July 18, 2014

Seeking Input on Media Streaming Devices

Apple TV
Apple TV (Photo credit: bfishadow)
I suspect that many of my readers are far more tech-savy than I am. A recent post by Sean over at My Secret Atheist Blog reminded me of something off-topic I've been meaning to ask you for some time. I'm in need of some tech help from those of you who are up on media streaming devices.

The Problem

My situation is simple. My primary TV is connected to a cable box for which I have all but resigned myself for paying way too much. I have no interest in media streaming for this TV. In part, this is because the TV is old enough that it will almost certainly need replacement in the next year or two. If I were to replace it with a "smart" TV, a separate streaming box might be unnecessary. But most of my reluctance comes from trying Netflix's streaming service and being disappointed by the poor picture and audio quality. It was markedly inferior to the picture and audio quality of my old cable box, and that's already poor.

What I want to be able to do is stream content to a second small TV I have in another room. Picture and audio quality won't matter that much here, and my primary interest is streaming YouTube videos. With what I'm paying for cable, I'm really not interested in paying any more for streaming content.


I had all but decided that I'd pick up an Apple TV because I use Macs everyday and have an iPhone. On the other hand, I have not been buying media content over iTunes and have no plans to do so. While I do use the hardware, it isn't like I have any video in iTunes. The screen-mirroring capabilities sound neat even though I'm not sure how much I'd really use them. But I've been waiting for over a year now for Apple to update the Apple TV, and my patience has run out. I need a solution now, and I'm not thrilled with the prospect of paying full price for an Apple TV now. They have taken so long to update it that I'm starting to suspect they may have abandoned it.

I nearly pulled the trigger on a Chromecast next. It is the cheapest option I'm aware of and should handle YouTube (though not much else) well enough. Two things led me to hesitate: I was not crazy about the form factor (i.e., having a wall wart running to the dongle in the back of my tiny TV), and I the lack of an optical out audio port meant that it wouldn't work with my ancient receiver. I haven't ruled it out just yet, but these are considerations.

And then I heard about Atheist TV. Maybe I should consider a Roku device so I'd have access to this channel. Although it sounds like Atheist TV will initially be free, it is not clear how long that will last. And I know that no matter how good I think it is, I won't be paying for it. I have no idea how much free content is available on Roku or how much of it is worth watching. My guess is that most of the good stuff requires payment. Since I'm not going to be paying to stream content, I'm not sure about going that route.

I'm aware that the Amazon Fire TV is yet another option, but it is the one I have heard the least about (because it is the newest). I'm not sure what advantages, if any, it is supposed to have over the others. I see them promoting games, but that is something I have no interest in.

My Questions for You

If you have used any of these devices, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. I realize that the Chromecast does not have "channels" like the Apple TV and Roku and is more of a screen casting device than a media streaming device. For the rest, what are your impressions of the free content available? Since I won't be paying for content, I need to decide whether the free content is remotely worthwhile or whether I should just assume I won't be using it for anything more than YouTube.

Update: I ended up going with a Chromecast, and it has been almost perfect for what I needed.