How Chromecast Works

Comparison to Competitors

The Roku Stick is similar in size to Chromecast, though it isn't USB -- it requires a Mobile High-Definition Link port.
The Roku Stick is similar in size to Chromecast, though it isn't USB -- it requires a Mobile High-Definition Link port.
Image courtesy of Roku

There are quite a few other methods of streaming content to your television, including game systems, DVRs and Blu-ray players. If you have one of those and don't mind the inconvenience of regular remote controls, you may not need an additional device. But if you're interested in a stand-alone streaming device, Chromecast isn't the only game in town.

One choice, the Roku box, has four different models ranging from $50 to $100 as of early 2014. The base Roku LT streams at a maximum of 720p, whereas all others can stream at 1080p. All include WiFi, but the most expensive, the Roku 3, also includes Ethernet. Roku offers more than 1000 channels of content, far more than Chromecast and a lot of other streaming boxes on the market. It also comes with its own remote and doesn't require that you have a tablet or smartphone for control, but you can download an app to use your mobile device as a remote if you want. You need an HDMI cable if you want to watch in high-def and it doesn't come standard, so that's an additional cost. Roku has another device, the Roku Streaming Stick that, like Chromecast, looks like an oversized flash drive. It costs around $70 ($90 with a remote) and requires the fairly rare Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) connection port. The beauty of using MHL is that the Roku Streaming Stick does not require a power cable, but unfortunately, most TVs do not currently have MHL. Roku is also working on incorporating DIAL into its devices.

Another competitor is Apple TV. It costs $99 and allows you to stream anything from your Mac computer or iOS device (iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch), or anything in iCloud, to your television. It supports more than 25 channels, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, ABC, PBS, Crackle, YouTube, Vimeo and several Disney, sports and news channels. You can stream your own iMovies, photos and videos from your computer, as well as podcasts and any media from iTunes. You can also mirror anything on your iOS device screen to your TV and use your iOS mobile devices as remotes. The major downside is that it doesn't work with Android devices. You can get to some things through Windows computers, but Apple TV really better suited for Mac enthusiasts.

Miracast is another alternative, but it isn't one particular dongle. It is built into multiple devices of varying prices (some nearly as cheap as Chromecast), and sometimes even built into TVs. It works through WiFi Direct, which, as the name implies, lets devices connect to each other directly via WiFi. One device creates a mini-network to which the other connects, rather than both connecting through your home WiFi network. It allows you to mirror content from a device to your TV, meaning whatever is on your mobile device screen shows up on your TV. One major downside is that your smartphone or tablet has to stay active for the content to stay on your TV screen, so it can quickly run down your mobile device battery, and whatever you are viewing will disappear if the device auto-locks.

Google TV is another option that's not a single device, but rather hardware and software built into either smart TVs or streaming set top boxes. Some of the boxes include the Netgear NeoTV Prime, the VIZIO Co-Star, the Hisense Pulse and the Asus CUBE. Google TV devices sometimes come with large remote controls that include keyboards for text input, although newer remotes sometimes feature microphones that allow you to give voice commands using Google's cloud-based voice recognition system. It makes a few streaming apps available to your HDTV, as well as Web browsing capabilities, and allows you to switch easily between online streaming and traditional television.