Netflix is top of mind for anyone purchasing a streaming media device like Apple TV, Chromecast or Roku. Sure, these devices offer access to hundreds, if not thousands of other media apps, but let’s face it: At the end of the day, most people use them for Netflix viewing, and little else.

That’s why we wanted to find out: Which of these devices is the best Netflix streamer?

To find out, we compared the newest top-of-the-line products from Apple, Amazon, Google and Roku; namely, the Roku 4, the 2015 Fire TV with voice remote, the 2015 Chromecast and the new Apple TV. We ignored all the other features these devices may offer, and squarely focused on Netflix. And despite Netflix’s efforts to offer a consistent experience across all devices, there were some surprising differences.

Here’s how Netflix performed on each of these devices:


Apple TV

Netflix used to be long-neglected on previous Apple TV generations, but the app got a much-needed facelift for the new Apple TV. It now looks and functions mostly like the Netflix app on other devices, which includes large artwork, access to profiles and Netflix’s Kids user interface.

Netflix looks good on the new Apple TV.
Screenshot: Janko Roettgers / Variety

The new Apple TV comes with a remote control with integrated microphone enabling Siri-powered search. However, you won’t be to only search Netflix’s catalog with your voice. Instead, Apple TV is always searching a number of participating providers at the same time, and then offers users the ability to view a title with the Netflix app. That works well most of the time, but the device at times doesn’t serve up any results for Netflix-exclusive titles. Finding “Jessica Jones” was impossible for Siri.

Apple’s universal search makes it easy to find shows and movies available on Netflix.
Screenshot: Janko Roettgers / Variety

Apple TV’s voice remote isn’t just for searches, but also for providing context and control while binging on a Netflix movie or show, or titles watched with other services for that mattter. For instance, asking aloud, “who stars in this?” opens an overlay at the bottom of the screen that shows the main actors of what you’re currently watching, complete with the option to leave the video and explore other movies or shows with the same actor.

SEE MORE: Hands-On With the New Apple TV: Fast and Fun, But With Limits

The remote also understands commands like “skip ahead five minutes” or “fast forward.” Asking “what just happened?” automatically skips back 30 seconds to show you what you missed, and users can even switch the audio and turn on subtitles with a voice command.

Siri shows the main actors of a movie or show on command.
Screenshot: Janko Roettgers / Variety

The Apple TV remote control comes with an integrated touch pad, which can be used to effortless “scrub” through a show or movie to fast-forward or rewind in search of a particular scene. And the remote has one feature missing from other comparable streamers: A volume rocker. Seems like a small thing, but makes a big difference when you’re in the middle of an action movie explosion scene, with no idea where your regular remote is.

Also nice: Apple TV uses a feature called HDMI CEC. In layman’s terms, this means that users just have to press a button on the Apple TV remote to turn on their TV set, and change to the right HDMI port.

Missing from the Netflix app on Apple TV is an option to browse the service’s content categories, something that’s possible both on Roku and Fire TV as well as in Netflix’s mobile apps. Also notable: Apple TV doesn’t show any trailers and other short clips for movies and TV shows. That may be a minor nuisance with many movies, but it’s starting to become an issue as Netflix is producing more original content, for which it is adding extended features.

One example: The service currently has 10 trailers and two recaps of previous seasons available for “House of Cards.” Apple TV users get to see none of these titles.

Roku 4

The new Roku 4 comes with the latest version of Netflix’s TV app, and has some features unavailable on other platforms. Roku’s Netflix app auto-plays the first title of a show in the background of a show detail page, which makes it easier to jump right into viewing the episode, but can also be distracting during casual browsing.

The Netflix app on Roku’s new Roku 4 streaming device.
Screenshot: Janko Roettgers / Variety

The app also offers access to trailers and other extra content that isn’t available on Apple TV, and it lets users browse categories to more easily discover new content.

Roku 4 users can access the device’s voice search at any point, but pressing the search button on the remote control takes you out of the Netflix app and back to the Roku main screen. Roku’s voice search includes results from a number of services, and browsing through them to get back to the Netflix app can actually take a bit of time, especially if you need to find titles actually available on Netflix.

Sesame Street has multiple episodes on Netflix. Good luck finding them with Roku’s universal search.
Screenshot: Janko Roettgers / Variety

Searching within the Netflix app is only available with the on-screen keyboard, which works reasonably fast, thanks to Netflix’s autocomplete functionality. And since the Roku 4 is a 4K-capable device, it also has access to Netflix’s 4K catalog — provided that you have a 4K TV and also are paying for Netflix’s $12 premium-level plan, which is required for any 4K video viewing. Not sure if you are getting the full 4K resolution? Roku’s Netflix app displays the current streaming resolution, and more details, when pressing the star * button on the remote control.

Roku’s remote control actually comes with a volume rocker as well, but it’s not capable of controlling the TV volume. Instead, it can be used in conjunction with a headphone that can be plugged right into the remote control for private listening.

Amazon Fire TV

The latest Fire TV comes with the same Netflix app as Roku’s streaming boxes, with a few minor differences. Fire TVs don’t auto-play the first episode of a show in the background in the way Roku does, which makes for a more static, but potentially also lower-pressure experience. The app also features access to trailers and extra clips as well as categories to browse.

Netflix on Fire TV.
Screenshot: Janko Roettgers / Variety

The Fire TV’s remote control does have an integrated microphone for voice search, but this only searches Amazon’s own video catalog, with Netflix titles being woefully absent. The result is that you can’t search Netflix on Fire TV at all with your voice, and instead have to resort to the on-screen keyboard every time.

Not that Jessica Jones: Amazon’s Fire TV only offers voice search for Amazon titles, not for Netflix’s catalog.
Screenshot: Janko Roettgers / Variety

Interestingly, the Fire TV does show up in Netflix’s mobile app, making it possible to launch and control playback straight from a phone or tablet, much in the same way that this is possible with Google’s Chromecast. However, users still have to launch the Netflix app on their Fire TV with their existing remote control first in order for this to work, at which point they might just stick to using the remote already in their hands.

SEE MORE: Amazon to Stream Video in High Dynamic Range Format in 2015

Like the Roku 4, the Fire TV also supports 4K video playback. This means that consumers with a 4K-capable TV can use the device to watch a selection of Netflix titles in 4K.


Google’s Chromecast streaming adapter works very differently than the other streaming boxes reviewed in this article: It doesn’t have a remote control, and there is no menu on TV to navigate. Chromecast instead works directly with Netflix’s mobile apps on smartphones and tablets, where users can find movies and TV shows to watch. Upon selecting a title, playback can be launched directly on a Chromecast-connected TV.

Chromecast outsources the user interface to the mobile device, where users can browse and find new shows before the one on TV has ended.
Screenshot: Janko Roettgers / Variety

This means that Chromecast allows users to do some things not possible with its TV-centric competitors. For example, users can already browse for the next thing to watch while the previous show is still running. Netflix’s mobile apps also offer access to categories to browse. Interestingly, Netflix hasn’t made trailers available through its mobile apps, which also means that Chromecast users won’t be able to watch those “House of Cards” recaps either.

SEE MORE: Chromecast Outsold Roku, Others to Become #1 Streaming Device in Q3: Report

Google recently updated the Chromecast hardware, and the second-generation device comes with some features for more instantaneous playback. Currently, the device pre-caches some app components on the streaming adapter as soon as users open the Netflix app on their phone, but in the near future, it will actually also cache the beginning of the show you’re most likely to watch.

Chromecast doesn’t support 4K, and the voice search largely depends on the mobile device you’re using in conjunction with Chromecast. Netflix’s Android app directly integrates with Google’s excellent voice recognition, leading to swift and accurate results directly within the app, without the need to navigate results from other sources like one would have to do on Apple TV or Roku. On iOS, no such integration exists, which means that iPhone users can’t do voice search for Netflix.

So which one is the best for Netflix?

As is so often, there’s more than one answer to this question. Apple TV is a really well-performing Netflix streamer, and its universal search functionality handily beats competitors like Roku and Fire TV. It’s disappointing that you can’t browse Netflix by categories on Apple TV, and trailers and other extras are missing, but most users will still be happy with this device.

However, the new Apple TV is also expensive — $149 for the base model — and it’s not able to stream content in 4K. The latter could be a big deal for anyone getting a new 4K TV this holiday season. If you want to access Netflix’s 4K catalog, then the $130 Roku 4 is the best choice — and you can be assured that you get the best Netflix app, including access to all trailers and extras.

Amazon’s Fire TV offers an adequate Netflix app and 4K playback, but really disappoints with its missing voice search, and can’t really be recommended as a device primarily used to watch Netflix.

Finally, Google’s $35 Chromecast is still the best option for price-conscious consumers. On Android, it also has the best voice search of all platforms, and it could also become the fasted way to watch Netflix on your TV period once Google and Netflix add pre-caching of content for Chromecast.