If you're thinking about ditching cable for Internet video, you're going to need a set-top box.
There are plenty to choose from: the Apple TV, the Roku 3, Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Chromecast, and Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Fire TV all do a more than adequate job of providing access to the most popular Internet video services.
Nevertheless, two new devices have appeared, giving cord-cutters an even greater degree of choice. Google's Nexus Player and Amazon's Fire TV Stick are the latest offerings in the space.
The Chromecast Plus
Like Google's Chromecast, the Nexus Player makes it easy to beam Internet video from a connected smartphone or tablet, but it takes it one step further. Powered by Google's Android TV operating system, it offers a dedicated interface, remote control, app store, and the ability to play video games -- all features the Chromecast lacks.
That extra functionality comes at a cost -- while the Chromecast retails for $35, the Nexus Player goes for $99, making it almost three times as expensive. Do the extra features justify the price tag?
At least for now, not really. The dedicated interface makes the Nexus Player easier and more convenient than the Chromecast, but there are few apps that can take advantage of it. Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube are there, but Amazon's Prime Video isn't, and neither are many of the more popular cable TV apps, like HBO Go or Showtime Anytime. Google's video game controller has been widely praised for its excellent build quality, but there are few games available for the Nexus Player.
As a new platform, this is not particularly surprising and, admittedly, should change drastically in the months and years ahead (especially with Google's many hardware partners building Android TV solutions of their own). What's more surprising is the bugs -- many reviewers have found fault with the Nexus Player, lamenting its error-prone interface.
Ars Technica labeled it "more prototype than finished product." Engadget called it "flawed" and admitted that it had "a few bugs." if Android's success is any indication, Android TV could eventually emerge as the dominant set-top box platform. But would be cord-cutters looking for a set-top box in the immediate future should likely stay away.
A cheaper solution
Amazon's Fire TV Stick is the exact opposite -- a cheaper version of its fully featured Fire TV set-top box.
Unfortunately, the Fire TV Stick won't, officially, be released until Nov. 19, and if you order one today, it's unlikely you'll receive it before the turn of the year. Still, it is a promising device.
Compared to Amazon's FireTV, it is considerably cheaper ($39 vs $99) and offers nearly all of the same features -- including access to Amazon's Prime Video and most of the popular streaming services. But that price comes at a cost -- the Fire TV Stick lacks the horsepower of the full Fire TV.
One of the Fire TV's biggest advantages over its competition is its speedy interface -- its powerful, quad-core processor ensures that there's never any lag when scrolling through videos or opening apps. The Fire TV Stick, however, only offers a dual-core processor and sports 1GB less RAM. The Fire TV also comes with a remote offering voice search -- Fire TV Stick buyers have to pay an additional $30 if they want that feature.
The more expensive Fire TV is, objectively, the better device, but those looking to save money, and come live with its shortcomings, should consider the Fire TV Stick.
As it adds apps, Google's Nexus Player should improve over time, and given its bargain price, the Fire TV Stick is an attractive option. But unfortunately, neither the Nexus Player nor the Fire TV Stick offers anything that isn't already available.
For now, cord-cutters are still better off going with the more established Roku 3, Apple TV, or Fire TV.