Welcome to the new era of streaming media devices, most of which are being made by giant corporations with their own agendas.
The upside is the consumer audience gets a slew of shiny new gadgets for streaming media, such as the new Roku Stick, Google’s Chromecast, Microsoft’s Xbox One, Amazon’s Fire TV, and a yet-to-be announced TV product from Apple.
And the downside? Hidden agendas by companies that want to guide your behaviors to increase profits. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it should dictate the decision you make when buying one of these next-gen streaming devices.
Below, we’ve outlined five important strategies each of these companies are using to lure you in.
1) Platform loyalty
Some streaming devices reward or require loyalty to the platform they’ve built. If you’re only using Microsoft or Apple products exclusively, this will be beneficial, as you’ll gain access to new features.
For instance, Apple TV adds the ability to screencast (via AirPlay) for most other Apple gadgets. If you love your Android phone, then you’ll be at a disadvantage.
Platform loyalty also comes into play for anyone who plans on buying digital content exclusively through a device’s native store (like Apple’s iTunes or Microsoft’s Xbox Store). One example would be Apple not providing support for its iTunes purchases on other mobile devices or set-top boxes. (Microsoft does this, too, with Xbox Store purchases). You also might not be able to access digital media purchased through other platforms. Again, notice how the Apple TV doesn’t have apps for Amazon Prime or Vudu.
By contrast, Amazon seems more than willing to make the digital content you purchase available on competing set-top boxes, while Chromecast and the Roku Stick don’t really care where your loyalty lies. For example, Roku’s platform gives you plenty of options to buy or rent a digital video, such as MGo, Vudu, or Amazon Prime Instant Video.
2) Navigation controls
All the next-gen streaming devices offer a range of functionality, but there are two features that stand out:
Screencasting: Screencasting is the ability to “cast” what’s on your mobile device to your larger TV screen. Plenty of developers are choosing to add a screencast button within their mobile apps. For streaming media services, this means you can ditch the remote control for a touch screen device when you want to navigate through a particular app that’s built for TV. Both the Roku Stick and Chromecast tout screencast functionality as a main selling point.
Voice controls: If you’d like to do away with navigating via remote entirely (whether it be through a “dumb” remote or using your smartphone/tablet), then voice controls are the feature you want to watch for. Amazon’s Fire TV has voice controls built into the remote, along with a celebrity commercial from Gary Busey. And of course the Xbox One also gives you the ability to control the device with your voice through the Kinect’s microphone.
3) Exclusive content & perks
The bigger players like Microsoft and Amazon are using content to draw in users to their respective streaming devices. The catch is that you must pay an annual fee for it.
The Xbox One’s Gold membership ($60) will eventually offer its users access to 10 exclusive programs developed by Xbox Studios. If you’re already a member of Amazon’s Prime service ($100), you’ll also gain access to exclusive TV shows developed by the company as well as a library of popular free movies and TV series that’s on par with Netflix. And while I don’t really consider the PlayStation 4 to be a serious streaming device player, Sony has given the greenlight on an original series (based on the Powers comic book) that will be exclusive to PlayStation users.
The Xbox One takes the cake when it comes to gaming, as it should since the device was built primarily for this purpose. But other streaming devices want in on the action.
Both the Roku Stick and Fire TV have platforms that allow you to play video games, provided that you purchase a separate controller that isn’t included. It’s worth noting, however, that neither of these devices really compare with game consoles.
Last but not least is the strategy of producing the most affordable next-gen streaming device. In this case, spending the least amount will still get you something that’s better than the previous generation of set-top boxes.
The cheapest is definitely Google’s Chromecast at $35, but that might be more for the more tech-savvy individuals that simply want the ability to cast things to a larger TV screen. For a mere $15 more, the Roku Stick gives you some screencasting as well as a regular set-top box experience. It even comes with its own remote, which is something Chromecast doesn’t (and can’t) offer.