Pitching popular streaming TV devices head-to-head

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Perhaps we’ve been watching too much boxing and mixed martial arts coverage on DAZN, and Ultimate Fighting on ESPN+, but the idea of pitching some of the most popular hitters in the streaming device contest seemed like something we couldn’t resist.

Our 2 feature fighters weighing in today have got to be Roku and Amazon Fire TV. Both have a strong model history, and both, like fine wines, are steadily improving with age.

As well as the tiny hardware options that easily slip into your pocket, Roku and Amazon both commission fully-fledged Smart TVs with their OS built-in.

If you’re looking to the advantages of a full-blown Fire TV vs. Fire Stick, well, it means that you’ll already have the ideally functioning, compatible hardware to get the best out of each system.

Each manufacturer’s models are very similar and to be honest, whichever one you choose, you’re going to get massive amounts of viewing—over 500,000 shows and movies—along with access to all the channels, streams and services you could possibly dream of.

So, let’s start with what we think are the most likely purchases and the most popular contest.

Roku Streaming Stick Plus vs. Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

There really isn’t much to choose between these 2 models. Both run on quad-core processors, have integrated voice search, give you stunning 4K picture quality and Dolby Atmos audio. Fire TV Stick 4K supports Dolby Vision content, as well as HDR10, which would give it a tech edge over the Roku, but only if you’re obsessed with such fine detail.

Which has the best OS?

One of the most significant differences is in their interfaces and operating systems.

Amazon always looks like it’s trying to sell you something. Prime Video is pushed at you the minute you turn your system on, and once you start scrolling you’ll come across ads for apps you don’t subscribe to, ads for further streaming services, and deeper down the page, you’ll be offered everything from TVs to toilet paper. Not what I want, when I’m looking for a box set to binge.

The Roku, on the other hand, has stuck with its simple and straightforward, yet perhaps a touch dated for some, no-nonsense appearance. We can’t argue with it, though. It gets the job done, with ads kept neatly out of the way so as not to interfere too much with the real job in hand.

What apps are available?

When it comes to apps, both platforms support every major streaming service, so there’s not much to pick between there. Also, both have hundreds of games available that you can play solo or against friends and family. The Fire Stick has a slightly bigger selection of games and apps, but the ‘Roku Channel’ is a great bonus. It gives access to even more ad-supported free movies, TV series, news and more. Roku is regularly adding new apps and channels, covering everything from news to kids shows.

Stand-out features

Fire TV: If you’re an Amazon addict, the Fire TV will integrate seamlessly with Alexa. You’ll be able to control a lot more than your TV, and from all over the house.

Streaming Stick+: We like the way Roku delivers program options, with the list of apps they’re available on. We also love the mobile phone app that turns into another remote and private audio option.

Winner: We’re giving this one to Roku. If only for the lack of force-fed advertising and the mass and ease of accessing its content. But, we’re not writing off the Fire TV Stick. As we said, if you’re already a bought and paid for member of the Amazon family, you’ll be more than happy with its performance and integration.

Roku Premiere vs. Fire Stick 4K

The ‘Premiere’ Roku Stick vs. Amazon Fire Stick 4K is another fight of the 4K players, but this time we’ve thrown in a fairly straightforward price vs. function round.

The Roku Premiere nicks US$10 off the price of the hardware. In Roku’s range, it sits slightly higher than their basic budget options (Express and Express+) with its 4K delivery. What it lacks, however, is the added voice search control in its remote. It also operates on a single-band wireless connection, where the Streaming Stick models run on dual-band as standard.

The Fire Stick 4K is, without doubt, the better hardware. That said, if you choose to use your mobile as your Roku remote, you’ll still have access to the voice search features the supplied hardware lacks.

Winner: In this Amazon Fire Stick 4K vs. Roku Premiere fight, it all depends on how important those 10 bucks are to you. If this is a second option player, or something to stick in the guest room, who cares about voice control? But, if this is your primary access to streaming services? Spend the extra few dollars. It’ll be well worth it in the long run.

Roku Express (HD) vs. Fire Stick

Okay, so here we go with both brands’ entry-level options. There’s no 4K support here, but if your TV only has HD functionality, well, you won’t be missing anything, anyway.

Once again, the tech set-ups look very similar. Quad-core processor, Dolby audio, and a super low price-point of US$30.

We found another similar difference as we did in the Premiere vs. Fire Stick 4K fight. It’s almost all about voice control. Amazon throws it into its remote as standard (and also the dual-band WiFi connection), where if you want to talk to your Roku Express, you’ll need to pull in the free app for your smartphone.

Winner: Fire Stick TV takes it for us. Apart from voice control, Amazon features private listening with a Bluetooth headphone connection. It’s a nifty feature for a budget streamer, and it’s enough to tip the scales over the Express, that once again, will provide you with the same function, but only through its mobile app and not the remote.

Amazon Fire Stick vs. Apple TV

We’re not rocking any boats when we say if you’re an Apple Fanboy and your home looks a little too like an Apple Store already, then this won’t be a contest for you. If you’re looking for serious Apple TV vs. Firestick hardware comparisons, don’t. This is much more of a class war.

Apple love to think they do everything better, and smack a price tag on to make sure we all know it. But are they better? Well, the standard Apple TV only runs at 1080p HD, which makes it an entry-level model picture-wise, with 4K becoming standard for much cheaper options.

The Apple TV remote is a little marmite. It’s touchscreen control, we think, is a lovely bit of slick-tech, but some aren’t so happy with its navigation ease. You can always opt for Siri (built-in, of course) if it’s that little bit too fiddly for you.

Winner: If you’ve got an Apple logo running through the middle of your torso then there’s only one choice, but we would say if you’re spending that sort of money, go the whole hog and buy the Apple TV 4K. If you’re not Apple through and through, you’ll save yourself a lot of money by opting for the Fire Stick.

The big fight roundup…

There really isn’t much to pick between, so whether you choose Roku or Amazon, we don’t think anyone will be too disappointed. We haven’t brought Chromecast into the fray yet, so watch this space for further examinations and even more comparisons.

Who knows what we’ll dig into next, perhaps historical models vs. their updated successors? We could pitch the Roku 3 vs. Roku Streaming Stick Plus, or maybe we’ll set some of the streaming services head to head? Think Sling TV vs. AT&T TV Now, or any of the other myriad of options.

We’ll be listening out for the latest arguments around the water cooler, to pitch in and put them straight, and we’re quite aware that games consoles are up for the fight too. There was an argument in the office recently about the Xbox One X vs. Apple TV 4K streaming and picture quality.