Apple TV vs Chromecast: Which is better?

Apple TV vs Chromecast
Sneaking into your living room, takes over your TV

Right now, the Apple vs Google comparisons are focused on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, and everyone's attention is turning to wearable gadgets like iWatch and Google Glass.

But in between that, the two companies are sneaking into living rooms to take over your big screen TV with a pair of streaming products: Apple TV and Chromecast.

The mobile content that you carry can finally break free of the thin bezel of your smartphone and tablet, and be shared with the entire family on large TVs and projectors.

The question is: Which of these two media streaming devices is right for your digital ecosystem so that you get the most out of your movies, TV shows, music, games and apps?

Compatibility: Open vs walled garden

Chromecast is the new kid on the block, but it supports more devices than Apple TV due to Apple's instance on a walled garden.

Google's decision is great news for Android owners because while Apple TV doesn't officially support streaming content from Google-powered smartphones and tablets, Chromecast works flawlessly.

In fact, Chromecast is compatible with Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OS X and Chrome OS.

Apple TV pales in comparison, limiting connections to iOS and Mac OS X hardware. If you're a dedicated Apple fan, that's fine at first.

But there may come a time when an Android-owning friend or family member wants to take a turn streaming vacation photos or share a new funny music video, and they can't.

The only major operating system that Chromecast doesn't support is Windows Phone 8. Neither does Apple TV.

Look at my totally ripped apps

The Apple TV vs Chromecast roles are reversed when it comes to the number of apps available for the media streaming platforms.

Apple list for Apple TV vs Chromecast

Still waiting for more Chromecast apps

Yes, Apple TV was called a "hobby" box by the company's CEO Tim Cook, but content companies are taking it seriously. It supports more native apps than Chromecast. Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, YouTube and all of your iTunes content including Podcasts and iTunes Radio are here.

For the kids there are not one, not two, but three Disney apps: Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior. Sports-loving adults have plenty of options too, thanks to Watch ESPN, MLB.TV, NBA, NHL GameCenter and the new MLS app.

Chromecast is still playing catch up in this department. It launched with support for Netflix, YouTube, Play Movies & TV and Play Music. Of these four apps, three are owned by Google.

That's not exactly a shining example of third-party support.

However, content owners have expressed interest. HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Redbox Instant, Revision3, Vevo, Sling Media and Vimeo have all committed to or expressed a desire for Chromecast compatibility.

To be fair, Apple TV launched in early 2007 and is on its third iteration of the set-top box. Chromecast didn't start plugging into HDMI ports until this past summer, so Google has a bit more time before Chromecast starts feeling underdeveloped like Google TV.

Streaming specific apps

Even more exciting than native apps is the ability to stream additional content from a computer or mobile device directly to the big screen via Apple TV or Chromecast on the same Wi-Fi network.

Apple TV vs Chromecast

Chromecast has the advantage of using the cloud

Apple's Airplay functionality makes it possible to reflect photos, videos, audio files and even whole apps from a variety of iOS programs.

The only problem is that apps that don't traditionally work in the background stop streaming as soon as the app is closed. If you have iPhone OCD and often hit the home button to check your mail every five seconds, you may interrupt the mobile-to-Apple TV signal quite often.

Chromecast mirrors its few compatible apps through a different method - the cloud. Google made it so that its streaming dongle isn't device dependant. It's just the key to get the content started. Chromecast does the rest of the work, pulling the content from the web.