Ryan Michael Downey
The Apple TV and Fire TV are two very similar devices. Both are set top boxes that retail at $99.00, both showcase their own proprietary media services both offer a strong collection of third party services, both allow mirroring in limited circumstances. Unlike our comparison between the Roku 3 and The Fire tv which can be seen here.Most important to note is both companies compete against each other in other sectors including tablets, ebook sales and MP3 sales. With unconfirmed rumors of an Amazon phone in the works the release of the Fire TV seems as much about opening another front in a war against the maker of the iPhone and iPad as much as it is a chance to showcase its product.
While there are a lot of people calling the Fire TV a “Roku Killer” it appears that Amazon has the the the Cupertino company, which controls 48 percent of the set top market in its sites much more than Roku. Today we take a look at how the two set top box offerings match up head to head.
Apple TV: 99.00
Fire TV: 99.00
Proprietary Media Integration
The Fire TV is built around the Amazon Instant catalogue. And the company puts its content front and center. Its basic interface consists of a column of media options on the left side of the screen featuring choices for Home, Movies, TV, Photos, Watch list, Video Library, Games, Apps, Photos and settings. Any choices populated in any of the video categories will be based purely on Amazon’s own catalogue. TV and Movies pull directly from choices within the Amazon catalogue. This includes a mix of titles that are included as part of the Amazon Prime annual fee based service as well as titles that can be purchased individually. The Watchlist and video Library are based on items from an individual’s Amazon account. For those who already had an Amazon account their media is automatically imported on to the device. If you do not have an account then the Watchlist and Video Library will be empty. Photos pulls information from Amazon’s cloud repository and Games are organized by category and based on the Android games available in the Amazon Android App Store.
Apple TV integrates its content from the iTunes store by using multicolored headings for its offerings. Displayed prominently at the top of the home screen are categories for Movies, TV Shows, and music, along with iTunes Radio (Apple’s ad supported Pandora Clone). Choosing any of these options will bring the user to a separate interface where they can choose to purchase media offered from Apple’s iTunes store. This includes individual episodes of recently aired television shows along with full seasons of past shows. Its music links with any registered iTunes account and there are also options to purchase or rent movies. The media is always available but only if one chooses to access the specific menus.
Apple does not hide their content and neither does Amazon. But Amazon aggressively promotes its own while hiding third party apps.
Edge: Apple TV
The Apple TV interface is pretty straight forward. All of its available apps are displayed with their distinctive logos against a black screen. It looks a great deal like the previous mobile IOS available on the iPad and other devices. All of the available apps are front and center as though you can reach out
and touch them. In order to launch any given app the user simply selects their choice with the provided remote or using the remote app. Apple automatically loads any available app to the home screen. Apps cannot be uninstalled but can be hidden from view by changing their availability in parental settings. There is also no app store. Apps are added once a partnership is established between Apple and a given partner.
The Fire TV interface is designed to highlight the proprietary programming provided by the company that commissioned the box itself. Its’ layout has a left to right orientation with the left side of the interface containing menu options for Movies, TV, a video watch list, Library. The default display for the rest of the screen features a mish mash of suggested TV shows and movies with and a busy selection of programming and apps. The TV Shows and movies range from those available for purchase directly from Amazon and those via Amazon’s Prime Video Service. In order to get to the applications you have personally installed on the device you must toggle to apps which is 6 spots down on the menu where the user is then greeted is the section “Your apps Library” From here users must explore a carousel of every
app that is installed on the device cycling through video games and services alike one by one. This is very similar to the carousel format of the Kindle Fire Tablet and is simply not optimal when trying to access Netflix, Crackle, Hulu Plus or any of the other video services available on the device.
While the look of the OS is sharp and fresh people do not want to have to look too hard for their favorite apps or ask a remote to find it.
Edge: Apple TV
Apple is the industry leader in this category with Airplay and Mirroring integration with all of its modern IOS devices all the way back to the iPad 2. IOS devices are capable of sharing their screen content with The Apple TV to greatly expand the content available on a the device. Users can play nearly any video or app that can be viewed on an IOS device including, current laptops, iPhones 4 and up and the current iPod touch on the TV using Apple TV.
The Fire TV allows mirroring from the Kindle Fire HDX. When using Amazon’s top of the line tablet, users can send video from tablet to the Fire TV and like AirPlay and IOS devices this can be used to watch content otherwise not available on the Fire TV itself. Want to watch HBO-Go on Fire TV? If you can fire it up on an HDX than it can be done. Unfortunately at the moment the HDX is the only device supported in this way. Keep an eye on this one though. With the Fire TV being Android based we would not be surprised to see this change.
With multiple devices supported the choice here is obvious.
Edge: Apple TV
Movie and TV Apps
Apple TV has a number of heavy hitting apps. Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Disney XD, Disney Channel, Bloomberg (24 hour financial news), Sony Crackle, The Weather Channel, Sky News, WWE Network, Watch ABC, the Smithsonian Channel and PBS (on demand programming). Netflix and Hulu Plus and the WWE Network are of course subscription based services while HBO Go, Disney, Disney XD, and Watch ABC are available contingent on cable authentication. Crackle is an ad supported portal from Sony Pictures with numerous films and original and shows and the PBS app is a portal to numerous full length original material across their programming lineup as well as limited streaming of major masterpiece programs like Downton Abbey and Sherlock while the shows are airing.
The Fire TV
Amazon made sure to include Hulu Plus as well as it most direct competitor in the delayed viewing Netflix Sony’s Crackle, Plex, Showtime Anytime, Bloomberg TV, Flixter (for Digital Ultraviolet based content). Its own video service is fully integrated in to the system and is therefore not listed as a separate app.
With a few more major media partners including TWC and PBS (People love their Sherlock and Downton Abbey) and Amazon’s lack of HBO Go, (which is stunning) this choice is not too hard to make.
Edge: Apple TV
Amazon has no dog in this fight and offers multiple audio apps including Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIin as well as video music services Vevo and Quello.
iTunes Radio, Vevo, Quello, and the original a radio app for iTunes which contains streaming of linear internet based radio stations.
Both Platforms offer multiple and capable music selections for background noise and entertaining.
Watch ESPN (cable authentication required) MLB.tv, NBA Game Time, NHL Center Ice, MLS, The ACC Digital Network with Campus insiders along with Red Bull (Extreme Sports). The MLB, NBA, MLS and NHL packages are subscription based offering based on the Internet feed for their respective leagues, Red Bull is free and the ACC/Campus Insiders package is free. It has no live action but provides highlights and original programming from across the college sports world.
Amazon offers Watch ESPN a popular Cable based service requiring authentication as well as the NBA Game Time app, a port of the cleverly designed Thuuz Sports Android app and Red Bull TV. Fire TV also offers the ACC Digital Network sports news app but does not include the additional feeds from Campus Insiders.
With options from every major American sports league to go along with the shared content between the two it is hard to look past the Apple TV on this one.
Edge: Apple TV
Misc/Special interest Things that have no given catagory
Both devices also support YouTube and Vimeo, while Apple TV sports Apple TV throws in Yahoo Screen, Japanese animation service
Crunchy Roll as well as iTunes Podcasts a vast searchable treasure trove of full length audio and video podcasts from a variety of subjects . Fire TV also supports Android based app Frequency which pulls videos from multiple sources like CNN, Twitter, YouTube and more to create a sort of customizable channel experience as well as Redux TV another grab bag of curated clips from multiple sources.
Even though Frequency and Redux are beautiful apps The Podcasts set Apple TV apart on this one.
Edge: Apple TV
The Apple TV ships with a small directional remote that must be pointed at the device to work correctly. Users also have the option to use a free mobile device app. In reality the mobile app is recommended as the controller is almost small enough to slip through a clinched fist. Once the initial set up of an Apple TV is finished we recommend putting the remote aside where it can be found if needed.
Amazon has put a lot of thought in to its remote. It resembles the Apple TV remote in its use of a wheel design for directional button but has standard play and scrub button also. Its main feature is its microphone which is used for actual voice based search. The search can be used for finding programming within the Amazon catalogue as well as calling up specific apps and games. This is actually a voice program that does respond to what is being said.
Do not misplace the Fire TV remote or you could be out of luck. No mobile app means the second choice could be an IR remote or a game controller. Either way you lose the innovative voice support.
Edge: Fire TV
In truth the two boxes have more in common that different. The few differences set them apart though. Amazon has put together a very impressive new product. From performance to its overall sharpness the Fire TV looks like it can develop in to a giant going forward but at the moment because of its big edge in sports apps, HBO Go, greater diversity in mirroring partners and pure simplicity we give the edge to Apple TV. Apple TV fans should be asking Siri when she is going to join the party. If The Fire TV were to address its shortcomings it could well surpass the now 3rd generation Apple TV. The iPhone maker may want to start working on generation 4. We will keep an eye on this matchup. A few tweaks and Amazon may well surpass the electronics giant, but right now the Fire TV feels sleek but unfinished. For this story we ignored the gaming capability of the Fire TV. This was because we were evaluating based on options that both offer.