Cord Cutting - which box? Some comparisons

lparsons21

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In conjunction with my month long cord cutting experiment I got to playing around a lot more with the streamer boxes I have. AppleTV4K, FireTV Cube, Roku Premier and to a lesser extent, Tivo Bolt.

AppleTV4K - IMO, the best of the bunch! Simplistic but very useful UI and with the AppleTV app, a nice somewhat unified way to manage videos from different sources. PQ and AQ is the best of the bunch IMO, supporting all the 4K formats and Atmos audio.

Netflix, Amazon and Vudu have some Atmos encoded shows and I have an Atmos soundbar setup. (Samsung HW-K950).

FireTV - Works great but is a bit slower than the AppleTV. Good for integrating with home automation stuff because of Alexa. UI is very busy and can be confusing. Supports Atmos from Amazon though there isn’t much in the way of Atmos on Amazon Prime. 5.1 audio on Hulu which the AppleTV doesn’t do.

Roku Premier - Works well but is a lot slower than either the AppleTV or FireTV Cube. Nice clean and simplistic UI. PQ seems a little soft to me though it isn’t what I’d call bad. Audio is fine but no Atmos on anything but Vudu. It’s biggest advantage IMO, is price! At $39 it is a good bargain.

Tivo Bolt - The few streaming apps included work just OK. In the case of Hulu it is a very old version with no indication it will ever be updated. No Atmos support at all, but it does support 4K. Unified search for TV shows, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Vudu is very nice but it does miss a fair amount of the time.



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Bobby

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I agree with all you said. I’ve got an Apple TV 4K, Roku Ultra, and a Fire Stick 4K. I use the ATV for just about everything. I bought the Roku as my first 4K streamer because I was familiar with an earlier version I had. I hardly ever use it today. I bought the Fire Stick specifically for the Hulu 5.1, it was certainly cheap enough at $35.
 

mackie99

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In conjunction with my month long cord cutting experiment I got to playing around a lot more with the streamer boxes I have. AppleTV4K, FireTV Cube, Roku Premier and to a lesser extent, Tivo Bolt.

AppleTV4K - IMO, the best of the bunch! Simplistic but very useful UI and with the AppleTV app, a nice somewhat unified way to manage videos from different sources. PQ and AQ is the best of the bunch IMO, supporting all the 4K formats and Atmos audio.

Netflix, Amazon and Vudu have some Atmos encoded shows and I have an Atmos soundbar setup. (Samsung HW-K950).

FireTV - Works great but is a bit slower than the AppleTV. Good for integrating with home automation stuff because of Alexa. UI is very busy and can be confusing. Supports Atmos from Amazon though there isn’t much in the way of Atmos on Amazon Prime. 5.1 audio on Hulu which the AppleTV doesn’t do.

Roku Premier - Works well but is a lot slower than either the AppleTV or FireTV Cube. Nice clean and simplistic UI. PQ seems a little soft to me though it isn’t what I’d call bad. Audio is fine but no Atmos on anything but Vudu. It’s biggest advantage IMO, is price! At $39 it is a good bargain.

Tivo Bolt - The few streaming apps included work just OK. In the case of Hulu it is a very old version with no indication it will ever be updated. No Atmos support at all, but it does support 4K. Unified search for TV shows, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Vudu is very nice but it does miss a fair amount of the time.



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I agree AppleTV 4K is the best of the bunch. The only exception is their remote. I HATE IT!!!! I prefer directional buttons instead of swiping.
 
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lparsons21

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While Hulu supposedly doesn’t do 5.1 on the AppleTV it seems the audio is better than it used to be. Not sure why.
I thought about the Roku Ultra, but the price difference was too high and the real difference was speed. The Premier works fine it just doesn’t compare well to the ATV.
In my setup the ideal connections used to be from source box to HDMI switch to a HDMI splitter then to the Xbox One and on to the soundbar and TV. All worked well, got the best video as that went straight from splitter to TV, and got great audio as the Xbox One has the Dolby Experience app which gives true Atmos for those source materials that provide and fakes it when the source material doesn’t.

But a month ago something changed and all too often when playing and switching sources the audio would have a slight echo, just enough to be very irritating. Took the splitter out of the mix and all was good.


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lparsons21

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I agree AppleTV 4K is the best of the bunch. The only exception is their remote. I HATE IT!!!! I prefer directional buttons instead of swiping.
LOL! yeah, the ATV remote sucks and is way too easy to lose. I use a Harmony Elite universal remote instead.


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msmith198025

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Ive got a couple of Roku Ultras that are what we primarily use, and a few fire tv 4k boxes that I use sparingly. I dont have as much experience with the newer apple tv devices, but I do have one of the previous gen units, and I dont think it is even plugged up.
 

lparsons21

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Ive got a couple of Roku Ultras that are what we primarily use, and a few fire tv 4k boxes that I use sparingly. I dont have as much experience with the newer apple tv devices, but I do have one of the previous gen units, and I dont think it is even plugged up.
Don’t get a current AppleTV box then! :). It will spoil you.


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harshness

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Don’t get a current AppleTV box then! :). It will spoil you.
Assuming that you already have a suitable remote?

Given that streaming devices other than the nVidia Shield are in generation three at least, the year the product was released would surely be useful in establishing the validity of the relative performance. Comparing a four year old Roku to a newer device is instructional in terms of UI but not particularly valid when responsiveness is the metric. Roku starting shipping streamers 11 years ago and they're currently on their eighth generation. Fire TV devices are in their third go-around and Apple TV (the oldest platform; released in 2007) is generation five. I find that my Fire TV Stick 4K wails on my Roku 3 (both hardwired), but my Roku is three years older and that's a long time in streamer years. The Walmart version of the Roku Ultra is looking pretty good.

Amazon offers a four device $26 remote that claims to be able to control ATV, WMC and X-box. The button layout isn't perfect, but most are worse (including the Harmony's in my opinion).
Of course you can use a device running the ATV app as remote as well. That the ATV costs around double what all but the nVidia Sheild costs should surely be taken into account.
 

lparsons21

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Sure, cost is a factor. And I could live with any of them as they all accomplish the tasks they are designed to. As I said at the beginning, I have all of the ones I talked about. But given a choice of having only one, the AppleTV would be at the very top of the list.

BTW, the Walmart versions of the Ultra, the Ultra LT does seem to be a deal until you look at specs. If I remember what I read, it is a lesser processor and the wireless isn’t the same in some way. I think it would be worth taking a spin but for the $20 difference in price, would probably get the full Ultra.

If couldn’t get an AppleTV I would probably pick the Ultra as it should be quicker, the UI is much better than the FireTV and in my setup, the audio is better even if not much in the way of Atmos is available with it.

BTW, does not Roku refresh models after their initial release? I mean improve them other than firmware/software updates?


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harshness

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If I remember what I read, it is a lesser processor and the wireless isn’t the same in some way. I think it would be worth taking a spin but for the $20 difference in price, would probably get the full Ultra.
From what I can gather, the real difference is the headphones on the Ultra are JBL branded and it includes a USB port. They both feature MIMO and Ethernet (the way I roll). There's a couple of things associated with the remote ("personal shortcuts" and a finder function) that are unique to the Ultra over all other Roku models.
BTW, does not Roku refresh models after their initial release? I mean improve them other than firmware/software updates?
Everybody does that. Roku is perhaps the best at that as they formally test their software before release (as opposed to Apple's public testing program). I've even seen a remote control firmware update for my Fire TV 4K Stick!

It will be interesting to see if the introduction of Apple TV+ support to Roku has an impact on ATV sales going forward. By the same token, I wonder if it will improve uptake of Apple TV+ for those not taken with the Apple ecosystem. Apple seems to think they can take on the nVidia Shield with Apple Arcade.
 

lparsons21

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The AppleTV app on the Roku works quite well. It isn’t as quick as on the ATV but I wouldn’t have expected it to be. It will be interesting to see how it might impact ATV sales given the big price difference.


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harshness

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The AppleTV app on the Roku works quite well. It isn’t as quick as on the ATV but I wouldn’t have expected it to be. It will be interesting to see how it might impact ATV sales given the big price difference.
Are there any glaring omissions in the ATV app coverage any more? Apple lists 99 apps (YouTube famously excluded but actually supported?) and that's much better than it used to be (especially before gen 4) but is it enough?

I would expect that each boxes' fortunes are somewhat tied to how it supports the streaming services that you favor so if a box does a service poorly (or not at all), that's a huge factor in suitability.
 

lparsons21

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Are there any glaring omissions in the ATV app coverage any more? Apple lists 99 apps (YouTube famously excluded but actually supported?) and that's much better than it used to be (especially before gen 4) but is it enough?

I would expect that each boxes' fortunes are somewhat tied to how it supports the streaming services that you favor so if a box does a service poorly (or not at all), that's a huge factor in suitability.
The only big one missing from that app I've noticed is Netflix. And I don't think it includes many of the free ad-supported streamers. Honestly I haven't delved into it enough yet to know. As time goes on a solid unified search should happen. I know that Amazon, Apple and Tivo have unified search capability for some providers. Don't know enough to say if Roku does. So far I've found no one covering them all.
As to apps, outside of the big ones, it varies a quite a bit. Roku and AppleTV seem to get almost all of them, or at least the ones I've looked for. One exception is Xumo. No app for AppleTV and they have indicated they aren't doing it because you can use AirPlay. Other boxes are hit or miss, generally having the most popular but having mixed in lesser knowns. I think over time, after shaking out which services survive, that all the boxes will have all the apps. Well, other than Tivo. Tivo's main business is with cable companies and they are a bit streaming adverse and control which streaming apps they allow on their Tivo boxes. The retail Tivos have a fair number but are far behind any other streaming box, and in some cases, have older versions of the app.
AppleTV and Roku are pure streaming boxes with lots of apps and sources available. Roku's leg up is the wide range of pricing/versions available even if performance isn't quite as good as Apple. Amazon's FireTV lineup is well priced and they play up integration with home automation. Their downside is the horrid UI.

Edit: Note that the AppleTV supports many more apps than does the AppleTV app.
 

lparsons21

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One box I left out of this discussion is the Xbox One. It has all the major streamer apps and some of the lesser knowns. It is missing XUMO and Pluto ad-supported free streaming apps. Otherwise it has a slew of them.

The UI isn’t the best in the world for using it as a streaming box but it isn’t horrible. No unified search at all.

For me it would be the ideal box if it had the streaming apps I want. That’s because of the Atmos support. Only the Xbox One and PC’s have the Dolby Experience app which provides either true Atmos for sources having it, or fakes it for those that don’t. The Harmony Elite works well as a remote for it though you can use the game pad.


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Scott Greczkowski

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I have Roku built into my TV so I use that a lot to watch Pluto.TV.

I think the best streaming box is the Nvidia Shield but with that said I use the AIRTV and AIRTV Mini the most as I do a lot of testing in then.

The Shield is a little faster but the Air TV’s do everything as well and are a hell of a lot cheaper.

Neither box does Dolby Vision. But the yet to be officially announced new Shield does.

For the Money the AIRTV Mini is the best. I just wish it had a remote finder feature.


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harshness

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The Shield sustains some blows for its remote as does the Apple TV. I think those complaints are deserved. The AirTV Mini remote is perhaps upside down but it has a fairly full complement of buttons. Thus far I think I prefer cursor buttons to discs but much could be said for a live feedback approach such as the LG Magic Remotes versus tile hopping.

nVidia is surely overdue for an update since the Shield is intended to be on pretty much the same footing as the Apple TV in terms of the brute strength. The last Shield tweak was four years ago while Apple made their move two years ago.

I suspect that the PS4 should also be contemplated if the Xbox is going to be included.

I'm of a mind that the whole HDR10, HDR10+, DolbyVision race is a competition of also-rans and HLG is most likely to win the HDR/WCG battle. I'm feel pretty certain that the people delivering the content have been given lots of impetus (free equipment and financial enticements) to use the other formats but the exiting device support for dynamic HDR just isn't broad enough to capture everyone. DV excels with 12 bit color (vs 10 bit with HLG) and 4,000 nits dynamic range (vs 1000 for HLG) but is that worth chasing after for streaming-grade video (not unlimited bandwidth) or without LASER TVs? Obviously, the TVs that don't do HLG are going to be replaced for this to work but so it probably is with HDR10+ and DV.

The Dolby .vs. DTS audio thing has gone on long enough. Can we not just end it?
 

lparsons21

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The Xbox One’s strength is for those with Atmos gear. It and a Windows PC are the only things that has the Dolby Experience which is all about Atmos.

The PS4 is OK as a streamer but the UI is even worse for streamers than the Xbox’s IMO. Does it even do 4K?


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harshness

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Does it even do 4K?
The PS4 Pro can do 4K gaming and streaming (Netflix at least). Both models support HDR10.

Much has been made about the fact that the PS4 only has a Blu-ray drive. I'm not sure what the flap is since the Xbox One's drive is also Blu-ray unless you spring for the most expensive Xbox One S (the Xbox One S All Digital doesn't have an optical drive).
 

lparsons21

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Uh, the Xbox One S is the cheaper model and it does do 4K discs just fine. The PS4 doesn’t do 4K discs.


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