I almost never try to compare three things at once because I think that those stories often don’t educate people. But I decided to jump in and give it a shot after an email by a reader. What I have done with Roku 4 Vs Fire TV VS Apple TV is to try to take a look at the devices by focussing on what makes them unique as opposed to relying on buzz terms like ecosystem and focussing on the apps that they have. In this story, we focussed on the top set-top boxes (as far as hardware) from the top 3 players in the industry. It’s quite likely that the top selling Roku model may be the 3 or the quad core stick, but the Roku 4 is the most powerful. I hope this article will help you get to know the best and worst of the devices and help you find the one that is the best fit for your family.
The Fourth generation Apple TV is a very well put together item. It is the most expensive of all of the streaming devices in this article and is the tallest, though it takes up the smallest amount of space compared to any of its competitors in the set-top box category. Assuming that you will be using set top boxes via a cabinet or even sitting on a TV stand the size is not going to be an issue.
What you get with the Apple TV is a very sleek system designed with an IOS 9 feel but a TV-centric app store and set up. It accesses content via the iTunes store and through thousands of third party apps. It also features AirPlay which is a feature that provides the ability to cast images, videos, and apps from IOS devices and Mac computers to the TV screen. The basic features include:
- Beautiful interface
- Easy to organize (Ability to Create Folders)
- Remote that can control TV volume
- Gaming support with 11 categories of games, section for games with controllers
- Force touch remote that can be used for mobile games
- Nearly all apps have a uniform look and feel, makes it easy to learn (exceptions include Netflix which built an app outside of the Apple
- 1080p resolution
App Store: The Appstore is broken up into categories at this time 8. There are not many prefab categories. On the other hand, you can search for app categories by type simply by asking Siri using voice controls. I ask for “Music” and you will be presented with a long list of music apps, “science”, History”. The Apple TV is the only streaming box that will return results in that manner.
The voice controls on the Apple TV are the most precise. While its competitors use voice search to find apps using the keyword in names this returns results almost like an actual search engine inside of the system. Other things you can do with voice controls:
- Open installed apps by voice command
- Use voice to dictate, fill signup for services etc.
- Use voice search to ask for genre based things like “Horror Movies” Tom Hanks Movies (results are based on what is available in iTunes)
- Ask Siri for basic info like current weather, weekly forecasts or pull up a list of weather apps.
Mobile App: Its new mobile app allows users to access a keyboard for text entry, use Siri for searching. Mobile Platform IOS mobile devices.
Cool unadvertised feature: If you search for a film that has a trailer on file, you can watch the original trailer for a film. Otherwise, you will see the first few minutes of a movie. This is so fun because in many cases you can see the original trailers for great films like Rocky The Godfather and others.
- No USB port for extra storage,
- Official remote app is not available for Android
- Apple freezes out direct competitors like “Amazon Video” or “Spotify”
- Difficult to side load
- Majority of Entertainment and Sports require fees or a pay TV service
Amazon Fire TV
The Fire TV by Amazon is currently in its second generation. The device offers users 4k video at 30 Hz. Not considered true 4K but its very hard to pick it up. The device has a heavy dose of the namesake’s features including integration of Amazon Music, Amazon cloud services and a home screen that heavily emphasizes Amazon video selections both free and a-la-carte selections.
Basic features include:
- Home screen with multiple options
- Amazon Free Time (the cloistered kid safe app)
- Android Games and games from Gamefly and multiple partners
- Access to amazon services such as Amazon Cloud Drive for photos and video, Amazon Music,
- Support for the major third party apps Netflix HBO Go, HBO Now ESPN etc
- USB support for third party controllers keyboards etc
- USB device can be used to load content
Amazon has been regularly improving its app store from both a content standpoint and searchability. It currently breaks down into 10, we will call them, “meta-categories” like Your apps, cable apps, top grossing etc, but also has a “categories” section broken down into 25 sub-categories. This is the most complete list of category breakdowns we have seen on a streaming box. The app store also provides an interactive preview of what the app will look like and do.
Very minimal buttons. Features mic for voice search and directional buttons.
The voice control features are solid. Fire TV employs Alexa, amazon’s talking virtual assistant. If you ask a question it will try and answer It will talk back to you. I asked when the NFL season would start and it told me the date. I asked for the weather and it told me current conditions. It can open
apps when requested and will find apps in the app store. The voice search for content does not return results for many of the services on the device. This includes Netflix. Even if you search for House of Cards the only results you will return are from Amazon Video. That is almost shameful. It will open Netflix upon request.
App Available for IOS and Android and allows users to access all of the remotes features while adding the ability to use a keyboard for searching and entering info.
Cool Unadvertised feature
The Fire TV really runs on Android. This means it will support any Android app you wish to sideload onto the device. Using Amazon apps like ES File explorer or Total Commander users can load any APK they wish from cloud services or even a USB stick. This includes browsers, other app stores and even Kodi. You will need to use a third-party remote to employ the majority of third party apps.
Drawbacks: If users are not Amazon Prime members the major selections on the home screen are almost useless. All of those prime movies and TV shows will cost money, you will not be able to access free time etc. Amazon leaves out direct competitors like Vudu, Google Play iTunes etc.
The Roku is the most powerful and feature rich Roku product on the market at the time of this writing. It features a fast quad-core processor, lots of RAM and Roku’s well-known grid-based interface. Roku has the most apps that do not require payment of any of the streaming boxes in this story. While not all are up to snuff the variety (which includes every major video service minus iTunes) is refreshing. Basic features include:
- Remote with quick app launch buttons
- Voice search from Remote
- Private listening jack on the remote
- Voice search for apps
- USB slot for accessing other storage devices
- Large app store with multiple categories
- Highly customizable home screen
- Lost remote pager
Lots of buttons when compared to its competitors including a rotating set of sponsored launch
buttons for 4 apps. The drawback here is that sometimes the featured apps get bought out or outright go out of business. The mic on remote works great. The ability to find the remote when lost is so helpful.
The mobile app for Roku is the most extensive one for any streaming box. The app allows users to do a number of functions besides access basic remote controls functions. It is available for IOS, Android and Widows. The Mobile app can;
- Replace the physical remote in all functions
- Provide a keyboard for searching and entering login info
- share media (music picture and video) stored on your mobile device to the Roku
- Access the Roku’s app store
- Activate voice search
- access your Roku Feed
- access your entire channel listing and provide launch buttons for the entire lineup
Roku’s voice feature is the most basic of any of the set-top boxes. It allows users to find any app/channel in the Roku Streaming Channels store. Users can open apps and find out if they are available. The voice search will also return results for titles, actors and directors in its universal search which has no bias towards any of the services included in the results which are numerous.
Cool Unadvertised Feature
The Roku 4 and other Roku’s for that matter have a number of unofficial channels or private channels that can be added via the web. There are entire websites built around that topic. The
Streaming Advisor has a curated listing of them here
Roku does not support other controllers or keyboards. Games a very basic, like almost Atari basic. Voice controls far more basic than its competitors.
So there you have it. All of the devices have notable strengths. Which one is the right one for you will have a lot to do with how you will use it, your warm and fuzzy feelings about the companies behind them and compatibility. In general, the one most attached to one platform is the Fire TV based on its home screen’s integration with company products and the least wedded of the three is Roku. If you can, check them out in person to see what feels best.