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Chromecast vs. Apple AirPlay 2

Google and Apple have two very similar services for beaming media from your mobile device over to your TV for a shared experience. Google uses Chromecast with its Google Cast streaming technology, and Apple uses AirPlay 2 to do the same.

So, if you like switching content from your phone to your TV whenever you want, you’ve got a choice to make — and we’re here to make that choice easier. Let’s take a look at the ins and outs of Chromecast and AirPlay 2, and which may be a better fit for you.

Chromecast icon seen on a smartphone screen.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Mobile device compatibility

If you want to use one of these content sharing protocols, then it’s going to need to be compatible with your mobile device — and compatibility is indeed the core difference between Chromecast abilities and AirPlay 2.

Chromecast has been around for years and Google has worked to implement it on a wide variety of platforms, so compatibility shouldn’t be a concern. It works on Android devices of all kinds, as well as iPhones, iPads, and anything with a Chrome browser, like a Chromebook. It’s also compatible with the most-used apps such as Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, YouTube, and Pandora.

As you would expect, AirPlay 2 started out focused only on Apple devices, and while Apple has been working to change that for the past couple of years, it’s still easy to see that AirPlay is a bit more limited. Android mobile devices don’t have much support, so an iOS device is generally required. However, third-party support is more limited as well: Spotify is getting AirPlay 2 support but doesn’t have it yet, while Netflix pointedly dropped support for AirPlay after TV manufacturers started adopting it (although it continues to support Chromecast).

Winner: Chromecast

Built-in or separate?

Another big question users have: Do you need a separate device, like a set-top box connected to your TV, to use Chromecast or AirPlay 2? Buying a separate device is a big ask for many users, so let’s break this down.

Chromecast and AirPlay 2 do exist on specific set-top devices that can connect to your TV. The Chromecast dongles using the Android TV or the Google TV platform are common examples, but Chromecast also works on many A/V receivers and other devices. The latest entries in the Apple TV line, like the 2021 Apple TV 4k, likewise support AirPlay 2 (along with a variety of speakers for audio-only support). A separate device is a very straightforward way to give any display these capabilities.

However, both Chromecast and AirPlay 2 are being increasingly built into many TVs nowadays. If you are buying a new TV, you can look for “Chromecast Built-in” or “AirPlay 2” to see if they come with included support — a wide range of brands do this now, including Sony, Sharp, Philips, Vizio, Toshiba, and Soniq. Airplay 2, meanwhile, shows up on certain TVs from Samsung, LG, Sony, and Vizio.

Winner: A tie

Sony 77-Inch Bravia TV.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Ease of use

Both services are very easy to use and generally intuitive, especially after you complete the initial setup and pairing processes. A few minutes of practice, and you can quickly learn how to use either option. Once streaming, both services also have options for controlling volume and playback directly from your phone, turning it into your own smart controller.

Winner: A tie

Audio/Video quality

Chromecast supports both multiroom audio and up to 24-bit/96Hz audio streams, something AirPlay 2 just can’t compete with using its 15/44.1 audio streams. If you enjoy dense audio files that are more packed with sound data than average, you’ll certainly want to go for Chromecast at this time.

When it comes to mirroring video, both Chromecast and AirPlay 2 are limited to 1080p resolution and up to 60fps. Apple’s descriptions may sometimes make AirPlay 2 sound like it can mirror video up to 4K with the Apple TV 4K, but it can’t — that’s innate support for media playing on the Apple 4K TV set-top box itself, not something AirPlay 2 can do.

Winner: Chromecast

Voice Assistant compatibility

This is primarily a Siri vs. Google Assistant debate, so it probably depends on what voice assistant you feel more comfortable with. However, we will point out that Siri’s support for any paired smart speakers are limited to the Apple HomePod, while Google Assistant support includes both Nest speakers and a variety of smart speakers from brands like Sony and Onkyo.

Winner: Chromecast

Using AirPlay 2 on an iPhone in front of a TV.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The costs involved

Let’s assume you don’t have a TV that has AirPlay 2 or Chromecast built-in. What sort of prices are you looking at to add the capability to your current home theater setup? Here again, Chromecast comes out on top: You can find a third-gen Chromecast dongle for $30 and you’re good to go as long as you’ve got a spare port on your TV. But the cheapest Apple TV with AirPlay 2 support starts at $149, and that doesn’t even include native 4K support, so it’s a significantly more expensive path.

Winner: Chromecast

Bottom line: Pick Chromecast

Most users will choose simply based on whether they have an Android or iPhone. But if that’s not your primary concern, then Chromecast wins out in pretty much every other metric, making this an easy recommendation.

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