The battle of the set-top boxes is on, and the Apple TV 2, Roku 4, Chromecast 2 and Fire TV are not planning on losing. Each one has an advantage or a disadvantage over the other, but only one will come out on top in terms of size, features, content and usability.
Let's start off with the size. We all have different entertainment centers, and the perfect set-top box should fit just right with all the other stuff such as a gaming console or CD players. Apple TV 2's dimensions are 3.9 x 3.9 x 1.4 inches, whereas Roku 4's are 6.5 x 6.5 x 0.8 inches. Amazon made its Fire TV 4.5 x 4.5 x 0.7, which is the shortest. But Google's Chromecast 2 (picture) won't be participating in this segment because it's not really a set-top box per se; it's more like a small Wi-Fi radio for the TV, which comes with a flexible HDMI cable that makes it easy to connect to almost any television.
Next up, the quality. Roku and Amazon take it up a notch in the competition, implementing 4K Ultra HD support in their units. Meanwhile, Apple and Google's streaming devices are limited to 1080p, which is still pretty good. Take note that without a TV that can support 4K Ultra HD, the higher resolution format support is practically useless.
Now for the remotes. Apple fitted its controller with its well-known virtual assistant, Siri, which means that it has a voice interface as well as a touchscreen interface, and it's also packed in with a rechargeable battery that has "months of battery life on a single charge."
Roku's has a notable feature: its headphone port. This is excellent for blocking out outside noise or keeping the TV's noise off for others, especially when a wireless headphone is just out of the budget. It also has a voice interface and uses AA batteries.
Google's controller will be the viewer's smartphone. It seems a little pricy for a remote control, and it does require more steps to use - unlocking the phone, opening the app and waiting for it to load first - but what's nice about it is that almost any smartphone can control the Chromecast 2.
Amazon's remote control features Alexa, a voice service that can provide "sports scores or the weather, play music, and more - instantly," though some reviewers have called it uncooperative and glitchy. It's powered by AAA batteries and is said to last up to 12 months with typical use.
Last one before the price, the content. All of them offer a pretty large selection of media, but Amazon and Roku just provide more options. Apple, however, is going to roll out a new OS and a new set of apps to its set-top unit, which could potentially get ahead or at least close the gap with Amazon and Roku.
Without further ado, the price list. From cheapest to most expensive, Google's streaming device comes in first at $35, Amazon's in second at $99, Roku's in third at $129 and Apple's 32 GB model in fourth at $149 and 64 GB in the last place at $199. This hardly came as a surprise, though, with the Chromecast 2 being as small as it is and Apple being . . . well, just Apple.