4k Streaming Devices Get Smaller and Cheaper

by | Nov 7, 2017 8:05am
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Posted to: Analysis, Entertainment, LON.TV, Television 2.0

Amazon.com

Amazon’s new Fire TV

With most affordable televisions now supporting 4k resolutions (which runs at four times the resolution of a standard HD television), streaming media services like Netflix and Amazon have expanded their 4k content offerings. Hardware manufacturers have in turn stepped up the resolution of their devices while shrinking them down to small “danglers” or sticks that can be tucked behind a television.

Market leader Roku recently refreshed their product line, adding the $69 lightweight stick Streaming Stick+ that attaches to an HDMI port on a television set. It supports HDR (high dynamic range) color for televisions that support that feature with the Roku software smartly detecting what an individual television set is capable of providing.

Roku devices support nearly all of the major streaming services with the exception of Apple’s iTunes content which can only be found on the more expensive AppleTV. Its most unique hardware feature is a Wi-Fi antenna integrated into the power cable for greater signal strength when tucked behind a television.

The Roku interface is simple and content-focused, with an extensive voice search that finds content across most of the popular streaming services. Roku does not offer a streaming service of its own so it doesn’t favor one provider over another. In our testing the device was able to playback 4k HDR content from Amazon and very smoothly stream 60 frames per second 4k video from YouTube. It also has a “private listening” feature that can stream audio through a mobile phone for headphone output while the video displays on the television.

Amazon’s new $69 Fire TV is a step backwards in performance from its larger and powerful previous generation device, but the new FireTV does offer greater support for newer 4k televisions and is now a dangler vs. a set top box. That expanded 4k support includes HDR and up to 60 frames per second (the prior generation was limited to only 30 frames per second). Unlike the Roku the Amazon device offers an expanded library of apps and games in addition to content offerings. Game controllers can be connected via bluetooth and many popular Android games are available through the Fire TV’s app store.

Amazon’s device integrates their Alexa voice controlled system to the mix and can do just about anything their popular Echo devices can do in addition to helping finding media to watch. Amazon does offer universal media searches but they always favor their own content over other providers. It does not support Google Play video due to an ongoing rift with rival Google and its unofficial YouTube app does not support 4k video at 60 frames per second.

Another $69 option is the Chromecast Ultra from Google. Released last year, the Ultra offers 4k HDR content offerings that were not available with their $35 1080p device. What’s unique about the Chromecast is that it lacks an interface or a remote control. Content is ‘cast’ from a compatible smartphone or tablet media app (like Netflix or YouTube) to the Chromecast which then takes over media streaming and turns the mobile device into a remote control. Many apps are compatible but noticeably missing from the compatibility list is Amazon’s Prime video service - a casualty of the ongoing dispute between the tech giants.

Before purchasing make sure you actually need one of these streaming devices. Many 4k smart television have media streaming apps for popular services already built in, although older sets may be lacking updated version of those apps to support the latest features from popular services.

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