The streaming media scene has changed dramatically since I first started writing about the technology back in 2013. At that time, you were just as likely to use a DVD player or gaming console to watch Netflix (the only real streaming service at the time) as you were to use a dedicated player. Today, there are many more options including more than a dozen popular player models as well as cable boxes and Smart TVs that have streaming channels built into them.
With all these choices, it can be difficult to decide which one will work best for you, which is why I put together a comparison chart for an at-a-glance view of the main differences between the Big Four of streaming players: Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast.
This post, however, simply compares the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Roku Streaming Stick_, both of which are excellent options for people who are buying a player for the first time; who want a second (or third) device for their other TVs, their kids, or for traveling with; or who are looking for an affordable gift that provides a lot of streaming bang for the buck.
What the Fire TV Stick and the Roku Streaming Stick have in common
Before looking at the differences between these two devices, here are a few things that are the same for both of them.
- They both have multiple models available.
- The Amazon stick comes in three flavors: Lite, Stick, and Stick 4K. The main differences between them are that the Lite’s remote doesn’t include buttons for controlling your TV’s power and volume buttons and the 4K model supports, well, 4k Ultra HD and HDR video. (Learn more about these features in this T4L post.) Note also that the while the Lite and Stick models are new hardware in 2020 whereas the 4K model is the same as what was released in 2018.
- Both the Roku Streaming Stick+ and the Streaming Stick+ HE support 4K and HDR but the HE model comes with headphones and has a remote with a headphone jack. (HE stands for “Headphone Edition”.) Note that the HE model is available exclusively from Best Buy.
- They plug directly into an HDMI port on your TV so they don’t need a cable or something to sit on, making them especially convenient for wall-mounted TVs.
- They come with remotes that let you search for movies and TV shows with your voice.
- They have mobile apps that you can use as a remote.
Differences between the Fire TV Stick and the Roku Streaming Stick Plus
Here are some of the main differentiators between the two devices.
These are the list prices of the various models.
Fire TV Stick Lite: $29.99
Fire TV Stick: $39.99
Fire TV Stick 4K: $49.99
Roku Streaming Stick+: $49.99
Roku Streaming Stick+ HE Edition: $59.00
Both devices support the most popular streaming movie and TV services including, but not limited to, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, YouTube, Crackle, Sling TV, AT&T TV NOW, Hulu Live TV, YouTube TV, HBO, SHOWTIME, PBS, PBS Kids, Disney+, WatchESPN, FOX NOW, Telemundo Deportes EN VIVO, Plex, Pandora, and Sirius XM. Fire TV refers to these services as apps. Roku calls them channels.
Roku also has channels for FandangoNOW and VUDU.
Amazon has its gaming app, Twitch, and Silk, the browser it uses on Fire tablets.
A couple of years ago, Roku had many more channels than any of the other players, but as I tried to find ones on Roku that aren’t on the Fire TV, there weren’t many except for very niche channels like their lengthy list of international content providers. They also used to have a whole slew of private channels like NASA TV that weren’t available to stream elsewhere, but nowadays you can find a lot of these on many more platforms including other streaming players, YouTube, and social media.
Both players support dual band Wi-Fi. Additionally, you can get an Ethernet adapter for your Fire TV Stick for a wired connection to your router.
All of the models except the Fire TV Stick Lite have buttons for controlling your TV’s power and volume.
Another previous major differentiator that has gone by the wayside is that you can use Alexa voice search for both Fire TV and Roku streamers. However, there are still some differences between them.
Not surprisingly, the Fire TV is fully integrated with Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant, including via the microphone button on the remote or using an Alexa device (e.g. Echo) for hands-free control.
With Roku, you can use Alexa to search for content as well but not from your remote. Instead you need either a separate Alexa device or the Alexa mobile app. (You can similarly use the Google and Apple voice assistants with the Roku.)
While earlier versions of the Fire TV Stick supported mirroring content from your mobile device, the current version no longer has that capability. The Roku sticks do support mirroring, both from compatible mobile devices and Windows computers.
My two cents
As you can see, both of these streaming media players are solid options. Which one will work best for you depends on which features are most important to you as compared to the price. There was a time when I would have said go for Roku if you wanted more channel options, but there just isn’t that much difference anymore unless you’re really looking for some of the very niche channels.
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