Thinking about ditching your monthly cable bill? Have a Roku, but wondering if there’s something better out there? With Amazon’s recent introduction of Fire TV, a little black box that allows you to stream video, listen to music and even play games, there are now enough players in the $99-device-that-will-free-you-from-cable market for it to become crowded and confusing. Here’s how Fire TV stacks up against Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Roku. Though I will caution, between subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu and Vudu, and iTunes and Amazon purchases, it’s pretty easy to spend the same as your cable bill–or more–on one of these streaming players each month.
The Boxes: Apple TV Versus Fire TV Versus Roku 3 These are your top-of-the-line devices. They’re all the same price ($99) and they all have ethernet ports, which means you can use them without having to depend on wifi, which, in my experience, can be problematic when trying to stream 1080p, surf the internet and stream music simultaneously. Don’t think this applies to you? You must not have roommates.
Amazon TV: The newest contender’s killer feature is voice search (though it’s for Amazon content only, you can’t navigate through Netflix and other services with it) and a potentially awesome gaming platform (though you’ll need to spend an extra $40 for the Amazon Fire game controller). Amazon threw some serious guts into its Fire TV–four times the RAM of its competitors and a legit processor for games like The Walking Dead and BADLANDS, which are all kinds of fun. Don’t expect XBOX or PlayStation caliber games–think more like smartphone and tablet entertainment. The major bummer here is its lack of HBOGo, though that may change soon.
UPDATE: Well, that was fast. Amazon has added Hulu Plus, Crackle and Showtime to Fire TV’s voice search. That means when you say, “Hannibal” Amazon will search through each of those services as well as Amazon Instant, giving you an opportunity to watch it on which ever services return a result. Sadly, Netflix is still missing, which means if you search for “House of Cards” you won’t find it free on Netflix. Instead, you’ll find it for a premium cost on Amazon. Seems as if it’ll come soon, though. Broadening search really makes the Fire TV more enticing. This gives it a huge leg up over Apple TV.
Apple TV: The best feature here is AirPlay, which allows you to push content (videos, music, podcasts) to your TV from your mac or iOS device (iPhones or iPads). If you’re an Android user, AllCast, a $3 app, gets your content to the screen. There’s even an app for Windows computers called AirParrot. Apple TV is still evolving and Apple has recently added a ton of new channels and apps to the device. Expect this one to eventually be iOS for your TV, though it may go through a spec bump (basically we’ll see a new iteration of Apple TV) before it gets there. If you’re an iPhone user and have invested in iTunes content, this is a no brainer, though limitations abound when trying to connect to services like Amazon Instant or Vudu. I love my Apple TV, but I sure would appreciate more video apps on my iPhone supporting AirPlay. That said, I’m basically asking for free stuff. ABC, NBC and CBS want to get paid, as does AMC and FX.
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