Why One Streaming Device May Not Be Enough

There was a time, not too long ago, where the streaming apps included with your Blu-ray player were all you needed. Nearly every player had, at the minimum, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, and Hulu. For the most part, the streaming quality was very good regardless of the model of player – all were HD and all but Hulu offered 5.1 audio. The real problem, though, was that these apps were not always updated to include newer user interfaces or features that were found on stand alone streaming devices. More recently, Blu-ray and UHD Blu-ray player manufacturers have cut back on what apps are available on their players. Oppo omitted them entirely on their last model, while Sony’s latest UBP-X800M2 only includes Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube.

This has driven many to purchase one of the three most popular stand-alone streaming devices – AppleTV, Roku, and Amazon Fire. Over the last year, I have discovered that if you want to be able to enjoy many of the most popular streaming services with the highest quality video and audio, the Roku will not cut it, and what you really need is both an AppleTV 4K and an Amazon Fire Stick 4K. Why? Well, let’s take a look at how some of the more popular streaming services perform on all three devices.

Netflix is, hands down, the most popular subscription streaming service available today. Much of the service’s original programming can be streamed in UHD with Dolby Vision or HDR10 high dynamic range, with many movies and shows also offering a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Presently, only the AppleTV 4K can deliver Netflix with all of the above. Amazon’s Fire Stick 4K is second, with Dolby Vision or HDR10, but no Atmos. Roku comes in third with only HDR10 and no Atmos.

Vudu is also a very popular streaming service, hosting many of the titles in your Movies Anywhere and (formally) UltraViolet libraries. Many movies can be streamed in UHD with Dolby Vision and/or HDR10 with Dolby Atmos audio, provided you redeemed or purchased the movie in UHD. AppleTv 4K wins again, having the ability to deliver all of the above. Roku comes in second, with HDR10 and Atmos capability. Vudu is not officially available on Fire devices.

Amazon Prime Video may just be the only app that performs about the same on all three devices. The Fire Stick 4K gets a slight edge, only because Amazon makes finding 4K content somewhat easier on their device than on others. Both AppleTV 4K and Fire Stick 4K deliver the service in Dolby Vision and/or HDR10 with Atmos Audio, while Roku offers HDR10 and Atmos audio. Currently, the only title available with Dolby Atmos audio is the 4K UHD stream of the Jack Ryan television series.

Hulu is a service most cord-cutters subscribe to, as it offers next-day streaming (with or without commercials, depending on your membership plan) of shows broadcast on ABC, NBC, and FOX. Hulu stopped supporting UHD streaming in June 2018. What is most aggravating about Hulu is that only the Fire TV supports 5.1 audio, with only PCM stereo audio on both AppleTV 4K and Roku.

CBS All Access is the CBS broadcast network version of Hulu, offering next-day streaming of its shows with or without commercials depending on your membership plan (which costs the same or more than Hulu – go figure). This is where things get really crazy. CBS All Access streams in HD, but only the AppleTV 4K can stream with 5.1 audio. Both Fire TV and Roku only offer stereo audio, although I have had many subscribers tell me that if you subscribe using Amazon Prime Channels rather than thru the Fire TV app, most shows do stream in 5.1.

I’ve broken down everything into an easy to read chart below, and things do not bode well for Roku, which happens to be the most popular streaming device but also offers the top services with the fewest set of features.

 

Published by

Todd Erwin

editor,member

31 Comments

  1. Neil Middlemiss

    I’ll have to check but watching Love, Death and Robots on Netflix last night via my TCL with Roku OS, I was sure it popped up with the Dolby Vision logo for me.

    TVs running Roku OS are completely different animals from the Roku devices, especially with Netflix. For some odd reason, Roku TVs can do Atmos, but not the stand-alone devices.

  2. I broke down and purchased a 4K Apple TV but not going to bother getting another streaming device! I would rather focus on building my 4K blu-ray and blu-ray collection with only filling in certain titles using digital streaming.

  3. I had to break down and buy another Apple TV for my second home. I had bought a surprisingly good TCL 50" 4K TV that had Roku built in. It runs Netflix and Amazon Prime just fine. However, it will not run Crave, which is a Canadian service we use to stream HBO and other shows. Plus, without the Apple content, I could not view the many movies and shows which I have bought there. Makes me wonder if having a library online is a long-term solution. I had been a fanatic DVD buyer back in the day and now have just a handful of Blu rays and UHD discs.

  4. Scott McGillivray

    Makes me wonder if having a library online is a long-term solution. I had been a fanatic DVD buyer back in the day and now have just a handful of Blu rays and UHD discs.

    Today the answer is AND not OR. In the future it may be viable to go only streaming. The future will never be disk only again. Lotsa dinosaurs unhappy about that meteor but the meteor don't care about how dinosaurs feel.

    Good to see you posting Scott! Hope the acting is going well!

  5. Sam Posten

    If the only thing you are missing is 5.1 on CBS on AppleTV, get an Apple TV and start sending nasty grams to CBS. Don't buy a second box.

    Hulu in 5.1 is another – only available on Fire TV. I am hoping that changes with Disney taking the driver's seat.

  6. Scott McGillivray

    Makes me wonder if having a library online is a long-term solution.

    I think the thing for a lot of people, the average consumers that drive the business, is that that group doesn't really want to have a giant library. They want access to the content they're interested in seeing, but the amount of specific interest they have in specific titles is probably less than you or I might feel. Most people these days are probably content with having a streaming subscription to a service like Netflix or Amazon Prime for their general needs, and happy to supplement that with a la carte rentals from whatever service is most convenient to access on the device they have.

    People like us that are actually interested in having a specific, infallible collection of titles to watch where access is never in doubt are probably in a very small minority of total media viewers these days.

    I think for most people, most of their needs are met with a single device and a subscription, with maybe an individual title purchased or rented here or there.

    One brief example to demonstrate how this paradigm shift is affecting me:
    -In the past, if there was a TV series that I enjoyed, I would purchase the new season on disc as soon as it was made available. These would typically be released following the end of one season but before the beginning of the next one. I'd enjoy rewatching it before the new season was to begin. The most recent new show that I liked enough where I would have bought it was "The Orville" from Fox. But I watched that show on Fox in HD, but it was released on disc only in standard definition. Meanwhile, the HD versions of the episodes remain available for viewing both on Fox's website and their app and on demand portals (which I have free access to as a cable customer), and also on Hulu (which I also have). In that environment, I couldn't see a reason to purchase the disc. The disc version would be of lower quality than what I saw when the show first aired, and of lower quality than all the services I already have which allow me to watch the show for free. In the past, I'd have needed to purchase that disc in order to have access to those episodes after they aired. In the present, my access to those episodes hasn't changed even though the season has ended.

    I think a lot of people got there much sooner than I did, because they didn't really want to own a bunch of stuff in the first place, they just wanted to be able to see it.

  7. Xbox One X is my default streamer… Vudu, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime
    Roku only for Fandango Now
    Apple TV for iTunes

    I do agree you may need more then one. However, I have been tempted to get rid of the Roku. I can’t even remember the last time I went to it.

  8. Very well said, Josh. I think you make a good point in asking the question of why we buy physical media. In the past, it was my passion to have a huge library of DVDs, and I wound up with over 500. Now, most everything is available via streaming or at worst I can rent via Apple. But there is something special about some movies that make me want to own a physical copy. Beyond the obvious choice of movies I have acted in, I really want a copy of my favourites. Movies I have watched over and over and will watch again. I don't want to be at the mercy of a streaming service that they may or may not have the title when I want it. Plus, as I just learned with Apple, if I no longer want to support a company, I am beholden to them if I want access to titles I actually purchased. That is rather unfair but unavoidable unless I buy a physical copy.

  9. Scott McGillivray

    I really want a copy of my favourites. Movies I have watched over and over and will watch again.

    I feel the same way. I suspect we're a dying breed, but that doesn't make the desire any less valid.

    My wife has been on this digital train before I was, and even she has some exceptions – she's fine with digital copies for just about everything, but wants to keep her discs of "The Princess Bride" and "Stardust". And she's got a good reason. Those are the two movies that she watches whenever she's feeling sick. Those are her comfort food movies. And she made the not-unreasonable point that when she's sick, she doesn't want to remember which service those movies are on, she just wants to grab the disc and put it in the player and not have to think about it. That makes sense to me. And yet, we have a combined collection of well over a thousand discs, and out of those thousand, she's got two that she wouldn't want to be without. And I think that's probably closer to where most people are.

    Scott McGillivray

    Plus, as I just learned with Apple, if I no longer want to support a company, I am beholden to them if I want access to titles I actually purchased. That is rather unfair but unavoidable unless I buy a physical copy.

    They are working on that at least, but it doesn't appear that Canada yet has all of the options we have in the U.S. I hope that they straighten it out for you guys. In the U.S., most studios now participate in something called Movies Anywhere, so that even if you purchase a title just in iTunes, it links up with all of the other major retailers, so that you can view your purchases on basically any device with any provider. There are some studios who aren't participating yet, and it only works for movies and not TV shows, but it's my hope that eventually the entire industry will move in that direction, where all of your purchases regardless of where you made them will remain accessible to you on any device. It's a work in progress to be sure, but I think that's where this is all heading.

  10. I have both Apple TV 4K and Roku Ultra 4K devices in my main system (along with two UHD disc players and a SD-DVD player), similar to @Robert Crawford above. However, the Apple device gets used for streaming the vast majority of the time. For the other 4 displays in the house, we have various Roku models attached for two reasons: (1) they are a lot less expensive than the Apple TV, and (2) Comcast provides an Xfinity app for Roku that eliminates the need to spend $30 per month renting cable boxes for 3 displays. Last time I checked, that app was not available for the Apple TV.

    I have been taking one of our Roku units with us when we travel to our condo in South Carolina in the spring and autumn — mostly because it's a lot easier to disconnect from the display in our basement than removing the Apple TV from the main home theater. However, I have purchased so much content via iTunes that is exclusive to that platform that I may just buy a spare power supply for the Apple TV, which will make it pretty easy to remove from the main HT. I can then take the Apple device to South Carolina.

  11. Scott Merryfield

    However, I have purchased so much content via iTunes that is exclusive to that platform that I may just buy a spare power supply for the Apple TV, which will make it pretty easy to remove from the main HT. I can then take the Apple device to South Carolina.

    With the Apple TV app coming to Roku before the end of the year, this may not be necessary.

  12. Neil Middlemiss

    I’ll have to check but watching Love, Death and Robots on Netflix last night via my TCL with Roku OS, I was sure it popped up with the Dolby Vision logo for me.

    Right! I knew there was something I was watching I’d forgotten about. Need to get back to LDR. 🙂

  13. I’ve got a TiVo, a couple AppleTV’s, and a Shield. It’s crazy pants inexplicable that CBS and Hulu don’t do surround sound on the aTV.

    Netflix is, hands down, the most popular subscription streaming service available today. Much of the service’s original programming can be streamed in UHD with Dolby Vision or HDR10 high dynamic range, with many movies and shows also offering a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Presently, only the AppleTV 4K can deliver Netflix with all of the above.

    It should be noted that aTV can’t do the Netflix Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stuff.
    https://www.theverge.com/2018/12/28…h-apple-tv-chromecast-netflix-devices-support

  14. CBS is 5.1 on an AppleTV. Didn’t used to be when the service debuted but has been since at least this January.

    I’m surprised about Hulu though. My receiver doesn’t display exactly what format the AppleTV puts out (and I’ve yet to find a display within the AppleTV showing what the audio format being used at any given moment is) so it can be difficult for me to determine what the format is.

  15. Josh Steinberg

    CBS is 5.1 on an AppleTV. Didn’t used to be when the service debuted but has been since at least this January.

    I’m surprised about Hulu though. My receiver doesn’t display exactly what format the AppleTV puts out (and I’ve yet to find a display within the AppleTV showing what the audio format being used at any given moment is) so it can be difficult for me to determine what the format is.

    We may not know the codec (I assume it's PCM like on Roku) but it is a 2-channel stream.

  16. Todd Erwin

    With the Apple TV app coming to Roku before the end of the year, this may not be necessary.

    Maybe not, but a power cord is under $8 on Amazon, so it just may make sense to take the better streamer with me instead of messing with any idiosyncrasies that may be involved with the Apple TV app running on Roku.

  17. BobO’Link

    I've never understood why anyone would want a "smart" TV or streaming services included in media players as they frequently don't get updated or updated properly. Stand alone streaming devices are relatively inexpensive and *do* get updated. My wife wants a "smart" TV and I'm having trouble convincing her that's *not* what she wants or needs and that a "dumb" TV with a Roku or other streaming device is the better, less expensive, choice. I purchased one TV for her but she refused to allow me to install it (OK… fine… I kept it for myself as it's larger and better than what I currently have).

    It is almost impossible to purchase a TV these days that isn't "smart" unless it is a fairly small size TV (32" and under). Both of my 4K TVs are smart, but I do not use any of the smart features on them and use a Roku, Apple Tv, or Fire stick instead.

  18. I think most people aren't particularly interested in the nitty gritty of how things work. They know that they want to hook their TV up to their cable box and possibly a disc player. They know that they use Netflix, Prime, Hulu, etc., and just want to be able to use those apps. I don't think most people consider the actual quality of those apps or how differences in software and hardware can affect picture quality.

    I'd consider people posting at HTF to be more advanced that the average viewer, and even here, there are a number of people who post that streaming looks or sounds terrible to them compared to whatever they used to watch previously, but that they're comparing the experience of watching a movie on a $500 beautifully engineered Oppo disc player to a $10 streaming stick or built-in disc player app that hasn't been updated for years. I think the tide is turning there – some of our members are getting really good boxes like the AppleTV 4K and noticing that streaming can be outstanding. Even I'm blown away at just how much better the AppleTV 4K is over the previous AppleTV that I had, even playing just regular HD content.

    Nowadays you can't really get a great TV that doesn't have something built in. I think the trick isn't so much avoiding a "smart TV" since all TVs basically are "smart TVs" now. I think the trick is simply not to be limited by what's on the set, and to go ahead and use that premium AppleTV 4K box (or something similar) and just pretend those apps aren't on the TV at all. Our living room TV is a TCL model that has a built-in Roku interface. But after some testing revealed that the AppleTV produced better results for identical content, we stopped using the built in Roku entirely. It doesn't bother me that it's there and it certainly doesn't hurt to have it as a backup, but it's not the first thing we reach for.

  19. Todd Erwin

    It is almost impossible to purchase a TV these days that isn't "smart" unless it is a fairly small size TV (32" and under). Both of my 4K TVs are smart, but I do not use any of the smart features on them and use a Roku, Apple Tv, or Fire stick instead.

    I do the same thing. My main home theater actually has 5 different devices that can stream — Apple TV 4K, Roku Ultra 4K, Vizio 4K display, Panasonic UHD player, and Sony UHD player. I ignore the streaming function on 3 of the 5 devices and use just the Apple TV and Roku devices (mostly the Apple).

    Same with our master bedroom setup. We have a Roku Premiere 4K, Samsung 4K display and Sony BD player that can all stream. We just use the Roku, though, for that function.

Leave a Reply