Streaming speeds compared: Roku vs. Fire TV vs. Apple TV and more

On paper, most modern streaming players have the same Wi-Fi capabilities. Whether you buy a Roku Ultra, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV 4K, or the new Chromecast, you’ll be getting a device with dual-band Wi-Fi 5 (aka 802.11ac) support, which should provide a speedy connection on most recent wireless routers.

But specs don’t tell the whole story. This week, Roku released a new version of its Roku Ultra streaming box, and it came with an unusual claim: Despite no change to the Wi-Fi chip inside, Roku says the new Ultra offers 50 percent more range than last year’s version.

My Roku Ultra review did indeed find some modest connection speed gains for the new model, but it also made me wonder how the Ultra compares to other streaming devices. So, I decided to go further down the rabbit hole, comparing real-world Wi-Fi speeds on the new Roku Ultra against several streaming players from Roku, Apple, Amazon, and Google.

Those tests turned up some surprising differences. Even with the same Wi-Fi specs, your choice of streaming device could have a big impact on streaming quality.

Comparing streaming connection speeds

My little experiment compared the following devices: The 2020 Roku Ultra, the Roku Streaming Stick+, Amazon’s Fire TV Cube, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K, the Apple TV 4K, and the new Chromecast with Google TV.

To test performance in ideal, moderate, and difficult conditions, I ran speed tests in three locations: In my office on the same desk as my Wi-Fi router (a speedy Asus RT-88AXU), in my basement entertainment console, and on the basement floor at the opposite corner of the house from my router. My internet service provider is Spectrum, which offers advertised speeds of 200 Mbps.

Unfortunately, each platform offers different speed-test tools, so this test has some inherent variables. Roku has a speed test in its settings menu and inside the Netflix app. Fire TV and Chromecast have Netflix’s speed test and a third-party Internet Speed Test app from RedMango Analytics. Apple TV has RedMango’s app and Speedtest by Ookla, but no Netflix tool. To level things out, I ran several passes of two different tests on each platform, I then averaged the averages of each test for an overall number.

Of course, there are many more variables that might affect your own setup, such as your internet speed, your router, and the layout of your house. All of which is to say that you shouldn’t take these results as gospel, revealing as they might be.

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