It’s becoming more common for people to sever cable subscriptions and watch all of their movies and television shows through other services. Whether built into a smart TV (Internet-connected television) or a set-top box, streaming devices are replacing normal cable and allowing people to watch on demand. This means they can watch their favorite shows anytime they want, as long as the show is available through one of many services.
These devices support different apps that stream content through your Internet connection. While there are a lot of set-top box options, the comparison of Amazon Fire TV and Roku is between two of the oldest and newest streaming devices on the market.
One thing to note is that while these set-top boxes support a lot of apps, many of them require separate subscriptions to access movies and shows.
Amazon Fire TV
Amazon has been making a lot of moves to expand from an online retailer, to a digital content provider. It started with ebooks and the Kindle, and with the Amazon Fire tablet, showed its desire to get people inside its ecosystem as much as possible. Most recently, Amazon debuted Fire TV, its set-top box that’s an evolution of the Fire tablet.
Fire TV is based on the same idea, wanting you to stay inside Amazon’s ecosystem. While it does offer the most popular apps, Amazon is focused on getting users to use Amazon Instant Video, its video on demand service. Amazon is also a prominent investor in original video series exclusives, giving an incentive for people to buy into the ecosystem.
Fire TV doesn’t have a huge selection of media apps right now, but it does support Netflix and Hulu Plus. It’s biggest strength is Amazon’s first party apps. The Fire TV also supports gaming apps from Amazon’s App Store, but you will need the controller to play them, which is an extra cost.
If you want an in-depth look at the Fire TV, read Ars Technica‘s review.
The Roku is one of the first manufacturers of Internet-connected set-top systems. The Roku DVP launched in 2008, but the company now offers four different versions of Roku. Each Roku has different capabilities and compatibility for the TV it’ll connect to, so it’s important to buy the one that fits your needs.
Roku’s biggest strength is its huge number of supported apps. It features the most popular apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and HBO GO. The app selection goes even further with support for major sports channels like NBA Game Time, MLS LIVE, UFCTV, and WatchESPN.
Roku’s music streaming service supports Spotify, Rdio, TuneIn Radio, and iHeartRadio. One impressive strength over Apple TV and Chromecast is that it supports Amazon Instant Video; this allows Roku users to access content from Amazon.
The unfortunate thing is that most of the extra channels aren’t really useful, and a lot of them are easily ignored. Roku also supports games, but you’re not looking at the best quality of available titles.
Which is better?
While Roku is an established brand, it’s a simple set-top box. Major apps are available on other platforms, and many other apps look like bloatware. Roku does support all the major streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Spotify, but these can also be found on other platforms.
In terms of a plug-and-play device, Roku might be the best set-top box for those unfamiliar with how these devices work. Setup should only take a couple minutes, and ease of use has been proven. It’s the simplicity that makes Roku great for new users.
On the other hand, Amazon Fire TV has a lot of unproven potential. While it’s locked in the Amazon ecosystem, the device is also made for the common consumer. It’s designed for a very simple use. It might not have the same amount of apps like Roku, but it won’t be long before Fire TV expands its support for apps like HBO GO and Spotify. The only real worry is how much Amazon curates its app ecosystem.
Right now, either device would be great for streaming media services since a lot of apps are cross platform. Roku is a stable platform, but Amazon Fire TV may see improvements much faster.
Still, there are other options aside from set-top boxes that include streaming services Apple TV and Chromecast.
Check out this chart comparing Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, and Chromecast to see which one might be the best for you, and check out my analysis of streaming services Apple TV and Chromecast to see if either suites your needs better.