I already had the Apple TV and a Chromecast and I used to have an older AndroidTV device but It went to a better home.
The AppleTV is a nice device, it is rock solid with it’s network connection and it’s integration with iTunes and the Apple Ecosystem, but it isn’t a general purpose device, you won’t be bringing up a webpage writing a report or plugging a usb stick into it or a hard drive also it is quite limited with audio quality since you mostly are depending on your monitor or TV for the sound. However it does have AirPlay and can use AirPlay to pass over Audio to a better device.
The chromecast is a dumb device it has to take its orders from another device, it works well sometimes but it does disappear from the lan from time to time. With just HDMI out there are no real options for audio, it is possible to get a breakout box to liberate the audio from the hdmi port but there is hdcp which may lead to crippling the video output of the device if you do that, I will find out next week.
Yesterday I bought an AndroidTV Box (OTT Nex Box A95X) a couple of very important features are AirPlay which is an Apple protocol along with a hardware jack for AV.
Now in theory you can use Airplay for both audio and video in reality I found that Video streaming direct to the AndroidTV box was buggy and video’s either didn’t play or lagged and stuttered. A bit disappointing really but Airplay works great on the AndroidTV box for audio.
Previously I had used Bluetooth to transfer audio to my surround amp. I even managed to get the appleTv to play a video from my Nas via the iTunes Library on my macbook use the macbook as an airplay audio device and get the macbook to use the bluetooth connection to connect to my Amp. It worked but the audio was a little delayed, only a few milliseconds but you could tell.
However Airplay is a great bit of technology now i can use the androidTV as Airplay Speakers and this is plugged into my Amp. The Apple TV can be configured to use it for audio and iTunes will also use it directly from my MacBook and it sounds great 🙂
Compared with using bluetooth the audio is cleaner, even the high quality bluetooth codec aptX isn’t as good and it can’t be, because bluetooth is limited in bandwidth, all audio has to be down mixed to fit within the bluetooth bandwidth. The audio with Airplay is more distinct and clearer. Because it uses wifi to pass the audio signal there is not the constraint that bluetooth is limited by. Another problem with bluetooth is range. In theory it is 10 meters but in practice it is less a lot less i was forced to use a bluetooth dongle on my macbook in order to be able to play over bluetooth with a physical distance of just a few feet. Without it the bluetooth receiver needed to be within literally inches!
Now as an audio device the AndroidTV just needs to be within my lan. ITunes can even send to more than one device. So i could choose to use another android device to run another set of speakers so I might have one setup in my bedroom another in my living room and select either or both as the audio destination. Notice I said android device, there are a number of Android Apps which offer Airplay as a receiver so there is nothing stopping you from using an android phone as an airplay receiver rather than an AndroidTV. Pretty much you would want a charger for the phone and a cable with a 3.5 jack to go into the headphone jack of the phone. Of course the AndroidTV does have hdmi so can be used independently as an audio visual entertainment centre. Streaming from the internet or on the lan. Some tablets have a hdmi port so could do a similar job.
An AndroidTv can do a lot more with a keyboard and mouse hooked up to it, it can become a work station. Use google docs and the google drive and kids can use it for their homework all that is needed is a monitor or TV with HDMI input. Ok work station maybe a little strong you are not going to edit a movie or produce an album with it but it can do quite a lot that a regular laptop or PC can do.
Android can print too, to a networked printer I’ve managed that before. I took a photo around 30 miles from home and used google cloud print to print it out at home remotely. When I came home later that day the print was waiting for me.
The AppleTV is a nice device a little let down by its physical connections, the big plus is that it will work well with your iTunes Library’s As an Airplay receiver it is rock solid. Very easy to navigate with the apple remote. But it can’t just bring up a random webpage which you can with the AndroidTV.
Unfortunately there is another bug in the ointment iTunes, while it can work with my iTunes Library on my macbook, theoretically with one on a PC too, it needs that computer in the mix, everything is organised on my nas but the Library is on my macbook which means take my macbook out the mix and my media is kind of stranded. I can kind of duplicate the library so each computer can have its own with the media staying in one place but it isn’t ideal perhaps a macmini as a nas would do the job but it still seems a bit much, not cheap either or as eco friendly my nas runs on 5 watts. Can an iphone or ipod touch support a shareable itunes library?
So Bluetooth Audio is a waste of money for home audio due to the Audio Quality, it isn’t terrible but for Jogging in the Car out and about it isn’t bad and of course its a hands free kit for your phone when you are in the car.
The chromecast how much I wanted to like you but honestly it only has one real strength its very portable it can sit behind a TV and be powered by that TV. You can cast to it but sometimes it just doesn’t show up on the network or it sits there buffering buffering. You are also limited to the audio quality of your display device. On the plus side you can take it anywhere and generally just set it up. A chromecast costs about €39 an androidTV about €50 it is worth spending the extra on the androidTV. Anyone want to buy a slightly used chromecast?