And then there were four.
Apple, Roku and Google are already competing for your streaming business. And now Amazon enters the fray with its $99 Fire TV. But is it worth it? It’s a “Version 1” product, with scant few apps (or channels) out of the gate. How does it compare with The Big Three, namely Apple TV, Chromecast and Roku?
Is Amazon Fire TV better than Apple TV?
The Quad-core Qualcomm processor in the Fire TV gives it pure speed — fast menus, fast downloads and fast playback. Meanwhile, the Apple TV is getting long in the tooth with it’s mono-core A5 chip. The Amazon Prime and Cloud Drive services are well-integrated, as you would rightly expect, while the Apple TV works well with your iTunes, Macs, iPads and iPhones. Licensing and/or business strategy probably explains why HBOGo, Disney, MLB and PBS are missing on the Fire TV, and why Amazon Instant Video, Flixster and Pandora are missing on the Apple TV — and why Vudu and MGo are missing from both. With both of these units costing the same $99, the Fire TV is better in a context-free competition, but if you like your Apple environment, hold your cash for the 2014 version of Apple TV.
Is Amazon Fire TV better than Google Chromecast?
Google Chromecast still feels like an experiment in its early stages. The dongle idea has merit but Chromecast has four drawbacks: it’s a dongle that needs an external power source, it doesn’t come with a dedicated remote, its single-core processor is sluggish and it is missing some decent second-tier apps (Crackle, WatchESPN, NBA, Qello and Vimeo). Worse still, as with the Apple TV, Chromecast doesn’t support Amazon Instant Video. By contrast, Amazon’s Fire TV is a thin box, it comes with its own remote, it’s blazing fast and supports more channels. Chromecast does have HBOGo and integrated Google Play support, which are both unavailable on Fire TV, so it’s a viable option for HBO fanatics and Android phone / tablet users, but otherwise, Amazon’s Fire TV is the better choice, despite its size and price tag.
Is Amazon Fire TV better than Roku?
Roku 3 is the comparable box to the Fire TV at the same $99 price point. Both have a very good user interface, are responsive, support Ethernet as well as WiFi MIMO, and come with a remote control. Amazon is touting their voice search as a primary differentiator, so much so that their Gary Busey ad focuses entirely on that feature. But voice search only gives you results within the Amazon ecosystem, ignoring Netflix and HuluPlus entirely, even if you have paid subscriptions to those services. On the channel front, Roku blows all the other competitors out of the water with its 1000+ channels — more than any of us can watch, but enough that all our itches for weird niches get scratched (50-year-old westerns anyone?). Roku puts up the best fight for the subscription-averse TV viewer by providing so many free entertainment options.
The Amazon Fire TV is fast and works great within the Amazon eco-system. It supports a reasonably decent experience for the casual couch gamer and has excellent voice recognition. If these are important to you, and you don’t intend to stray outside the Amazon Instant, Netflix and Hulu worlds, you’ll be happy with this unit. It’s selling like mad right now, so go load up. If, however, you want access to your iTunes content or want hundreds of channels, wait and give Apple, Roku or Google, whose units are more than a year old, a chance to play leap frog on the Fire TV this summer. The competition benefits all us consumers and Amazon just fired their first salvo — I’m quite glad to have four companies in the mix.
Do you own a box already? Will you get an Amazon Fire TV?
Copyright 2014 Lance Olive, All Rights Reserved.