Justin Garrison
January 24, 2016

Nexus Player vs. Roku 4 vs. Apple TV 4

Posted on January 24, 2016  •  5 minutes  • 1029 words

This article is in reply to a post on Lifehacker . While I think they usually do a pretty good job I think there were a lot of day-to-day usability things they missed.

I have owned all three devices, here are my thoughts to add.

Roku 4

This was the one I hoped I would like and use. I often recommended the Roku 3 to friends/family. When I got the 4 the interface just seemed far too outdated. Lots of the apps didn’t work at all (PBS apps especially) and Netflix would crash almost every other day. I also got into situation when sound just stopped working and the device would have to be restarted. I tried resetting factory defaults to see if it would help but no luck. With a family who uses the device I often got calls and had to walk them through troubleshooting and restarting the box.

I only kept the Roku for 3 weeks before returning it. Although I know my friends who have the Roku 3 don’t have the same problems I also know they only typically use a few of the popular apps (Netflix and Plex mostly) which don’t have the same problems.

Nexus Player/Android TV

I have content in the Google ecosystem and really liked that HDHomerun had an app for Android TV for live TV. There is also a native Kodi app which is what I was already using on my HTPC. It seemed like a easy sell but Google has a complete lack for understanding how a family would use a common device. It was annoying to have to log into my accounts and then have recommendations show up based on my YouTube watching and my music listening. I listen to a lot of techno/trance at work and unfortunately album covers are not often family friendly. It could easily be solved with multiple profile sign in which exist on other Android devices but sadly are omitted from Android TV. In the latest marshmallow update you can turn off recommendations but then there’s just a big blank section with a row of unsortable icons. It’s nice to have USB OTG (I bought an ethernet and USB hub ) but getting the Nexus Player to work with my Logitech  without an IR receiver was a complete PITA. When I had the Nexus Player Plex was only available for paid accounts and Kodi was barely usable because of remote limitations (Kodi not designed to work with only a select and back buttons) and app crashes. Also Google Cast is no where near as reliable as Chromecast. More often than not streams would fail. I bought a Chromecast and plugged it into the same TV because it was so bad (it’s slightly better in Marshmallow). With Android TV I have no faith Google will keep it updated. The Marshmallow update had almost no TV enhancements, apps are not coming to the platform, and I used to own a Google TV which obviously was abandoned.

I ended up paying for a Plex account and switching from Kodi to Plex for local content consumption. It solved some of the limitations but I still had lots of content I couldn’t watch that I had available on the Roku. Notably Amazon, PBS, and Disney apps were all missing from Android TV and with family members who need to watch content when I’m not home and do not always have the ability to use Google Cast I needed a better solution.

Apple TV

I owned a 2nd gen Apple TV (to run XBMC) and resisted buying the 4 for as long as I could. My wife and I are mostly Apple haters on principle and the only content I have in the Apple ecosystem are free songs/movies from promotions. It has been the best TV experience of any STB I’ve owned and even my wife has said she’s sad she likes it so much. The only times I get calls to troubleshoot are when my Plex server is down. The remote with HDMI CEC works flawlessly and because of the volume buttons the Apple TV remote has replaced my $60 harmony for 99% of my TV usage. The ability to put the system to sleep, turning off my TV and receiver, is a nice touch too, Roku and Android TV don’t have that. Only occasionally do I use a Blu-ray disk and need my harmony to turn on my PS3. I also use the Apple TV with Bluetooth headphones, similar to the Roku’s feature, and really like the ability to “reduce loud sounds” at night. I don’t use the Apple ecosystem at all (Netflix and Plex mostly) but almost all the apps I used on the Roku are also on the Apple TV, minus Amazon and Google Play Movies, and every app is better quality, more stable and faster, on the Apple TV. For those two missing apps I’m the only one who uses them so air play works but has the limitation of needing my phone to push video to the Apple TV, unlike Google Cast.

Although SiliconDust doesn’t make an official app for the Apple TV there is a Channels app  which works as good as the Android TV app. It was a bit expensive but worth it for guide data, reliability, and ease of use.

The screen savers on the Apple TV and Nexus Player were about equal. I liked Android TV’s slightly better because I could manage the shared album from the web but it had less options for transitions and required I install the Google Photos app on everyone’s phone.

When I needed to decide which device to keep I thought about which device will be supported and updated in 2–3 years. I really want Roku to stick around (pun intended) but they have stayed mostly stagnant with software for the past 2 years. Google has not had a good track record for side projects (especially on the TV). Apple has made drastic changes to the Apple TV for years but I suspect their app store and 3rd party support will be around for at least 3 more years in its current iteration.

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