At just $35, the Google Chromecast player is one of the least expensive streaming options, and one with a few unique features. Most notable is its ability to "cast"—basically, send—content from a computer using the Chrome browser directly to your TV screen.
Like other streaming-media players, the Chromecast also provides access to several major streaming services, including Hulu Plus, Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, and Google Play Music. Since we originally tested the Chromecast, it's gained a few more content partners, including Aereo's TV-over-the-Internet service, and movies and TV shows from Vudu. The Chromecast doesn't come with a remote control; instead, you use your mobile device as a remote.
Like the Chromecast, the Roku Streaming Stick ($50) plugs directly into a free HDMI input on your TV, getting power either from the TV's USB port or from a wall outlet using the included AC adapter. One reason Roku's various devices have done well in our streaming media player Ratings is the industry-leading amount of content available for them. Roku says it now has more than 1,500 channels, including Amazon, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, M-Go, Netflix, Showtime Anytime, and Vudu, among others. It also supports YouTube directly, previously a glaring omission.
Get more guidance with our streaming video and movie rental buying guide.
Roku's newest player also has a limited ability to "cast" some content—right now, Netflix and YouTube, and personal media—from your smart phone or tablet. Unlike the Chromecast, the Roku Stick comes with a Wi-Fi remote that has dedicated buttons for streaming services from Amazon, Blockbuster, M-Go, and Netflix, though you can also download a free Android or iOS app that lets you use your phone or tablet as the remote.
So this Father's Day, skip the golf-ball engraver—especially if he doesn't play golf—and the "Who Needs Hair When You've Got a Body Like This" T-shirt and get him something he'll actually use. And if he's been a really great dad, throw in a year's subscription to one of the streaming services—and schedule a few nights where you can sit down and watch a show or movie together.
—James K. Willcox
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