So far we’ve compared Fire TV to Apple TV, and Fire TV to Chromecast. In both occasions the new streaming media player from Amazon has won. But the Roku brand has become synonymous with internet-based TV since the first generation model released in 2008, and offers a wide selection of content channels. Roku has several models out there, including the Roku 1, Roku 2, Roku 3, and the Roku Streaming Stick. To learn more about Tvs, start with our what is 4K article. Or, if you’re on a budget, you should also take a look at our review of the Roku LT.
Fire TV, on the other hand, is just getting its feet wet. The device was released to market in April, and boasts more processing and graphics power than all its competitors. The Fire TV can also integrate the wireless Amazon Fire Game Controller, giving the device an edge on other media players that offer light app-based video gaming.
While the streaming media players themselves are great products, the channels (with the exception of services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and HBO Go), still have a long way to go. Content can be sparse and often gets repeated, and, some channels haven’t updated their content in months. But as time goes on we’ll see which content providers will take the over-the-top delivery seriously. Read on to see who wins out in the battle of the Fire TV vs the Chromecast.
For this article we’re comparing Roku’s flagship Roku 3 (model #4200R) with Amazon’s Fire TV, both devices equally priced at $99. Let’s get started.
Update: be sure to check out Roku’s latest model, the Ultra, which replaces the Roku 3. It too offers 4K streaming and includes a remote that allows you to plug in a pair of included headphones. Why does that latter feature matter? If you sleep with a partner and watch TV, after they’re deep in lala land, this feature is key to not disturbing them.
Fire TV has Voice Search, Roku does not. While some may have doubts about the technology, Amazon’s Voice Search (via microphone integrated into the remote control), is actually quite effective. And, it’s much quicker than bird pecking away at on-screen letter keys. Amazon is also expanding search results to services outside Amazon products. So, instead of getting only results from Amazon Prime Instant Video you would get results from Sony’s Crackle, Hulu Plus, Showtime, and other services.
Winner: Fire TV
Both devices come with a remote control and are equally user-friendly, but Roku’s remote has the added bonus of a headphone jack. This can make watching TV with wired headphones much more practical than having a cable stretched across the living room floor.
Winner: Roku 3
Having a remote control is nice, but the ability to set up your mobile device to control your streaming player is an added bonus. While a traditional remote control just has the physical buttons to navigate what you’re watching on TV, the Roku and Fire TV apps add a visual component in a sort of second screen experience. The Roku app is available for Apple iOS and Android devices, while the Fire TV can only be controlled by Kindle Fire HDX tablets (more on X-Ray and mirroring with Fire TV below). One might note though, that the experience of using your phone to control what’s on your TV isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, given you have only one set of eyes and can only focus on one screen at a time.
Both Roku 3 and Fire TV support up to 1080p video at 60 frames-per-second. Roku 3 supports MP4 (H.264) and MKV (H.264). Fire TV supports H.263, H.264, MPEG4-SP, and VC1.
Both Fire TV and Roku 3 support 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound pass through HDMI (they do not process the audio, hence, a 5.1/7.1 capable audio video receiver is needed). But while both support Dolby Digital, Fire TV also supports the higher quality Dolby Digital Plus (Enhanced AC-3).
As far as audio file types, Roku 3 supports MP3, AAC, Dolby Digital (MP4, MOV and MKV pass through only), and DTS (MKV pass through only). Fire TV supports AAC, AC-3, E-AC-3, HE-A, PCM, MP3.
Roku 3 houses a dual-core BCM11130 900 MHz Merlyn processor running at 900 MHz that’s five times faster than the processor in the Roku 2, but not as fast as Fire TV that houses a Qualcomm Krait 300 quad-core processor running at 1.7 GHz along with a Qualcomm Adreno 320 GPU for graphics.
Fire TV boasts 2GB RAM, while the Roku memory is the same as Apple TV with just 512MB.
Amazon’s Fire TV gives you 8GB flash storage. Roku 3 only has a small amount of storage (we’re guessing 256MB), but you can add more storage on the Roku 3 for channels and games with a MicroSD card (2GB should be efficient, but it will accept larger cards).
Fire TV has 5 ports including HDMI v1.4, Optical Audio, Ethernet, IR receiver, and Micro-USB 2.0. Roku 3 has all of those mentioned ports except for Optical Audio, but includes a MicroSD expansion slot for more storage.
As far as size, the Fire TV is both slimmer and lighter, measuring 4.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.7″ and weighing just 2.4 ounces. The Roku 3 is a bit chunkier at 3.5” x 3.5” x 1”, and weighs twice as much at 5 ounces. But some say the weight of the Roku 3 helps anchor the device when connected to an HDMI cable.
Both Fire TV and Roku 3 support dual-band Wi-Fi compatible with both legacy 2.4 GHz and faster 5 GHz bands, but Fire TV includes MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) which uses antennas both at the transmitter and receiver to improve communication.
Roku boasts over 1,000 channels to choose from. While only a small percentage of those choices are channels you will actually watch, there are still many more than Fire TV currently has. Both players support the big channels like Netflix, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, Showtime Anytime, and YouTube, but Roku has far more niche channels and local television channels. You may want to check out popular channels such as FOX NOW, Warner Instant Archive, EPIX, and TMZ.
Another big advantage Roku 3 has over Fire TV is support for HBO Go. Game of Thrones never looked so good streaming over the internet! But Amazon will eventually support the HBO Go channel, hopefully over the summer but at the very least by the end of the year.
Roku 3 will let you send music, videos and photos to your TV via the iOS and Android apps (although some upgrades may be involved), and cast directly to your TV from the Netflix and YouTube apps (Roku 3 and Streaming Stick only). Fire TV allows you “fling” what you’re watching on a Kindle Fire HDX tablet to your TV, and get content information via X-Ray powered by the website IMDb. And, Amazon has started supporting Miracast-enabled accessories and TVs that essentially turn your HDTV into a large monitor for your Kindle Fire (2nd Generation, Kindle Fire HD, or Kindle Fire HDX only).
Fire TV provides a 1-year Limited Warranty, while Roku 3 only offers a 90-day Limited Warranty.
This is a tough one to compare. Roku comes with a motion control remote for games and currently has 80 available titles listed on their website. The Roku 3 also includes Angry Birds Space for free. Amazon’s Game Controller (sold separately for $39.99) can be used with Fire TV to effectively double the amount of games you can play including Minecraft – Pocket Edition, Asphalt 8, and NBA 2K14. Fire TV had over 100 games upon launch, and more are expected to release given Amazon’s open development platform.
Fire TV is brand new, so Roku 3 still has an advantage in terms of content available and mobile device compatibility. But don’t expect Amazon to waste any time expanding Fire TV’s content and capabilities. If you like the idea of supporting a smaller company like Roku, go with the Roku 3. If you want a more powerful device that you can use as a light gaming console, go with the Fire TV.