Streaming device comparison: Apple TV, Chromecast, Fetch TV and Telstra TV

Alex Kidman 30 December 2016

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You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to streaming devices for your TV, but which one offers the best value?

For some years now TV manufacturers have tried to sell us on the concept of the Smart TV. That’s a TV set with integrated "smart" features, usually defined around the support for streaming video services.

The apps for these TVs have generally been adequate at best, woeful at worst, but there’s a bigger problem with smart TVs. Video streaming is a rapidly evolving marketplace, and no smart TV has done enough to keep up. You don’t buy a new TV every year unless you’re almost catastrophically clumsy, which means that the best way to easily enable streaming services on your TV is via a separate set top box.

You’re certainly spoilt for choice here, with contenders from Apple, Google, Fetch and Telstra all vying for your attention.

Even here they’re not a static entity to consider just once. The Apple TV got its big update last year in hardware terms, as did the Telstra TV, but both have had multiple software and app updates in the meantime. Fetch updated its PVR range including the tiny Fetch Mini earlier in the year, and Google’s quite fresh to market with its updated Chromecast Ultra. With that in mind, we’ve pitted them against each other to see how they currently compare.

Streaming set top boxes: Specifications

Streaming Set Top BoxesApple TV 4th GenerationGoogle Chromecast/Chromecast UltraTelstra TVFetch TV Mini
ConnectivityHDMIHDMIHDMIHDMI
Size35x98x98mm58.2x13.7x58.2mm3.5x3.5x1in3.2x12x12.2cm
Weight425g47g141gTBC
Networking10/100 Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi10/100 Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi10/100 Ethernet, 802.11 Wi-Fi10/100 Ethernet, 802.11 Wi-Fi
Maximum supported resolution1080p1080p/4K1080p1080p
Netflix supportYesYesYesYes
Stan supportYesYesYesYes
Catchup TVYesYes, via phone onlyYesYes
AppsYesYes, via phone onlyYesNo
RRP$239/$299$59/$99$109$149

Apple TV 4th Generation

AppleTV4thGen_450

Why you’d want one:
Apple’s upgraded Apple TV 4th generation is the heavy hitter of the currently available set top box crowd, thanks to its broad compatibility with iOS apps and onboard storage capabilities. This pushes it beyond being a simple streaming box into a fully app-capable device that can cover everything from trip planning to TV-based versions of your favourite mobile games.

On the streaming front, the integration of Siri works quite well for task selection and searching, although we don’t quite get the full integration of features that Apple TV users in the USA do. Still, it’s quite cool to talk to your remote and have it respond, and it’s curiously one of the few use cases where you don’t feel terribly socially awkward doing so.

The Apple TV’s streaming apps cover the usual bases of Stan, Netflix, iView and the other major catchup services, but also extend into a wide variety of more niche streaming plays, including anime service Crunchyroll, wrestling streaming service WWE Network and plenty more besides. Navigation within these apps in our testing was fast and smooth with streams playing quickly in all cases.

Why you might not:
The asking price of the Apple TV easily dwarfs that of its competition. It is undeniably a more capable device, but if all you want is an easy way to browse Netflix, its competitors do that at a fraction of the asking price.

Being part of the Apple ecosystem means that it’s also best suited for iPhone and iPad users thanks to Apple’s AirPlay system that allows you to stream the contents of your screen from most (but not all) apps direct to your Apple TV. Google opens up the Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra for iOS streaming, but Apple doesn’t return the favour for Android devices.

While the prospect of a simple games console that largely picks up your existing iOS games library where it’s been ported has appeal, the Siri Remote is a lousy games controller. If this aspect of the Apple TV appeals to you, budget for an MFi-capable Bluetooth games controller as well.

Google Chromecast Ultra

ChromecastUltra_450

Why you’d want one:
We're not entirely sure we should class the Chromecast or Chromecast Ultra as set top boxes, if only because they're set top hockey pucks instead. If you're not a fan of having obvious set top boxes lurking on your TV cabinet, the Chromecast or Chromecast Ultra could be a great choice.

Google’s Chromecast, and its recently released Chromecast Ultra have always sold themselves on their simplicity. That’s because they’re hardware dongles that don’t actually handle the content selection or apps side of streaming (or any other application) directly.

Instead, you cast to them from Android or iOS devices, or via the Chrome browser on a PC, Mac or Chromebook. Setup is pleasingly simple and rapid, and the question of Chromecast support is simply one of spotting the cast icon in your app of choice.

The Chromecast Ultra has some specific advantages over the cheaper Chromecast, with support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi as well as direct ethernet via its power plug. It also supports 4K streaming if your broadband is up to the task. When that works it’s brilliant, although as yet the range of available 4K material is a little thin on the ground outside Netflix Originals.

Why you might not:
Because it’s effectively the dumb terminal end of a streaming arrangement, the Chromecast is a little fiddlier to use than a set top box you control with a physical remote control.

The quality of casting to the Chromecast can vary quite a lot, and it’s not uncommon for apps to pause or even crash mid-cast. That’s true even for Google’s own inhouse apps such as YouTube.

Chromecast support does exist for Netflix and Stan, but it’s less common in other apps, and if it’s not supported, all you can really do is wait to see if it’s added in future updates for that specific app.

Telstra TV

TelstraTV450

Why you’d want one:
Telstra’s own streaming box is a reworked Roku set top box, which means that it’s both app-ready and quite simple to use. While it will technically work with any broadband provider, it’s best suited for customers who use Telstra as their primary ISP, because it provides quota-free streaming of Telstra content such as movies. Equally, if you sign up for a Telstra broadband deal, many packages include the Telstra TV as a free inclusion.

There’s support for Netflix and Stan, as well Foxtel Play, unique for set top boxes in Australia. Its Roku origins also opens up a small quantity of additional apps for streaming purposes, including streaming content from your own local network.

Why you might not:

Telstra’s updated the Telstra TV a number of times since its launch in 2015, but there are still some significant streaming stability issues with it, even on a Telstra broadband account. Within the Netflix and Stan apps we hit numerous instances where the Telstra TV would simply reset itself for no apparent reason, which isn’t what you want with any streaming solution.

Despite Roku supporting hundreds of apps, a year after launch there’s still only a relatively paltry number of additional apps to add to the Telstra TV, many of which have been available since launch. There’s scope for the Telstra TV to be much more than it is, but right now it’s seemingly handcuffed to a limited selection of streaming apps by Telstra itself.

Fetch TV Mini

FetchTVMini450

Why you’d want one:
The Fetch TV Mini’s unique point of difference in our streaming showdown is that it is also a fully digital TV set top box, which means that if you connect a standard aerial to it, you can use it for watching free to air TV.

Fetch TV also provides a wide range of paid subscription channels, including many that also appear on Foxtel. If you want more traditional TV viewing than the free to air networks provide, it offers a very low cost way to access extra channels.

The Fetch interface is very slick and exceptionally well laid out for both its own subscription channels as well as streaming via Netflix, Stan or the soon to be discontinued Presto. Like the Telstra TV, there’s also scope for movie and TV buying and rentals via Fetch TV Mini if that’s to your taste.

The Fetch TV Mini works with Optus’ Optus Sports offering if you like your EPL football or cricket, and it’s also recently started being offered by iiNet as part of a broadband bundle at a discounted price.

Why you might not:

While the Fetch TV Mini has the trappings of a PVR, it’s not quite a PVR in the classic sense. You can pause live TV and catch up later, but there’s no storage capacity for the long term storage of live TV, so you can’t set schedules or season passes for your favourite free to air shows. If you want that kind of functionality, Fetch wants you to step up to the Fetch Mighty.

While it’s claimed to be coming soon, the Fetch Mini is also the only set top box in our roundup not to support YouTube at the time of writing, although soon to be defunct Presto is supported.

Which streaming set top box is best?

Amongst the current crop of streaming boxes, Apple’s 4th generation Apple TV stands well ahead of the pack. It is powerful, the remote and voice control features work well and it covers far more streaming services than its competition, with new entrants arriving on a regular basis. It’s especially appealing if you’re already in the iOS ecosystem thanks to AirPlay mirroring from those devices, so that even if an app isn’t available, you may be able to cast video content to the Apple TV.

The problem here is the price, because Apple charges a serious premium for the 4th generation Apple TV. It's an easy recommendation if your budget can stretch to it because it does offer so much more than its competitors, but it's not exactly inexpensive.

If all you want is a Netflix or Stan streaming box, and you’re happy to cast from your phone, the regular $59 Chromecast or $99 Ultra Chromecast if you want tethered ethernet could be enough to satisfy your needs. The Fetch Mini has the best interface outside the Apple TV and could be a good pick if you also want digital TV watching out of your device, albeit without PVR functions.


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One Response to Streaming device comparison: Apple TV, Chromecast, Fetch TV and Telstra TV

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    Katie | August 11, 2016

    Just wondering about updating this comparison to include Fetch TV Mighty with the 1TB box and apps included.

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