Smart TVs vs. Media Players: Which Is Best For Streaming TV And Media?

Kevin Carneglia - Author

Sep. 28 2015, Updated 6:36 p.m. ET

TV Streaming is not, by any means, a one-size-fits-all topic. There are devices such as Chromecast and Fire TV Stick that let you cast your video or media form of choice to a TV, then there are Smart TVs. Smart TVs provide a variety of apps for streaming media, including Pandora, for your morning workout music; Hulu, when you want to watch your favorite shows; and Netflix for the occasional TV series or movie. Whereas media-streaming boxes can range from $40 and up, Smart TVs will likely cost you anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand dollars or more depending on the TV brand.

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In addition to possessing a wide variety of streaming applications, Smart TVs can also mirror the screen on your phone or other mobile device and cast almost anything, from a YouTube video to your favorite music streaming app. The seemingly obvious question would then be, “Do I really need a [Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, Chromecast,etc.] if I have a Smart TV?” The answer will depend on what you’re looking for in a TV streaming device and how familiar you are with each streaming option.

Amazon’s Fire TV Stick is one of the cheaper TV streaming options in this list, setting you back just $39.99. For that price, you’ll get a USB stick that plugs into the HDMI port on your TV and allows you to boot up a screen full of basic apps like YouTube and Hulu. Consumers also have the option to purchase a Fire TV Stick with voice controls that allows the user to simply state what they want Fire TV to stream on their television. That option bumps the price up to a still-competitive $49.99. Additionally, the Fire TV Stick lets users stream popular live TV channels, such as NBC News, Cartoon Network, and A&E. The ability to watch live TV is something most of Amazon’s competitors don’t offer.

Article continues below advertisement notes that you will need an Amazon account to use your Fire TV Stick, and they also recommend you purchase Amazon’s premium streaming service, Amazon Prime.

If you aren’t hooked in to the Amazon ecosystem and don’t want to be, Google’s Chromecast is a viable alternative. It doesn’t require an account of any kind, and can mirror the contents of any browser tab from a computer to the TV, provided you’re using Google Chrome. At only $35.00, the Chromecast just slightly undercuts its Amazon counterpart, but is unfortunately lower on storage space and offers fewer features.

If you get a Chromecast, you won’t be able to watch live TV, as you could with a Fire TV Stick, but there are plenty of supported apps to help you stream almost any show, movie, or song you can think of. Chromecast can also mirror your Android phone’s screen to your TV to help you view TV shows and movies on a bigger screen.

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Rounding out the list of TV streaming devices is the Roku. Roku comes in a variety of flavors, including a plug-and-play USB stick appropriately named the Roku Streaming Stick, and three different remote-based models (Roku 1-3, respectively). Roku touts the Roku 1 as being older-TV friendly, whereas the Roku 3 introduces new features like voice commands and special headphones that can fit the remote for when you want to watch TV without disturbing others. Checking in at $99.99, the Roku 3 is the most expensive of the three TV streaming players. While this may sound pricey, CNET calls the Roku 3 “…the best video streamer in its price class.”

Finally, we come to Smart TVs. Though a good deal more expensive, Smart TVs can negate both the need for cable and the need for a streaming device like the Amazon Fire TV Stick. Samsung Smart TVs are capable of mirroring the screens of Samsung phones running Android, and Smart TVs in general have apps that allow users to stream shows from their favorite channels, albeit if the user is already subscribed to them via cable. Smart TVs also have access to apps for gaming and apps for kids that one would not find on a streaming device. If you want to play games, as well as enjoy music and shows, they can be a worthwhile investment.

[Photo by Shutterstock]


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