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Streaming your favorite movies and television shows is easier today than ever before. With a click of a button or a tap on your smartphone, you can resume watching Stranger Things, The Simpsons, or Star Wars from many places around the world.
Portable streaming devices bring the entertainment to anywhere there’s an HDMI-compatible television, so you don’t have to sit through hours of Albanian news coverage or Spanish reruns of The Big Bang Theory unless you really want to.
To find the best streaming option for you, you’ll need to consider your packing style, brand loyalties, streaming preferences, and, of course, budget.
Bear in mind that any streaming device is only as useful as the content you can access with it. If you don’t pay for a Disney+ account, you won’t be able to access programming on that platform, no matter what device you use. Streaming rights are also different in every country, so the show you were watching on Netflix in the US may not be available elsewhere, at least not without using a VPN.
Google Chromecast connects to any television with an HDMI port and a power source. It allows you to “cast” apps from your phone directly to the TV. Simply open Netflix on your phone, pick the show you want to watch, and tap the cast icon to watch it directly on your TV.
The Chromecast is lightweight (1.4 ounces) and doesn’t take up much space, so it’s easy to travel with. It doesn’t come with a remote, which means fewer things to pack (and fewer things to lose along the way.)
Without a remote, though, you’ll always need to use your phone, tablet, or laptop to operate the Chromecast. If you receive a phone call while watching television, your programming will be interrupted.
Google Chromecast vs. Google Chromecast Ultra
The standard Google Chromecast streams in HD quality (1080p), versus the Ultra HD (4K) quality available with the Google Chromecast Ultra. The Ultra also includes an Ethernet adapter, but it’s typically about double the price.
Ultra HD picture quality will only be available on compatible televisions, and you’ll need to ensure both the programming you’re watching and the streaming service you’re using are compatible as well.
Netflix, for example, only offers Ultra HD streaming through a premium plan, and even then, you’re only getting 4K quality on certain titles.
If you don’t own a 4K television or are only using your streaming device for travel, you likely don’t need the Ultra option. Most hotels and Airbnbs won’t have 4K TVs available.
Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick is Amazon’s response to Google’s Chromecast. You need to have or create an Amazon account to initially set up the device, which is a clever way for Amazon to promote its Prime Video and Alexa voice services as well.
The little device provides simple streaming on any TV with an HDMI port. Instead of using your phone to navigate, you can browse apps and choose what to watch through your TV using a separate remote.
The Fire Stick connects your screen to an application, essentially turning your television into a smart TV with access to all sorts of streaming apps, including Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, YouTube, news stations, and The Weather Network.
The Fire Stick comes with a few different pieces. The main stick looks like a large USB drive that plugs into the HDMI port of a TV. For times when the TV is mounted on a wall or sitting right up against one, there’s a flexible HDMI extender cable in the box for changing the direction of the stick.
The Fire Stick needs to be plugged in to work, so it comes with a USB 2.0 cable and a wall power adapter. The final piece is the remote (batteries included) that allows you to control TV power, streaming apps, volume, and Alexa.
Fire Stick vs. Fire Stick 4K
The base Fire Stick model streams in HD quality (1080p). The Fire Stick 4K is a little more expensive, offering 4K Ultra HD resolution and an Ethernet port. As usual, the 4K capabilities of the Fire Stick are only available on 4K-compatible televisions.
If you’re using your streaming device while traveling, you probably don’t need a Fire Stick 4K. It’s unlikely that the televisions you encounter in hotels or Airbnbs will have 4K compatible televisions. That said, if you plan to stream using Ultra HD at home, the minimal price difference may make it worth choosing the 4K option.
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Apple TV is a small set-top box that plugs into your TV via an HDMI cord, bringing content directly to your screen in much the same way as the Amazon Fire Stick.
Apple TV lets you browse apps to choose what you want to watch on your television, controlled via your iPhone or iPad or a separate, battery-powered Apple TV remote.
Apps for all of the major streaming services are available, including Apple TV+, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, iTunes, Hulu, as well as thousands of App Store games and smart home applications.
The Apple TV device is much larger than the Fire Stick or Chromecast, which may be the deciding factor for those looking to travel light. The extra size and weight (15 ounces) does come with added features, however, like local content storage space and an Ethernet connection.
Apple TV HD vs. Apple TV 4K
Apple TV HD streams in HD quality (1080p), while the Apple TV 4K streams in 4K (Ultra HD). If you don’t have a 4K television, there isn’t much need for an Apple TV 4K. Both options have an Ethernet port.
As mentioned above, it’s unlikely that you will encounter many 4K televisions on your travels. That being said, the 4K version doesn’t cost much more than the HD option, so if you plan to stay in fancier accommodation or plan to buy a 4K television for home, it may be worth the added cost.
What are your current brand affiliations? If you already have a lot of Apple products, you might consider Apple TV more seriously. If you currently use Google Assistant, you may lean toward Google Chromecast, and if you currently use Alexa, you may lean towards the Fire Stick based on your familiarity with the commands.
If your travel space is very limited, you’re going to need to rule out an Apple TV. The device is noticeably larger than the other options, so it will take up key carry-on space you’ll likely want to use for other things.
For travelers, choosing a streaming device comes down to what you plan to watch, along with your travel style, budget, and current tech and brand preferences.
Choose Google Chromecast if you:
- Travel light and want the smallest device
- Want to pull local or browser-based content onto a TV screen
- Want to use your phone instead of carrying a remote
- Need a low-cost streaming option
Choose Amazon Fire Stick if you:
- Travel light and need a small device
- Use or want to use Alexa voice command
- Want to stream apps on your TV (with a remote) instead of your phone
- Need a low-cost streaming option
Choose Apple TV if you:
- Have extra spare travel luggage space
- Use or want to use Siri voice command
- Want to stream using apps either on your phone or your TV (via a remote)
- Need extra content storage (32GB-64GB)
Images via Paul Postema (main image), Google (Chromecast), Amazon (Fire Stick), Apple (Apple TV)