Apple and Google battle it out on many fronts: smartphones, apps, cloud services, and even maps. But this upcoming holidays season both are going to be continuing the battle in yet another war–and the prize is none other than your living room. Yes, both companies have recently improved their offerings on their digital media players devices.
For Google, it’s the all-new Chromecast Ultra. For Apple, it’s the company’s 4th generation Apple TV, first released last year, but recently updated with the new tvOS 10 operating system. The two devices take radically different approaches to getting content on your TV.
But the big difference between the two is that Chromecast now supports 4K content. Like the Sony PS4 and Xbox One S, Google’s Chromecast ULTRA is here to fill the ever increasing demand for 4K content as more and more consumers purchase 4K-enabled HDTVs.
Here’s what Google said about Chromecast ULTRA on its blog:
“Chromecast Ultra supports 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision, so you’ll get a crisper picture with higher resolution and more vibrant colors. At first, you’ll be able to stream 4K content from Netflix, YouTube and Vudu, and we’re working to bring more 4K and HDR content on board. Later this year, Google Play Movies & TV will be rolling out 4K content. Even if your TV isn’t 4K-ready, Chromecast Ultra automatically optimizes your TV’s picture.”
It added: “Combined with Chromecast or Chromecast Ultra, use Google Home to control your TV — completely hands free. Simply say “Ok, Google, play the Jungle Book trailer on my TV” to watch the YouTube video on the big screen.”
So how do the two new devices stack up against each other? We took a look to find out.
Chromecast Ultra VS Apple TV: Specs
Here’s the specs for the Chromecast Ultra:
- Output: HDMI
- Processor: unknown
- RAM: unknown
- Storage: unknown, but 256MB flash likely
- Max. Output Video Resolution: 4K w/HDR (HDR10 & Dolby Vision)
- Dimensions: 58.2 in diameter, 13.7mm (H)
- Weight: 47 g
- Connectivity: Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi‑Fi
And here’s the specs for the 4th gen Apple TV:
- Output: HDMI
- Processor: Dual-core A8 chip
- RAM: 2 GB
- Storage: 32 GB or 64 GB
- Max. Output Video Resolution: 1080p
- Dimensions: 98(L) x 98(W) x 33(H) mm
- Weight: 425 g
- Connectivity: Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi‑Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
Let’s get the spec everyone cares about out of the way: video output. Here, its clearly a win for the Chromecast Ultra. Why? Because the Ultra supports video resolutions up to 4K and also supports HDR on top of that. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and it allows for a more vivid color pallet in video and games including brighter whites, deeper blacks and more natural colors. The caveat here is though more 4K content is available every day on streaming services like Netflix and Prime Video, HDR content is still very limited (you also need a TV capable of 4K and HDR viewing). That being said, 4K alone candidly beats the 1080p quality the Apple TV puts out. And 4K + HDR? The Apple TV’s 1080p doesn’t stand a chance.
Moving on to other specs: both devices offer the latest Wi-Fi connectivity– 802.11ac, so your streaming will be more stable and you are likely to see much less buffering. But when you get to the RAM and storage, the new Chromecast Ultra looks woefully underpowered. Though Google hasn’t announced the storage it offers, it’s likely only got 256MB of 512MB of storage and around 512MB of RAM. That compares to the 32 or 64GB (the Apple TV comes in two sizes) of storage for the Apple TV and the 2GB of RAM it has. The reason for the difference is because the two devices are designed very differently. The Chromecast Ultra is meant to only be a bridge to stream content from your mobile device to your TV set–it doesn’t need a lot of storage or RAM to do that. The Apple TV on the other hand is meant to act as a central hub that not only streams content, but stores things like movies and apps and games right on the device itself.
Chromecast Ultra VS Apple TV: Design
The two devices couldn’t be designed more differently. The Apple TV takes the form of a square set top box that sits below your TV in your home entertainment center. It’s larger because there’s more stuff packed inside. The Chromecast Ultra on the other hand takes the form factor of a disc-shaped dongle that gets plugged into an HDMI port on the side or in back of your TV.
Chromecast Ultra VS Apple TV: OS and UI
The new Apple TV features a brand new OS called tvOS–and it’s just been updated to tvOS 10 last month. It’s based on iOS and allows for the ability to add apps and games to your Apple TV just as you do to your iPhone–through a dedicated App Store. The Apple TV also has a revamped interface that displays available content, including movies, TV shows, apps, and games, in a grid like fashion.
The Chromecast Ultra, on the other hand, doesn’t have any kind of user interface. Since the Chromecast Ultra is essentially just a bridge between your mobile device and your TV, everything you do with it–every way you interact with it–is handled through your mobile device. With the Chromecast Ultra you’ll see no TV interface you navigate around. Because of this, if you don’t have a mobile device on you, the Chromecast Ultra is almost worthless as it by itself doesn’t allow you to browse through or watch any content.
Chromecast Ultra VS Apple TV: Content
Speaking of content, both devices are pretty well stocked–just in different ways. For the Apple TV and its dedicated interface you get your movies and TV shows via the iTunes Store and third party apps like BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, Showtime Anytime, PBS, CNBC, ESPN, and more. With the new Apple TV you also get content in the form of apps and games. Apps can include things like weather and shipping apps and games will be along the lines of casual games that you see on the iOS App Store.
The way the Chromecast Ultra handles content is a bit different. As it has no interface, all the content you view on your Chromecast Ultra-connected TV is streamed (or “cast”) directly from your mobile device. This includes movies and TV shows, as well as apps and games. Because of the wealth of movies and TV shows available on Google Play, and the large number of apps that support Chromecast Ultra (Google Play Movies, BBC iPlayer, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Pandora, Vevo, YouTube, and more) you’re likely to pretty much find the same content available on both devices.
Chromecast Ultra VS Apple TV: Remotes
The huge difference between the two devices comes in the remote control department. The Chromecast Ultra doesn’t include a physical remote at all. Your mobile device and the dedicated Chromecast Ultra app are the only remotes you get. Any app that supports Chromecast Ultra works as a remote when your press the Cast button in the app. And the new Google Cast app also has some cool bells and whistles. It now offers a feature called Fast Play, that predicts what you may want to watch next after the show you are watching now and begins to preload a portion of that show so you can begin playing it right away. The Cast app also works as a sort of channel guide, allowing you to search content across all Chromecast Ultra-compatible apps to find what you want to watch next.
But those remotes pale in comparison to the new Siri Remote included with the Apple TV. The remote adds a trackpad above the physical buttons to you can swipe and tap your way around the Apple TV’s interface. But the reason it’s called the Siri Remote is because it also has Siri built in. With it you can control your Apple TV by voice commands, including using universal search to find content based on title, actor, or director. The Siri Remote also allows you to control video playback just by speaking “rewind” or “fast forward” and it also answers queries like “what’s the weather?”.
Chromecast Ultra VS Apple TV: Price & Verdict
The 32 GB model Apple TV costs £129 and the 64 GB version costs £179. The new Chromecast Ultra will only cost £69. Yeah, that’s a HUGE difference–but then again these devices are wildly different too.
And that difference makes it very hard to declare a winner. Though they both allow you to watch content on your TV, their way of doing so couldn’t be more different. The Chromecast Ultra is meant to be a relatively low-cost dongle that links your mobile device with your TV–and it does that exceptionally well. The Apple TV on the other hand is meant to be the new hub of your living room–the iPhone of your TV, if you will–that acts as a device unto itself. Because of that–and its more advanced specs and dedicated remote control–it’s more expensive.
For me, the Apple TV is the winner because I’m a fan of the old one and I like have a dedicated device I can use to watch content without needing my phone or tablet nearby. But if you aren’t in Apple’s ecosystem and you are looking for just a cheap way to turn your regular TV into a smart TV, the new Chromecast Ultra is hard to say no to.