When I think of the state of streaming today, I think of this poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
It’s been used and quoted several times over the recent decade and it symbolizes the idea that all things eventually fade, fail, and are replaced in the public’s affections. This is true whether or not that thing was once considered incredibly wonderful. In this case I’m talking about streaming boxes.
The once and future AppleTV
AppleTV was a pioneer in the streaming box space. It wasn’t the first to offer streaming apps, and in fact did not do so until 2010. Other competitors had a two-year headstart on Apple, but as usualy Apple offered a smooth and unified experience that made people comfortable with the idea of streaming apps.
While Apple’s current hardware is… fine, the company has fallen behind. It attempted to turn its latest device into a casual gaming box. Unfortunately no one seemed to notice. In the meantime its prickly approach to app development meant it never really had the latest and greatest. Its Netflix app has lagged behind for years and today still can’t work with interactive films like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Its YouTube app can’t play 4K on any platform.
In the meantime Apple has refused to play in the same price range as competitors. Its 4K box clocks in at roughly 400% more than competing boxes, and while it’s fast and smooth… come on. Four times the price is going to be a problem no matter what.
The up and comer: Android TV
Android TV followed a parallel path to AppleTV. Originally a sort of also-ran to the mobile products, it slowly evolved into quality experience that has a lot to offer.
For those unfamiliar with Android TV, think about what Apple boasts. Then, apply that to the operating system that runs something like 88% of the world’s phones. All your photos carry over. All your streaming music does too (unless you have Apple Music). Any of your apps that work on the TV will transfer over, as will your Google Play store credentials. Setup is absurdly easy using your Android phone.
And just like most Androids offer a price advantage over Apple products, so too the Android TV is a bargain compared to the bloatedly overpriced Apple TV 4K.
The app selection for Android TV is robust to say the least. All of the top streaming services (except iTunes of course) can be found, as well as live TV and sports programming. This being an Android device, you have the option of sideloading apps if you want, and you can even connect a mouse and keyboard if you are so inclined (wired or wireless, your choice.)
The apps for Android TV are generally the same quality or better than the apps for other devices. All of Netflix’s features work, and YouTube plays in 4K if you have a 4K device.
Take your movies with you
If you have a lot of movies you’ve bought from iTunes, don’t despair. Check out Movies Anywhere. Thanks to long-fought agreements between streaming services, you can link your iTunes account with free accounts from Google, Vudu, Amazon and others. This means a lot of your streaming library will move with you when you move. A few won’t, because some studios still haven’t made the jump. However you’ll find the transition is a lot easier than when you went from LPs to CDs to streaming and back to LPs.
Which Android TV to buy?
For several years Android TV was only found on no-name or unknown boxes. We used to offer a box by MyGica which was good but not as strong as other competitors. Most early Android TV boxes were cheaply made. Since Android TV (like the Android phone OS) is free for anyone to use, lower-tier manufacturers flocked to it. It took several years for higher-end boxes to come to market. I’m pleased to see that not only are there good, stable, well-built Android TV boxes out there, but you can get my favorite one from Solid Signal.
The AirTV Player delivers a 4K experience comparable to the top-end players from Roku and others, at a price that’s similar as well. While it was originally designed to be a vehicle for DISH’s Sling streaming service, it’s evolved into so much more. It’s a capable Netflix and Hulu box with a voice remote, Google search and the ability to use pretty much any apps you want. Along the way it still works very well with Sling.
And that’s where the apples-to-apples comparison ends.
AirTV Player does tricks no other streaming box can do. Get the version with a USB tuner dongle and antenna for just a tad more and you can integrate live TV and even DVR service (with your USB hard drive.) Get the version with 3 months of Sling TV and the entry point is lower than any other full-featured 4K streamer. All of a sudden your streaming box is the key to a complete cord-cutting experience. No other streamer can say that, because no other streamer includes over-the-air TV. Don’t forget, the top 10 shows are available over-the-air, live, for free.
Time to jump off the Apple train?
Although I’ve been an Apple guy for over 35 years, I’m not above stepping away from them when they’re out of step with the market. Apple’s first Macintosh was awesome, but the price was too far out and the screen was ridiculously small. iPhone was a revolutionary step but even I have to admit that new Samsung Galaxy is pretty sweet. And now, I have to say that if Apple doesn’t move fast with a new Apple TV, it will be time to retire mine and move 100% to Android TV. Most of my media comes with me, and I’ll get a much better experience than I did with Apple, especially in 4K.
If you’re interested in checking out the great selection of Android TV products, shop for AirTV devices now at Solid Signal.