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There’s only one streaming device that lets you escape ads

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A mighty tasty-looking chicken tender wrap as supposedly seen on a Chromecast with Google TV home screen.
That’s a tasty-looking chicken tender wrap. User MMD3_ / Reddit

Here we go again, folks. First it was Amazon Fire TV, with a large (and apparently unescapable) ad that invaded the home screen. And Chromecast with Google TV reportedly is starting to do the same sort of thing, at least if a singular post on Reddit is any indication.

I haven’t been able to replicate the experience on my Chromecast with Google TV. That might or might not be indicative of anything. For one, I don’t use the Chromecast as my usual device of choice (though it does end up in my gear bag on most trips). For another, I run a Pi-hole ad-blocker on my entire home network — and still very much think it’s a thing you should use if you have any sort of connected TV or streaming device. Finally, and more likely, this new home screen ad hasn’t seen a widespread rollout just yet.

In any event, nobody should be surprised by this turn of events, even if we don’t like it. Google’s job is to make money. And it does so by selling advertising. Same goes for Amazon Fire TV. Same goes for Roku. And you can absolutely make the argument that Amazon, Google, and Roku are now advertising companies first, and anything else second.

Google, for its part, just announced $9.2 billion in revenue from YouTube advertising in the fourth quarter of 2023 (up from $7.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2022.) “We’re pleased with the NFL Sunday Ticket signups in our first season,” Philipp Schindler, Google senior vice president and chief business officer, said during the earnings call.

But it was advertising — not pure subscription numbers — that stood out in the mention of YouTube TV and NFL Sunday Ticket. By literally cornering the market on out-of-market Sunday NFL games, Google is able to sell that many more ads. Lucrative ones, no doubt.

“Advertisers can buy from an NFL lineup as part of our YouTube Select portfolio,” Schindler continued. “And this actually allows advertisers to reach football fans across YouTube’s pretty unique breadth of NFL content, independently of whether you are viewing live NFL games or on YouTube TV or Primetime Channels or watching NFL highlights or postgame commentary on YouTube channels.”

Roku makes things even more clear. It made $787 million in revenue on advertising in the third quarter of 2023, but only $125 million on hardware. It’s an advertising company first. Everything else second.

Which brings us to the obvious question: Is there a streaming device you can buy that won’t bombard you with advertising? The answer is “yes,” and it also happens to be the streaming box that we think is the best you can buy — Apple TV 4K.

A new search feature on Apple TV 4K.
The Apple TV 4K home screen is boring. But it also doesn’t have advertising. Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

You’re still going to get a lot out of Apple TV 4K even if you’re not in the Apple ecosystem. (I used it for years while I was still on Android phones.) In addition to hardware and software that practically lasts forever, you get a home screen that does not contain any display advertising. Not all ads are created equal, and display ads are the sort we’re talking about here. You’ll see the occasional (somewhat annoying) notification for a hot new show or movie on Apple TV. And you’ll eventually see a notification for a sporting event while you’re watching said game. It happens. And I still chuckle anytime it tells me to hop over to a “close” soccer match. They’re almost all close.

Buy at AppleBut Apple TV 4K does not have display ads. You won’t be tempted by a crispy chicken wrap. Or any other wrap. And definitely not any chicken. You’ll not see a home screen with much more than row upon row of app icons. The top row will give a couple show previews, but that’s hardly the same thing as a display ad.

That could one day change. Never say never, especially when potential revenue is concerned. But Apple, generally speaking, isn’t a company to sully its products with display ads, whether it’s on home screens or hardware. You’ll not find an ad attacking you from within the notifications of an iPhone, nor will you find a sticker affixed to the body of a MacBook letting the world know whose processor is inside. (Not even when Apple was still using Intel chips.)

For now, though? If you want the cleanest, ad-free user experience, there’s only one option. It’s not Google TV. It’s not Fire TV. It’s not Roku. And it’s none of the built-in TV operating systems.

It’s Apple TV 4K. Full stop.