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Google Chromecast vs. Apple TV

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July 29, 2013

Gizmag compares the specs (and other features) of the new Google Chromecast and the 3rd-ge...

Gizmag compares the specs (and other features) of the new Google Chromecast and the 3rd-generation Apple TV set-top box

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If you're shopping for a TV streaming device, you have quite a few options, ranging from set-top-boxes to game consoles. But where does Google's new Chromecast fit into the mix? We know it's cheap (US$35), but is it a legit rival to, say, the Apple TV? Read on, as we compare the two different approaches to the 21st century living room.

Size

Sparkplug or hockey puck?

As you can see, these are two extremely different devices. Sparkplug, meet hockey puck.

The Apple TV obviously sits somewhere under or around your TV, while the Chromecast connects directly to an open HDMI port.

Weight

The Apple TV is much heavier, but unless you're going to set it up on your lap, we doubt y...

Since you won't spend much time holding either device, this probably won't matter. But, for what it's worth, the Apple TV is (unsurprisingly) much heavier.

Output method

Both devices connect to your TV via HDMI, but Apple makes you buy a separate cable

Both devices require an HDMI port on your TV. The Chromecast has the male HDMI plug built-in, while you'll need to supply your own HDMI cable for the Apple TV.

Both devices also require a power source: the Apple TV via a proprietary cable, and the Chromecast via USB (either a USB port on your TV or the included wall charger).

Maximum output

Both devices output in full HD

No worries here, as both devices output full HD, 1080p content.

Mobile device slinging

Both devices sling media from supported apps on your smartphone or tablet, though Chromeca...

Both devices let you sling content from supported apps on your mobile device to the big screen. Only they do it in different ways. The Chromecast streams the content directly from the cloud, with your smartphone or tablet merely serving as a trigger and remote control. iOS to Apple TV slinging, meanwhile, actually runs the content on your mobile device, with the output displaying on the TV.

Mobile device mirroring

Only the Apple TV will mirror the screen of your mobile device

This is another important difference. Apple TV lets you mirror anything that's on your iOS device's screen, even your home screen or apps that don't include built-in AirPlay slinging capabilities. Just be ready to grow acquainted with big black bars letterboxing the mirrored content on your screen.

The Chromecast mirrors Chrome web browsing, but nothing from your iPhone or Android phone.

Slinging platforms

Apple TV only lets you sling media from Apple's platforms, while Chromecast plays nicely w...

The Apple TV is designed to drop you smack dab in the middle of Apple's ecosystem. You can stream from iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch) or Macs. But, apart from unsupported hacks that typical customers won't want to bother with, you can forget about streaming from Android, Windows, or any other platform.

This is one of the Chromecast's most eyebrow-raising features. It naturally streams from Android devices, but you can also use your iPhone or iPad. Apparently Google wasn't interested in aspiring third major mobile platforms: Windows Phone and BlackBerry got left in the dark.

Remote control

Both devices let you control your content from your mobile device, but only the Apple TV c...

The Apple TV ships with a physical remote control (complete with Apple's trademark slick, aluminum design). You can also control Apple TV via your iPhone or iPad with Apple's own Remote app.

The Chromecast doesn't have a physical remote control, apart from your Android or iOS device.

Supported apps

That stack of apps for the Apple TV is only scratching the surface, if you include iOS app...

The Chromecast only launched supporting a handful of apps. You can stream content from Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Music, and Google Play Movies & TV. It's possible Google will add more content deals very soon, but those are the mobile apps we're working with just after launch.

The Chromecast does, however, have an ace up its sleeve. If you fire up a PC with the Chrome browser, you can download an extension that lets you mirror content from that browser to your TV. So online video, ranging from HBO Go to Showtime Anytime to Hulu to anything else you can dig up on the web, is all fair game for the Chromecast. Quality isn't as good as streaming from a mobile device, but it's solid enough at 720p.

Apple TV supports more native apps, and when you factor in the iOS apps with slinging capabilities, its list dwarfs the Chromecast's. Second-screen to first-screen gaming is another thing Apple TV offers that Chromecast can't compete with right now.

Processor

Processors are nothing special, but they don't need to be

When we compare mobile devices or PCs, CPUs are extremely important indicators of performance. But in mobile streaming devices? Not so much. Basically you need something that can handle 1080p video, but otherwise processing isn't nearly as important here. Both of these single-core processors are sufficient to stream video and audio from the cloud.

RAM

Both devices have 512 MB of RAM

The same goes for RAM, as each device carries a meager 512 MB.

Storage

The Apple TV has more internal storage, but, due to the lack of sideloading, it's only for...

Internal storage also doesn't mean much here, since it's only for caching purposes. In other words, the cloud is your storage with the device only holding it briefly.

Sideloading

Neither device lets you sideload your own videos or music

... that's because neither device lets you sideload your own video or audio files. Though the Apple TV can play sideloaded content in a roundabout way: transfer the media files to your iOS device or Mac, then AirPlay from that device to the Apple TV.

Software

Google's claims that Chromecast runs Chrome OS appear to be a bit of a stretch

Google claimed that the Chromecast runs Chrome OS, but early file system digging suggests that was some hot air coming out of Mountain View. Apparently the Chromecast's software is closer to Android or Google TV than it is to Chrome OS. Unless you're planning on getting your hack on, though, this won't affect your experience in any way.

The Apple TV's software is a modified version of iOS. Rumors have persisted that Apple will eventually add iOS-like apps to Apple TV, but that day has yet to come.

Release cycle

The Apple TV's last full update was in early 2012

You never know when Apple is going to update its Apple TV set-top box, so this category might not be so telling. For what it's worth, though, the current 3rd-generation model has been on the market since early 2012. That 3rd-gen model did receive a very minor update earlier this year to tweak its processor, but otherwise it hasn't changed in a year and a half.

Chromecast just launched, and you might actually have trouble tracking one down for a while. Initial demand has been high, and orders are backordered in every outlet.

Pricing

Price is the Chromecast's killer feature

This is the Chromecast's selling point. It's not that the Apple TV is particularly expensive, and it does give you more content options than the Chromecast, but that US$35 for the Chromecast is really hard to beat. If you subscribe to Netflix, watch a lot of YouTube, or get your music and videos from Google Play, then it's an attractive deal. If you want to wirelessly transmit content from Chrome on a PC, it's also a cheap and convenient way to do that.

Also remember that unless you have an extra HDMI cable lying around, you'll need to add a few extra bucks to your Apple TV purchase.

Wrap-up

The Google Chromecast isn't for everyone. Its list of supported apps at launch is extremely limited. If you don't use any of those services, and you aren't interested in using a laptop to stream browser tabs from Chrome, then there isn't much point in buying it. Well, at least not yet: a few well-placed content deals could make this very interesting.

For more, you can check out our review of the Chromecast.

About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
16 Comments

I tell you, forgot both devices. Buy yourself a Raspberry PI unit and load XMBC on it. You'll never look back again.

Rocky Stefano
30th July, 2013 @ 04:16 am PDT

@Rocky Stefano: There's no way that a RasPi is going to appeal to any non-technical people. Not only that, it's not a pretty device with wires coming out of every which way. And while the base unit costs only $35, the total cost after buying the SD card, a power supply and peripherals will be around $80 or more depending on peripherals. Then you have to factor in configuration time and research.

Other than that, this article doesn't mention that AppleTV is a closed system. It's basically Apple's way of getting iTunes into your living room. In contrast, the Chromecast has an open API that anyone can build apps to utilize. Give it a few months and you'll see how many apps are supported (like Plex).

The more apt comparison for Chromecast would be to something like a Roku.

Stradric
30th July, 2013 @ 06:24 am PDT

"Side loading" content is easy on Apple TV. The only thing to consider is the content needs to be imported into your iTunes library. The extra step of conversion may SEEM like an inconvenience, but it removes any problems with video files not being able to be displayed by AppleTV. Today there are so many good methods for automatically converting and importing into your iTunes library to make them available on your AppleTV it is ridiculously easy to do so. Some software suites like Vuze have it built right in.

Android devices can also stream to AppleTV. There are many Android apps that allow Android devices to use Airplay.

Here is something else to consider. Does the Chromecast device allow you to plug in an Ethernet cable? The AppleTV does.

Daniel M. Ramos
30th July, 2013 @ 06:59 am PDT

I think this is a well done comparison. I think it depends on how much one wants to pay and what one is getting out of it.

I think if one goes the Raspberry Pi route, they will probably also be able to create a case for it too. I think it is a creative alternative to anyone is like to make things like it. Perhaps one day a person could create something using a Raspberry Pi and sell it either as a kit or already assembled. It could be an alternative to the above two.

BigGoofyGuy
30th July, 2013 @ 07:44 am PDT

Not "mobile device slinging" is the GREAT advantage of the Chromecast device. When you send through a phone, you will likely be paying for data. Chromecast uses a home wi-fi network directly, which is usually free at this point.

Dennis Ashendorf
30th July, 2013 @ 09:12 am PDT

I can see this having the biggest impact on the "Smart TV" market, which is already being threatened by Miracast. One very appealing thing about Google Chromecast, for me, at least, is access to YouTube, since my Rokus do not have that application. YouTube has many documentaries and even some feature-length films that are not available from any other source.

Robert Fallin
30th July, 2013 @ 09:20 am PDT

Well, if you have a modern TV then it has most of those apps that these have. I think my TV has a lot of those that the Apple TV has and then my bluray player has a few that my TV doesn't and then my left butt cheek has a few that those don't have. Seriously, why does anyone need either of these if they have modern equipment? Just to watch a TV you need a TV and that has a lot of those services. You want to watch bluray you have to have a bluray player and every bluray player has some of those services. Then, if you have a game console of any kind you have more services than these have. I'd rather have a device that can run XBMC hooked up to play my ripped files the way I want because I already have all these services on one of my already owned electronic devices.

exodous
30th July, 2013 @ 12:06 pm PDT

$35 for YouTube and Netflix streaming to any HDMI TV, no need to say more. I am in.

James Ng
30th July, 2013 @ 01:58 pm PDT

My solution has been to own a Playstation 3, which has a superior Netflix interface, all the other online options the hockey pucks offer, plays DVDs and Blu-Rays as well, and is also a video game console.

Jon A.
30th July, 2013 @ 02:02 pm PDT

Power? 'proprietary cable'? A common 2 pin power cable found on radios, razors, power bricks for hard drives, etc.

Dad
30th July, 2013 @ 07:15 pm PDT

As far as side loading goes, you can play/view local files with any common format through the Chrome browser mirroring. Just drag the file into the browser and it will be opened by Chrome.

cac1031
31st July, 2013 @ 02:02 am PDT

So, it won't work w/ Google Chrome on a tablet? The article talks about a laptop or a PC.

Christopher Conen
31st July, 2013 @ 10:30 am PDT

You can also use Android on AppleTV using the "AppleTV Airplay Media Player" by ZappoTV. I tried it and it works. Would have updated to the pay version if I used it more. And further more, iTunes + AppleTV + Wifi + Video Converter = Watch anything you'd like on your HDTV. Don't have iTunes running all the time? or Video Converter? Use your iPad or iPod and the App "AZUl" and you can watch almost any video, including AVI, if you use Airplay. AppleTV is a great investment if you know know your stuff.

José Rodriguez
1st August, 2013 @ 09:37 am PDT

Some one missed a few things in the article.

My three Apple TV boxes (RV, home and shop) all work both with OSX and my Windows computers.

Updates adding a lot of changes was just loaded a month ago adding extra capability.

So the Apple TV does work great with Windows both in ITunes and screen display.

Also runs my Netflicks account better then my TV link.

Since I run ITunes for my complete library both on my MACs and my Windows machines I have full access to my music, my videos, TV shows, pictures when and where I need them.

Ron Spicer
1st August, 2013 @ 02:12 pm PDT

the pi and other android sticks are a bit glitchy and have bad remote integration. I own 2 atv2 running xbmc, roku, a quad core android stick and a sony gs7 google tv. as of right now a jailbroken apple tv with xbmc is the best cord cutter in my opinion. takes some work to get setup and risks being crippled by tethering or no jaibreak availability if accidentally updated by someone. I would not pay the crazy price for a jailbroken atv2 though. Google tv will be updating their arm based boxes to 4.2.2 jelly bean in the next few months. with full ndk support the boxes will be able to run all apps that phone or tablet can run. add on the remote with touchpad, backlit qwerty keyboard and voice integration, an os built for a tv, easy xbmc installation that wont be killed with update and you have what could be the definitive winner. Or not , but i personally would not invest in a media box until google tv's update rolls out and gets tested.

Cary Kennedy
3rd August, 2013 @ 05:47 am PDT

Apple TV's power cable is not proprietary. It's the standard 2-pin style you see on tons of set-top boxes, DVD players, receivers, etc.

And the Apple TV doesn't come with an HDMI cable because most of them are going into a setup where they already exist, or they don't want to waste the money packaging a crappy one with it. And hey, you've got to stay under that $100 barrier somehow.

It's like how nice drum kits don't come with cymbals. Why waste providing crappy ones that will just get swapped out anyway?

Sean Molin
3rd October, 2013 @ 11:50 am PDT
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