Amazone Fire TV
Price: $49 and up
I was excited when the Amazon Fire TV came out. At the time, I was an exclusive Roku user, but Roku had not updated their units in quite some time and they were beginning to feel sluggish. The Fire TV promised a significant speed boost, and it delivered in that respect. However, it was disappointing for other reasons.
- Speed – The unit was pleasantly fast.
- Vendors – Supports Amazon Instant video and Prime
- Voice – It was the first streaming unit (to my knowledge) that offered voice commands.
- Apps – It supports most of the apps that I use regularly.
- 4K Video Support (set-top version only) – Fire TV supports 4K video from NetFlix and Amazon.
- Vendors – It does not support other media vendors like Google Play.
- Voice – If you ask for a show or movie, it brings you to Amazon to purchase it even if it is available for free on Netflix, et al.
- Interface – The interface is clunky and confusing, nowhere near as easy or pleasant to use as Roku or Apple TV. Also, it is clearly very marketing-driven: it feels like they are trying to get you to purchase everything (which they are).
- Apps – When I purchased my 1st generation unit, I was on AT&T U-verse. When I eventually had to switch to Time Warner Cable, I found out that their free and excellent TWC TV wasn’t compatible with the 1st generation units. I would have to spend another $99 to upgrade!
- 4K Video Support (set-top version only) – 4K support is limited to NetFlix and Amazon only and is not supported in 3rd-party apps.
- Speed – The unit seemed reasonably responsive.
- Vendors – If you purchase everything solely from iTunes, it is nice.
- Interface – As with all Apple products, it was well-designed and easy to use.
- Integration – If you are an avid Apple user, you will likely appreciate the integration with other products.
- Vendors – It does not support Google Play or Amazon Instant Video/Prime.
- Price – It is the most expensive of the popular streaming units.
- Speed – Earlier models suffered from speed issues, but current models are very responsive. I was pleasantly surprised at how fast both the old and especially the new generation Roku Sticks are.
- Vendors – Since Roku is the most vendor-agnostic of the bunch, you don’t have to get stuck in a “walled garden” as you might with other vendors. Roku has apps for Amazon Instant/Prime and Google Play (you can also play iTunes via Plex).
- Apps – Roku generally has the largest selection of apps available. If an app is only on one device, it’s probably Roku.
- Interface – Roku has one of the easiest and pleasant user interfaces I’ve seen, on par with Apple TV.
- 4K Video Support (Roku 4 only) – Currently, the Roku 4 offers the best quality and support for 4K video.
- Form Factor – While convenient that is it small and plugs right into your HDMI port, if your TV does not allow enough room (usually when the ports are sunken and parallel to the TV rather than facing outward), you may have to purchase an adapter such as this 90° and 270° male-to-female kit.
- Noise (Roku 4 only) – There are many reports that the fan in the Roku 4 is very noticeably loud. There are also reports that the unit gets hot.
- Remotes (Roku Streaming Stick only) – Unlike most of the competing units, you can replace a Roku remote with a generic for under $8 on eBay, EXCEPT for the Roku Streaming Stick. If you lose the remote for the Roku Stick, it will cost you almost as much as it does to buy a new unit to replace the remote. You can use your smartphone as a remote, but it is cumbersome and sluggish.
- If all of your media is on iTunes and you don’t have a desire to play Google Play or Amazon content, you will probably enjoy the integration that the Apple TV offers.
- If you have a problem with remote controls, such as losing them, dogs chewing on them, spilled soda, etc, you may wish to consider a Roku 3 because the remotes are cheap to replace with generics.
- If you want 4K video support, either the Roku 4 or the Amazon Fire TV (August 2016 model or later; set-top model only) would be acceptable choices.
- For everyone else I recommend the Roku Streaming Stick. It’s fast, it’s affordable and it has the best app/vendor support.