Fire TV Stick 4K is the better of the two since it uses a dedicated remote rather than your phone. Chromecast Ultra is a great device if you don’t mind using your phone or Google Assistant to control the TV.
Starting with Fire TV, you can view HD content from the following apps: Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, AT&T TV, YouTube, Disney+, YouTube TV, and Apple TV. While Vudu, Google Play, Peacock, and HBO Max are popular apps, you cannot access them with in Amazon’s app store .
In terms of 4K content, you get Prime Video, YouTube, and Netflix. Fire TV supports both Dolby Vision and HDR10.
Chromecast relies on the cast button, which is available through most phone apps. You’ll be able to access content from Netflix, Sling, HBO, AT&T TV, Google Play Movies, Vudu, Hulu, Showtime, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Epix, Spotify, and many others (full list). The only major streaming app that is incompatible is Apple TV.
You can also mirror anything you’re viewing from your computer or device on the TV. It can be used to cast from websites or services that aren’t cast-compatible.
While Chromecast Ultra supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and the 4K content options are Vudu, Netflix, and YouTube.
Content winner: Chromecast
I’m not a huge fan of the Fire TV interface, but it wins here by default. Chromecast doesn’t have an interface for your TV. It only streams content from your phone.
The Fire TV interface shows your streaming apps that you can access with the remote. It shows you the five most recently opened apps along with five of your favorite apps. However, you need to sign in to each one, which is annoying.
As is common with Amazon devices, the interface is packed with advertisements. There’s a banner that hogs half the screen, a “sponsored” banner ad near the bottom for “relevant” products, and other ads throughout. Plus, it shows you content for apps you didn’t subscribe to.
If you want a physical remote without an interface cluttered with ads, I recommend Apple TV or Roku. Apple doesn’t have any ads and Roku’s ads stay out of your way.
The Fire TV remote has voice search capabilities. Just say a movie or show and it’ll appear on the interface. The interface will show you all the streaming services with the content that you asked for.
Fire TV is best when you buy streaming services, like HBO or Starz, directly from Amazon instead of your cable company. This lets you use Amazon Channels, which doesn’t have nearly as many ads and everything is bundled into the Prime Video app on your phone for on-the-go viewing. Content loads from Amazon’s servers with this, which results in faster loading and better streaming quality. You can also view information about the actors whenever you pause the content.
Unfortunately, you can’t subscribe to Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, or any live TV services via Amazon Channels, so you’ll still be stuck on Amazon’s ad-heavy home screen.
Chromecast doesn’t have a TV interface. Instead, you’ll cast the streaming apps from your phone onto your TV by hitting the cast button. While you don’t have an actual TV interface or remote (all playback and content selections will be done through your phone), it is a solid way of streaming.
You don’t need to learn a new and unfamiliar interface, the only difference is that you push the cast button when you want the content to go to the TV. Setup is simple because you don’t have to sign into the apps multiple times.
However, there are some casting downsides. Sometimes the casting button just disappears in apps. I don’t know what triggers it, but it’s happened to me many times for no reason. You can fix this by restarting the app. Also, strangely enough, sometimes Chromecast will lose connection with your device after casting for a long time. It will continue to play the media, but you won’t have control anymore. You’ll have to disconnect and reconnect casting to fix this.
AirPlay mirrors your device on the TV, but you lose phone functionality and the battery is drained quickly. Casting is better than Airpods because Chromecast connects with the streaming service rather than mirroring your device. This gives you a cleaner experience with fewer problems and better battery life.
It only takes 15 seconds for content to cast and about 30 seconds for the next episode to play. Chromecast isn’t ideal for channel surfers because you have to unlock your phone, open the app, choose the content, and so on. This is a few extra steps than just pushing a button on your remote. It’s not terrible, but it’s extra work.
Interface winner: Fire TV
Fire TV’s smarts work more efficiently because you can just talk into the remote. But Chromecast has more potential and does better with hands-free voice control.
Both devices work with smart assistants, but only their company-specific ones. Fire TV works with Alexa and Chromecast works with Google Assistant.
Starting with Fire TV, you can hold down the button on the remote for voice commands like searching for content or using Alexa. You can go hands-free with an Echo device. Both Google Assistant and Alexa have similar problems, but Alexa works smoother. Also, when you speak into the remote, Alexa knows you want to connect to the TV. It doesn’t ask you to specify which room or device to connect to.
You can connect a specific Echo to your TV so you don’t have to specify the room or device. While Alexa isn’t perfect, it’s great for mainstream shows. Just say, “Alexa, play Ozark” and it’ll start playing automatically.
Moving on to Chromecast, you can use Google Assistant to play and pause your Chromecast. You can use voice controls to open content on Hulu, HBO, Netflix, and YouTube TV. However, the voice commands are wordy and there is a high chance they will be misunderstood. For example, a normal command looks like this: “Hey Google, cast Shark Tank on Hulu to the Living Room TV.” You must make sure everything from the device name to the show and app are exact, and even then it might fail.
There are even times where it will repeat what you say and still fail. Other times it will play the right series, but the wrong episode. Unlike with Fire TV, where you have a visual TV interface to fall back on, you get no such support with Chromecast Ultra. If the cast is wrong, then you have to open the app, break the connection, reestablish the connection, and then you can cast the right content.
Smarts winner: Fire TV
Much like with the TV interface, Fire TV isn’t great, but it wins this category because Chromecast doesn’t have a remote.
The Fire TV remote feels cheaply made, especially when compared to Roku’s. The buttons don’t provide much feedback, but having one is better than not. There are dedicated volume and power buttons. You can use the Fire TV app as a controller too.
Chromecast uses your phone to control all the actions. While a remote would be nice, using your phone is easy. There are three ways to control the content on your TV. The first and most common is opening a streaming app on your phone, pushing the cast button, and controlling content selection from your phone.
The second way is to use the Google Home app. This will give you playback controls once the stream has been initiated. The last way is to use Google Assistant. It’s not perfect, but hands-free usage is still great when it works.
You can use Google Assistant to control the power on your TV, but it’s not consistent. However, you can control volume to an extent through your phone. You can raise or lower the app’s volume, but you’ll often have to use your TV remote because your Chromecast’s volume will max out.
Remote winner: Fire TV
While neither is perfect, both the Fire TV Stick 4K and Chromecast Ultra are two good streaming devices. I ranked Fire TV Stick 4K as better than Chromecast Ultra because of the remote and a TV interface. If not having either of these is fine for you, then Chromecast might be the better streaming device for your needs. In either case, these both allow you to stream 4K content directly to your TV with ease.