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How Does the Amazon Fire TV Stack Up Against the Roku and Apple TV?

With its $99 price point, Fire TV fails at undercutting the competition, but faster hardware and cheap gaming should make this streamer a welcome addition to any household.
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Move over Apple and Roku, Amazon is heating up the battle for your living room with its new set-top box streamer, Fire TV. Unveiled in New York on Wednesday afternoon, the new Fire TV boasts a quad-core processor with dedicated graphics, 2GB of RAM, and built-in voice controls.

But are these specs important to users who just want to stream Netflix on the cheap? Amazon hopes so, although its $99 price tag isn't doing much to win consumers over, since the Apple TV and Roku 3 all cost the same. Here's how the company's much-anticipated streamer stacks up against the competition.

Amazon Fire Charticle

Fast Hardware, Not So Low Price

While the average consumer probably doesn't think twice about the hardware that sits inside their streaming box, Amazon is hoping they do; the retailer is touting the Fire TV's quad-core processor as a major selling point. Coupled with the fast CPU, the Fire TV also houses 2GB of RAM, which is a significant jump from the 512MB found in Apple TV and the Roku 3. As the newest kid on the block, Amazon has the advantage with regards to hardware since Apple TV and Roku were last refreshed in January 2013 and March 2013, respectively.

The added muscle power should make for fluid, jitter-free movie browsing and playing. Likewise, the dedicated graphics processor is intended to make gaming a smooth experience, should users opt to use their Fire TV as a game console. On the hardware front, Amazon is the indisputable winner.

Content-wise, the differences are much smaller. For starters, they all support streaming from most if not all of the big three — Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Hulu Plus. Roku is the only device to support Vudu (if you're a fan of Vudu's HDX-quality streams) and Fire TV is the only device that currently omits HBO Go. Likewise on the music front, all of the devices support Pandora, YouTube, and Vevo, but Roku differentiates itself with support for Spotify. However, this can change as the Fire TV matures and adds additional channel support.

All-In-One Entertainment

The real ace up Amazon's sleeve is the Amazon Fire Game Controller ($39.99 with free shipping). Cut from the same cloth as the Xbox 360's gamepad, Amazon's controller lets Fire TV owners play games from Amazon's growing library of Android games. The controller includes 1,000 Amazon coins (about $10), which should help gamers explore various titles; most of Amazon's games are free, or cost about $1.85 on average.

While these games won't pry you from your beloved PS4 or Xbox One, it's a nice bonus for casual gamers who didn't pony up for the Ouya or simply don't want to pay $60+ per title for today's console games. The controller has received positive initial reviews, but even if shoppers find it too pricey, the Amazon controller isn't required for gaming. The Fire TV will also work with the Xbox 360 gamepad (via USB) and third-party controllers.

Another win for Amazon is its voice commands. Anyone who has tried typing a movie's title using the Roku's remote knows how frustrating the process can be, but the Fire TV should make tedious typing a thing of the past. Again, initial reviews seem positive, though Engadget reports that the device stumbles with foreign words. In these instances, you'll have to fall back on the Fire TV's remote, which the article says is even more onerous than Roku's. Nevertheless, it's a unique feature to have, and it opens the door for other possibilities as the set-top box matures.

Google Still Wins as a Budget Streamer

Though many thought Amazon's set-top box would undercut Apple's and Roku's price points, it's actually the most expensive streamer of the bunch if you factor in all the deals we've seen for the latter two devices. And that doesn't include a subscription to Amazon Instant Video, which isn't required, but adds an additional $99/year should you opt for their video service. In such a competitive market, that's a bold move on Amazon's part, especially with streamers like the Google Chromecast, which is priced at $35 and has been seen discounted down to $28. Granted, the Chromecast requires the use of a laptop/tablet/smartphone, but it's still a viable option with a smaller footprint both physically and financially.

Fire TV Has the Edge, But There Are More Deals on the Roku and Apple TV

In the end, there's room for all three streamers, and the Fire TV's ecosystem will only grow with time. With Amazon's recent interest in gaming, the Fire TV offers the most bonus features if you want a streamer that does double duty and you also own a Kindle Fire tablet, but you generally can't go wrong with any of these options.

As far as deals are concerned, Roku and Apple TV have the advantage as both are mature products with plenty of discounts available on any given week. Amazon used to guard its new products from deals, but if we look at its last batch of Kindle Fire HDX tablets, they received 15% off discounts about a month after their release, which means the Fire TV might see a similar discount from Amazon in a month's time (especially if Apple updates its Apple TV on June 2 at its WDDC) So early adopters might benefit from waiting a few weeks before buying the Fire TV. Otherwise, it's a buyer's market.


Senior Features Writer

With over a decade of experience covering technology, Louis Ramirez has written for CNET, Laptop, Gizmodo, and various other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @louisramirez.
Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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16 comments
dealnews-bglaser
@valor Thanks for pointing this out. There are workarounds, but you are correct that Amazon Instant Video doesn't have a channel on Apple TV. We're working on correcting this.
valor
Apple TV does NOT support Amazon Streaming.

Note that it is absent from Apple's page:
http://www.apple.com/appletv/whats-on/
kevinwilson16
Would you be so kind as to update us when you, you know, use one? Amazon has the technical infomation on its own site. I want to know if it actually works as promised.
nimer
Steve Jobs (RIP) called it a Hobby, Amazon are looking for it to sell more Amazon prime subscriptions (and movie subscriptions), and Google undercut everyone with ChromeCast.

BUT, the real king in this space is Roku. They did it right from day 1, opened up the channel store to developers, and certainly has the highest number of channels, including up and coming streaming services like Redbox. And the new Roku stick? Thumbs up!
jcauthorn
Thanks for the review of the new Amazon Fire TV - I was wondering about that device and how it compared.
It would be great if you could also add the Chromebox to the comparison, and then for good measure, compare the lot of them to the general crop of BluRay players that do most of the same video streaming services. Not only that, you can get a low cost PS3 that does all that, and plays BluRay, and plays games. It would be nice to see how they stack up.
hasek
Another benefit of the Roku over all the others is that you have options to get a movie rather than being stuck to one company. E.g., Amazon's Fire, you need to get it from Amazon, For Apple TV, you need to go through Apple. Roku will give you multiple options and you're not locked into one company.
latintrident
Apple... what a joke.

That being said, why not include an even better option that can be found on cowboom for $15 more? Like say a blu-ray player that can do that and so much more and play HD games?

Enter the PS3
http://www.cowboom.com/product/1408760/
Heyitsrick
From what I'm reading, "Voice Search" only works on Amazon Prime content. Hardly something to rave about. Roku's cross-platform (Netflix/MGO/Vudu/Prime/Redbox/Blockbuster) search seems much more robust. Leaving off the new Roku stick is, indeed, a major misstep in this review. I'm seeing this kind of thing more and more from so-called "tech writers" who really should have more of a command of the marketplace.
icon_st
It is a low end computer that runs on android (so does kindle) and has lot of restrictions !! Get a computer with HDMI and it will do all this and more.
MWFplus3
No SD card slot, and a USB port that (at this time) does not function. Clearly, the intent is to purely steer the user to Amazon, similar to the intent behind the Kindle HD/HDX. Thus, unless you put your video files, music files, and photos on the Amazon Cloud, you cannot view them via this device. For me, that's a deal killer. If course, the comparison chart only lists those areas where the FireTV is better....not those areas where the competition excels. I'll stay with my Roku 3, thanks.
Guri1000
Oh and if your a charter customer, HboGo does not work with apple tv
Guri1000
apple tv has pbs, discovery and espn.
petraios
Apple TV does not support Amazon Instant video unless streamed via Airplay from an ios device
oinker
Acragas,

I agree. The new Roku stick is probably the winner with regards to value for the dollar spent. Very strange that it was omitted from the comparison.
Acragas
Not mentioning the Roku Stick seems like a pretty big omission - for only $15 more than a Chromecast you get a full-featured streamer with a ton of channels that doesn't requite a phone/tablet and includes a remote. For someone who doesn't have any streaming device and is just starting up, that seems like the best option.
rrankins
FYI - ShowtimeAnytime is now available on the Roku box, so it is still the winner as far as content. I don't think any other devices offer the channel lineup that the Roku has
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