Amazon entered the TV arena yesterday with the Fire TV streaming box. Together with Apple TV, the Roku boxes, and Google Chromecast, the TV market is entering a new phase. But which one should you choose? We compare the four.
The best media streaming box
All four solutions offer you TV streaming apps on the big living room screen via HDMI. Three of them are small black boxes, whereas Google is selling a stick. But there are many differences in terms of content, user interfaces, functionality, and hardware.
Not actual sizes
Content & apps
Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Vevo are available on all four, but from here is gets harder to find everything you want in one solution. Most of the companies also promote their own video streaming services such as iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon Instant Video. All of the boxes feature music apps, too.
More apps are added constantly so this is a snapshot, but at the moment the Roku is leading by far. It offers over 1000 apps. Apple TV lets you push video and content in many iPhone/iPad apps to the TV screen via Apple TV and Airplay, even when there is no native app on the actual Apple TV box.
Amazon is making a big deal out of gaming, too. They have no intentions to compete with PlayStation and Xbox, but want to capture the casual gaming segment instead. Let us hope they fare better than OUYA. Amazon will also release an actual game controller for $40 and seems to be in the best position to capture casual gamers’ attention right now.
Roku is also offering some casual games, but most are very simple. Apple lets users play games on the Apple TV from an iPad or iPhone with wireless Airplay, but it is not an optimal solution at the moment and only a few handfuls of games support Airplay gaming.
Content sharing / mobile
Screen mirroring or pushing content between devices is becoming increasingly important for many users. Amazon says that users can push content from some Kindle tablet apps onto the TV screen, and Roku has a similar system – but both are limited in scope and functionality. Chromecast is built this way, but requires apps on smartphones/tablets to support the casting protocol as no mirroring option is officially available, except for a poor implementation on PC/Mac.
Apple leads here by far, paving the way with Airplay and Airplay Mirroring. There is just no competition here. Airplay is great – but you need to own an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.
Amazon’s Fire TV is by far the beefiest of the bunch. It has a quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM. It also sports a dedicated Adreno 320 graphics processor. Compare that to dual and single-core processor and 512 MB of RAM in the other boxes.
Amazon was quick to point out that all other boxes offer sluggish performance, which is not exactly what people are saying, but the real story here is probably that Amazon wanted to enable gaming – and that requires more powerful hardware.
So, Fire TV ($99), Apple TV ($99), Chromecast ($35) or Roku ($99)? We have created a comparison table to help you decide. Check out our Apple TV review and Chromecast review, too.