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.