Roku Streaming Stick vs Google Chromecast: What's the difference?

The battle for the living room rages on.

Roku on Tuesday announced the expansion of its efforts with a new Streaming Stick that effectively takes on the Google Chromecast released in May 2013.

Both come to the market as a cheap solution for you to watch content other than cable on your television. However, being so similar in function there has to be a few differences. We've broken down what we found.

Where do I put the box?

The Roku Streaming Stick and Google Chromecast are not set-top boxes, but small dongles that connect to the back of your television.

Both plug into a spare HDMI port and can be powered either by a plug into a regular wall socket or via a spare USB port on the TV.

Some might question why the extra USB port is necessary, and that's because other than the most modern version of HDMI, the connectivity found on most televisions doesn't supply power. It only connects. Thus, the extra USB is needed.

Both are convenient, small, and hidden.

Functionality

While the Streaming Stick and Chromecast try to be the same when it comes to connectivity, their software differs.

"Roku delivers the constant growing channel experience," Roku told Pocket-lint. "Chromecast is about throwing content from your phone to your TV."

The Streaming Stick features Roku's software available on its other boxes, enabling users to access more than 750 channels of movies, TV episodes, music, news, sports, kids' shows, and free programming - all in up to 1080p HD video.

The Chromecast's software is basic, and it wants all of the functionality to take place off the device and on a smartphone, tablet or laptop. After plugging in Chromecast, you must download the set-up app for Mac, PC or Android. This will get it online with a Wi-Fi network. You then have to name your Chromecast, install the Google Cast Chrome extension on your device, and that's it.

Your device - computer, smartphone, tablet, whatever - does not stream the video. Chromecast itself actually connects to the Web and streams video files. In simple terms, the Chromecast picks up the URL you navigated to on your other device, and then to start streaming, just select the dedicated Cast button found within supported apps. 

On the Streaming Stick, you use a bundled remote control or smartphone app to navigate the software. Within the software there are a number of apps to begin streaming.

Essentially, the Streaming Stick acts as the set-top box you've come to know: you do all the navigating and content playing through the device itself. On the other hand, the Chromecast plays content you've triggered from your everyday devices. 

Which is the more intuitive is up to you.

App support

As we mentioned, Chromecast apps aren't actually found on the device. Instead mobile developers can implement a few lines of code into their app to feature a Cast button to beam content to the television.

Current Chromecast-enabled apps include Red Bull TV, Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Pandora, YouTube, Google Play TV, Movies, and Music, Vevo, Songza, Plex, Post TV, Viki and RealPlayer Cloud.

The Streaming Stick features a Channel store with more than 750 offerings, ranging from Netflix to news networks to sports. The content is much wider ranging than Chromecast.

Price and availability

The Chromecast has been available in the US for $35 since May 2013 through Google Play. However, Google has been sheepish with its Chromecast rollout to the UK, not yet making it available through its official channels. A few third-party retailers have managed to carry it.

The Streaming Stick in stores for $49.99 in the US and £49.99 in the UK from early April. We'll have a full review as soon as possible.

Read: Google Chromecast review