, there is little you can do to get content suggestions, and interactions with apps are completely controlled by third-party developers, so there really aren’t any major benefits to any given device. Netflix and Hulu will offer the same thing no matter which window you watch it in. In addition, the search function is a little less reliable than even Apple’s as it cannot browse genres, so there are not many suggestions.
Okay, it’s simple: Roku wins. If there is one thing that Roku has for this (and certainly more than just one thing), it is that it is platform independent. When you buy a set-top box from Apple, Google, or heck even Amazon, you mostly only get recommendations for the services the company provides. Apple is promoting iTunes. Google is pushing Google Play. Amazon is promoting Amazon Prime Instant Video. Luckily, Roku doesn’t come across any of this, so you can get the best of most worlds. Each box contains most of the streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Plex. But as far as mainstream stores where you can buy or rent movies, only Roku has more than one option.
On the Roku 4, you can rent or buy movies from Amazon or Google Play (notably, iTunes is missing because Apple is not keen to host its stores on other platforms). You can also rent movies from the M-GO store, which, while not exclusive to Roku , isn’t available on any of the other TV boxes we’ve reviewed. This means that only Roku allows you to shop at different stores to get the best movie rental price. There are not always many differences between services, but there are enough of them to make shopping around worthwhile.
Of course, these are only officially permitted things. Unlike the Apple TV and Nexus Player, the Roku 4 also has a huge library of private channels that you can install with a little bit of work. Private channels can include adult content or content from services that do not have official apps. In short, with the exception of iTunes on Apple TV, the Roku 4 has everything in other boxes, plus a lot more.
Bottom Line: Choose Your Favorite Ecosystem Or Pick Roku
When we compared the streaming stick, we had a pretty clear cut winner . This time, it’s a little fuzzy. The Nexus Player is marginally better than average at offering content, and its built-in Google Cast functionality makes it stand out. Apple TV is the exclusive home of iTunes on your TV, and will likely fit perfectly into apple-centric homes. While I don’t care about the touchpad remote, your mileage may vary.
The Roku 4 hasn’t been that clear-cut this time around, but it remains your best, only option for a set-top box that doesn’t play favorites or try to squeeze you into one particular ecosystem. You can buy or rent movies from Google, Amazon, or none of the above. It doesn’t have some polish on the other platforms, and it doesn’t help you sift through mountains of material so well to look, but it does a great job making this mountain bigger.
After all, if you really love Apple’s or Google’s ecosystem, you probably like their respective PO Boxes. However, if you want something that gives you the most options, then the Roku 4 stands out from the rest.