Today we’re talking about Roku vs Fire TV, and right off the bat there’s potential for confusion, because there’s a difference between the platform and the device. We’re going to start out in this video by comparing the platforms first and then we’ll move on to the devices themselves later in the video.
If we’re talking about the overall experience with each platform, Roku takes the top spot for me. Whereas Fire TV kind of mixes apps and shows and movies on your home page, which can get kind of confusing, Roku puts the apps right of front, easy to see, and you can arrange them any which way you’d like. Honestly, there are some advantages to the Fire TV way of doing it, especially if you know that most of what you watch will be on Amazon Prime. But if you’re like me, you use Prime and Netflix and Hulu and HBO, and PBS Kids, and MLB TV and on and on. I’m bouncing between those apps enough that having them right on my homepage makes it much easier for my situation. Both home pages feature ads, but Roku’s ads are off to the side, making them easier to ignore, while the Fire TV’s ads are integrated with the rest of the tiles, really cluttering things up.
The search feature on Roku is also superior, and this is something I’ll shout from the rooftops until someone can come up with something better. When you search on the Fire TV, it can be a little confusing with multiple options coming up, and then when you click the title you actually mean, you’re only shown a single service to watch it on. (GUESS WHICH ONE THAT USUALLY IS!) You can get more options if you click through, but that’s an annoying, additional step. Roku on the other hand is brand-agnostic, so when you search for something, it will show you a price-ordered list of where you can watch that show or movie. And if you’re subscribed to a service where you can get it for free, it’ll put that right at the top. So if you’re brand-agnostic like the Roku, you can see how nice this would be.
As for the apps you can get, don’t worry too much here. Both system run pretty much every app out there. For a long time, Fire TV has been missing YouTube and YouTube TV because of some … disagreements between Amazon and Google. But they’ve patched those up, and Google’s apps will soon be on the Fire TV platform. The biggest holdout now on Fire TV is probably Vudu, Walmart’s streaming rental service. There are backdoor ways to get Vudu to work on a Fire TV device, but that’s a topic for another video. The point here is that when it comes to apps, Amazon has pretty much everything, while Roku is even closer to actually everything.
At this point, I think we can start talking about the devices themselves. Fire TV offers a trio of devices, all of which are great: the Fire Stick, the Fire Stick 4k, and the Fire TV Cube, which is basically the 4K stick with an Amazon Echo Dot mashed in there. The Cube is cool, especially if you want to use a lot of hands-free voice commands. The Roku doesn’t have anything to match that right now. (They’ve been talking about a Roku voice assistant that would rival Alexa and Siri and Google, but it’s been 18 months and we haven’t seen it yet, so I stopped holding my breath.) What Roku DOES have is a larger suite of devices to fit different situations. There’s the super cheap Roku Express, which only does 1080p, and there’s even an Express Plus, which comes with composite video hookups, in case you’re still clutching your old tube TV in a death grip. And it goes on up the line through several 4K boxes and sticks, up to the Roku Ultra, one of my all-time favorite streaming devices.
But I think Fire TV might take the cake on the device front, thanks to the fact that the Fire Stick 4K, which is my recommended Fire TV device, includes Dolby Vision HDR. If you don’t know what that is, it’s probably not a big deal that Roku doesn’t support it. If you do, then you know that in terms of video quality it is just awesome.
So the Fire TV wins in a few discrete categories, like Dolby Vision, hands-free voice control, and a slick remote. And if those are the most important things to you, then you’ll love your new Fire TV. But on the whole, I prefer the experience on the Roku platform, which has a simpler interface, a better search feature, and is more brand agnostic.
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