The Amazon Fire TV brings the simple Amazon-focused interface of the Kindle Fire to the big screen. We decided to compare the Fire TV with the Roku 3, another popular set-top box that streams video to a TV from the Internet.
We already took a look at the Amazon Fire TV’s gaming options to see how it works as competition for the Xbox and Playstation. We’ve also compared the Fire TV and the Apple TV to see which box reigned supreme. This time we compare an Amazon Fire TV v. Roku 3, taking a close look at the user interface, price, quality of hardware and content available.
Both the Amazon Fire TV and the Roku 3 offer similar user interfaces: a column along the left that the user highlights to show content or info in the center using the directional buttons on each system’s remote. The Roku 3 also puts a third section along the right that shows ads for content available on the box.
The Roku 3 offers mostly streaming video, although there are a few channels for pictures, music and games. Amazon’s Fire TV offers a better variety of apps, but fewer streaming video options. However, we get the best streaming options on the Roku (except for HBO Go and MLB TV). This should change as the box matures.
The Amazon Fire TV gives us something Roku can’t: X-Ray shows IMDB content while playing Amazon Prime videos. Amazon Prime is a $100/year service that lets users watch a library of videos, plus features benefits like free 2-day shipping, a free book a month on an Amazon Kindle reading devices and gives users access to sales on content in Amazon’s stores. Amazon owns IMDB, the Internet Movie Database. My wife and I streamed the SyFy TV show Defiance. Thanks to IMDB and the Kindle Fire HDX tablet, we connected the two over Wi-Fi and the tablet showed info about actors, music and trivia about the program.
Amazon offers thousands of movies and TV shows, but that makes it difficult to browse content. The voice search feature built into the Fire TV remote helps if the user knows the name of the movie, show or actors in it.
The Roku 3 search feature finds content in all of the major streaming apps, while the Fire TV voice search only searches Amazon and Hulu. Amazon just announced an expansion of their voice search to include Showtime and, eventually, Netflix.
Both boxes let users add apps. We get video, music, photos and games on both boxes. However, Roku 3 offers tons of little known channels, from church worship services to international news.
We think Kindle Fire users will feel at home on the Fire TV, but the Roku 3 user-interface looks more familiar with its grid of channel icons. The Fire TV looks more modern and responds faster to user input.
Amazon offers more content directly through their video store, but the Roku 3 gives us more channel options. Kindle Fire HDX owners can get around to the lack of HBO Go using the mirroring feature. We expect many of the missing apps to make their way to the Fire TV since users can get them on a Kindle Fire tablet. Until then, Roku has a slight advantage over Fire TV when it comes to streaming video options. See the channels on Roku compared to apps on the Fire TV.
In our Fire TV v. Apple TV comparison we spot checked to compare if specific shows or movies were available, but that’s not necessary here since both run the Amazon Instant Video app.
Streaming video quality looks good on both. We get 1080p if the media supports it. On a fast connection there’s little tearing or artifacting of video.
Users can stream their own media by plugging a drive into the USB port on Roku 3. Fire TV’s micro-USB port isn’t user accessible. To get their own content, Fire TV owners will need to install Plex ($.99) and subscribe to the service ($3.99/month, $29.99/year or $74.99 lifetime). This app lets users stream content from their computer and from third-party Internet sources.
Users can also upload their media onto Amazon Cloud Drive and use Fire TV’s Cloud Drive section misnamed “Photos.” We say this since it plays photo slide shows, music and videos. See the pricing in the chart below or head over to Amazon.
While Amazon fans may prefer to stay in Amazon’s ecosystem of content, Roku 3 offers more streaming content. That will likely change in the coming months.
Apps and Games
The Amazon App Store included over 160 apps at the time of the device’s launch and will hopefully see many more in the near future. At the company’s launch announcement, Amazon promised more in May 2014. The Roku 3 Channel store offers more streaming video content, but not as many quality games or other apps.
The Fire TV clearly beats the Roku 3 in gaming. Fire TV includes over 130 games like Sev Zero, Asphalt 8 and Call of Duty. The Roku games aren’t very fun to play with the tiny Roku remote.
The Amazon Fire TV offers a wider variety of app categories. The Roku 3 gives users streaming video, music, photos and a low-quality games.
The Fire TV’s thinner square design looks industrial compared to the Roku 3’s box with rounded corners and a taller design. Both boxes include the same connections in the back, with one exception. The Roku has a working full-sized USB 2.o port, while the Fire TV’s micro-USB port won’t read an external drive.
The Fire TV comes with 8GB of storage for games and apps. Most users won’t use up all of that storage since videos stream over the Internet.
Both boxes seem sturdy. Thanks to using Bluetooth remotes, users can stash them behind their TV or entertainment center. That means they’re less likely to get broken.
The quad-core processor inside the Fire TV helps it boot faster than the Roku. It also responds quicker to user input.
Each remote offers a trick the other doesn’t. The Fire TV’s voice search button lets users find a show, movie, app, actor or director by speaking into the remote. Voice recognition is accurate and fast.
Users can plug a set of 3.5mm stereo ear buds or headphones into the Roku remote. This means a user can hear their videos or songs without the TV blaring in the ears of the person next to them in bed.
The Fire TV requires a Kindle Fire HDX to control the box on a touch screen. That adds at least $200 more to the cost. The Roku remote control apps work on iOS and Android devices. Most owners will already own one.
Users can watch shows on a Fire TV HDX tablet and send the video to the Fire TV like Apple’s AirPlay or Google’s ChromeCast. Roku users can hack this feature onto their box using TrimPlay. Follow the link for instructions. Average users won’t want to bother with something that advanced.
Gaming on Fire TV works best with the Fire Game Controller, a $40 add-on that’s worth every penny. We loved playing Sev Zero, which comes free for Fire TV owners and combines a tower-defense and first-person shooter experience. Add a Fire HDX and one player uses the game controller to kill the invading aliens while the other uses the tablet to place canons on the map and fire at the bad guys. This only works with the Kindle Fire HDX and not the cheaper Kindle Fire.
The Fire Game Controller uses dual-analog sticks, a directional game pad, four buttons for gaming action on top and four trigger buttons on back. It also includes the same media control buttons we find on the Fire TV remote included with the box.
Each box costs $99. To enjoy the Roku 3, add the cost of your favorite streaming solutions and that’s all you’ll pay. To get the most out of the Fire TV, users will want the $40 game controller, a $100/year Amazon Prime subscription plus the subscriptions to other streaming solutions. That’s $240 to get started. Roku offers the best value for people starting out.
Which One Should I Buy?
No one should switch from the Roku 3 to the Fire TV. Enjoy what you’ve got and you won’t miss anything the Fire TV offers unless gaming, or the Amazon ecosystem, matters. In that case pay the extra and get the Fire TV. Prime members will definitely want the Fire TV, even with the extra cost of the game controller. Some Prime members don’t want to play games, so the Fire TV costs the same as a Roku 3 and makes more sense for them.