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 like the Roku or Apple TV. 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 previously put together an article that compares the pros and cons of the most popular streaming devices (Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast) as well as a comparison chart for an at-a-glance view of the main differences between them.
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 support 1080p HD video, but not 4K Ultra or HDR video.
- 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.
- They let you mirror the content from compatible mobile devices to your TV. (The Roku also lets you mirror your screen from compatible Windows computers.)
Differences between the Fire TV Stick and the Roku Streaming Stick
Here are some of the main differentiators between the two devices.
The list price of the Fire TV Stick is $39.99 and the Roku Streaming Stick is $49.99. Both of them have discounts at various times of anywhere from $5 to $15 as well.
Both devices support the most popular streaming movie and TV services including, but not limited to, Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, FilmStruck, Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, DIRECTV NOW, Hulu Live TV, HBO, SHOWTIME, PBS, PBS Kids, WatchDisney, WatchESPN, FOX NOW, Telemundo Deportes EN VIVO, YouTube, Plex and Pandora.
Roku also has channels for FandangoNOW, VUDU, and YouTube, which thanks to an ongoing grudge match between Google and Amazon will no longer be available on the Fire TV as of January 1, 2018.
Amazon has its gaming app, Twitch, and Silk, the browser it uses on Fire tablets.
Neither player officially supports Apple content (iTunes, Apple Music, etc.), although you can add Apple Podcasts to the Roku as a private channel.
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.
Both players work support dual band Wi-Fi. Additionally, you can get an Ethernet adapter for your Fire TV Stick for a wired connection to your router.
The remote that comes with the Roku Streaming Stick has buttons for controlling your TV’s power and volume. The Fire TV Stick doesn’t have this feature, but you can get a Sideclick accessory that attaches to the remote and has multiple buttons for various controls. (There’s also a Sideclick available for Roku remotes.)
While you can use the Roku remote or mobile app to search for content with your voice, the Fire TV Stick includes Alexa support, so you can not only search for content, but you can also control playback for compatible apps, ask questions, get information like weather and sports scores, and enter text into any field you would normally type into.
Also, if you have an Alexa-enabled hands-free device like an Echo or Echo Dot, you can pair it with your Fire TV to control the player without a remote.
While the interfaces for both devices are clear and easy to use, there is one big difference between them. With the Roku Streaming Stick, you need to go into each individual channel first before choosing what to watch. With the Fire TV Stick, the home interface also lets you go directly to individual movies and TV shows from its own video service, third-party Amazon Channels you subscribe to through Amazon like HBO, SHOWTIME, ACORN TV, Sports Illustrated TV, and PBS Kids, and certain other apps including Netflix, Playstation Vue, and FOX NOW.
Personally, I find the look of the Roku interface to be a little outdated, but functionally it’s perfectly fine. And the Fire TV Stick’s interface is definitely more tied to Amazon’s own video content, but they’ve improved it over the years to better integrate with other content providers.
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.
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. The one exception that might affect my decision is YouTube, if Amazon and Google can’t iron out their differences. However, if you have an Android phone that supports display mirroring, you could use that to watch YouTube videos through the Fire TV.
Otherwise, right now the main factor I would use to decide is whether you want Alexa or not. The Fire TV Stick has it for $10 less than the Roku Streaming Stick, which makes it an excellent deal unless you really don’t want the voice assistant at all (and I know plenty of people who don’t want it).
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