Cool Tech for Your Commission Check: Best Streaming Devices

Cullen MacDonald
November 10, 2014

Our second “Cool Tech for Your Commission Check” post is finally here. In this series, we feature technology-related sales commission ideas to help you reap the benefits of your last big sale. Last time, we featured the Pebble Smartwatch, and today, we’re talking about TV streaming devices. The Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and the new Amazon Fire TV Stick move web content beyond your laptop and into your living room, and all you need is a Wi-Fi network. No more close-quarters huddling around the your 13-inch notebook to watch the latest episode of American Horror Story.

Why You Need a TV Streaming Device

If that last paragraph didn’t already convince you, let me ask you this: How are you feeling these days about your current cable or satellite TV provider? Several recent reports and surveys have found that TV providers are among the most hated companies in America. All it takes is one experience with rising prices and/or that cable guy who never showed up--even though you took a day off from work to wait between the very unspecific specified hours of 9:00-6:00 for someone to fix your cable box--to know why. The difference between cable television and TV streaming devices is that with the latter, you have all the powers of cable OnDemand without the exorbitant monthly costs of a cable subscription. You can watch from any web service supported on the box itself, and all you’re paying is the one-time fee for the device and the subscription cost for streaming services (at $7.99/month for Netflix, it’s a pretty easy choice to make). Notably, HBO recently announced that they’ll be launching a standalone streaming service in 2015 that doesn’t require you to also have a cable or satellite subscription. It’s a hopeful sign that other content creators may soon be selling their content directly to consumers. Basically, all roads point to finally getting the a la carte subscription service you’ve always wanted. You can customize your experience for the shows you watch rather than paying for a ton of daytime talk shows and syndicated reruns of Judge Judy (no disrespect to Judith Sheindlin). We’re featuring three of the best streaming devices out there, and we’ve laid out all the pros and cons so you can choose the one that’s right for you.

Best Streaming Devices: The Contenders

1. Apple TV, $99

Pros: Ease of Use: This is the device I have at home, and I know from experience that Apple TV is very easy to use. It has access to most major streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, etc.), and is also backed by the iTunes store, so you can play whatever iTunes content you may already have or want to buy/rent. AirPlay is Awesome: It can also be used with Apple AirPlay, which is great because most of my friends have iPhones. When we’re all hanging out, anyone in the room can choose to play things via the Apple TV and my home audio setup. You can easily pull up content on your iPhone apps, including music, photos, video, etc. Turn Your TV Into an External Monitor: If the idea of turning your TV into a giant monitor sounds appealing, then you’re in luck. With AirPlay Mirroring, you can wirelessly display whatever’s on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac on your HDTV screen. The Ethernet Option: If your Wi-Fi signal is weak for whatever reason, Apple TV is the only device on this list that can be used with an ethernet connection. Cons: Need to Buy an HDMI Cable: The Apple TV doesn’t come with an HDMI cable, so you’d need to buy one. Don’t be fooled by expensive HDMI cables, though. You should be spending $20 at the very most. No App Store: Apple doesn’t devote a lot of its engineering resources toward improving Apple TV, and it doesn’t have its own app store. This is definitely a missed opportunity to continue improving this product. If there’s something wrong with the HBO Go app, for instance, HBO can’t issue its own update. The issue wouldn’t be fixed until Apple released an update for the entire system. The Cult of Apple: If you’re not already in the Apple ecosystem with an iPhone, iPad, and/or Macbook, then it’s impossible to take advantage of some of Apple TV’s best features, like AirPlay and AirPlay Mirroring.

2. Google Chromecast, $35

Pros: Price: At $35, Chromecast is the most affordable device on this list. Versatility: Unlike Apple TV, Chromecast works with any device, so if you have friends and family with different kinds of phones and tablets in your household, they can all use it. Chromecast also includes many standard streaming services, including Netflix and Hulu. No HDMI Cable Required: Chromecast is a device that goes directly into the HDMI port on your TV, so you don’t need to purchase any additional equipment. It Has an App Store: Unlike Apple TV, Chromecast has an app store. In other words, developers can release app updates as well as new applications without having to wait for Google to release a full update. Mirroring: With Chromecast, you can mirror any Android device onto your TV. Cons: No On-Screen User Interface: With Chromecast, all navigation is done through your tablet or smartphone. There’s no TV-based user interface, and Chromecast is the only device on this list that doesn’t come with its own remote. Missing Some Streaming Services: Though it’s the only product on this list with access to Google Play, Chromecast doesn’t have access to the iTunes store, Amazon Instant Video, and some other streaming services like Showtime Anytime. Potential Problems: Chromecast may work with any device, but you might have potential issues with connectivity and other undiagnosable problems, because non-Android devices aren’t optimized for it. Limited Mirroring Capabilities: If you’re not on an Android device, Chromecast can only mirror what’s in a Chrome browser window, not your entire desktop.

3. Amazon Fire TV Stick, $39

Pros: Improvements Upon Chromecast: As a direct competitor to Google Chromecast, the Amazon Fire TV stick includes several improvements, including dual-band Wi-Fi (Chromecast using single-band Wi-Fi), a dedicated hardware remote (in addition to an app) and 8 GB of internal storage/1 GB of RAM (compared with the Chromecast’s 2 GB of storage and 512 MB of memory). Great for Amazon Instant Video Users: If you already have an Amazon Prime subscription, you’ll have very easy access to all of your content in Amazon’s streaming service. More Games: This device offers a lot more games than the other 2 devices on the list, and you can purchase a game controller to go along with it. Mirroring: The Fire TV Stick allows you to mirror any Fire OS or Android device. Cons: It’s Not Out Yet: You won’t be able to access this device until it comes out in January 2015. As of this writing, Amazon is expecting pre-orders to be delivered no earlier than January 15, 2015. Too Amazon-Centric: This device really puts Amazon’s Prime Instant Video service at the forefront of its user interface. To get the most out of the device, therefore, you’ll need to pay for Amazon’s $99/year Prime subscription. It translates to a reasonable price of $8.25/month, and you’ll get free two-day shipping on all Amazon orders, but if you’re not an Amazon Prime user, this might not be the best option. Missing Some Streaming Services: The Fire TV Stick is also missing some streaming services, like Vudu, iTunes, and most notably, HBO Go (again, by 2015 you’ll be able to get a standalone streaming subscription from HBO). So if being able to stream Game of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire is a big priority, you can probably cross the Fire TV Stick off your list.

A New Era of TV Has Begun

More and more people are cutting ties with their cable companies. All three of these devices let you use a smartphone to control them, and either have a remote included, a remote app, or both. These devices are also extremely portable, so if you’re going out of town, on vacation, or moving to a new place, all you need to do is plug in the device and make sure it’s connected to the Internet. Your decision will depend on the devices you’re currently using, the shows and streaming services you prefer, and the price point you’re looking for. This Cool Tech post might actually end up with you saving more of your commission check than spending it. If you have questions or experience to share, let us know in the comments below.