Last week Amazon released its long-anticipated Fire TV, the natural next step in hybridizing Amazon Instant Video and the Kindle Fire. The sprawling online marketplace (remember when they just sold books?) is quickly reshaping itself as an integrated platform.
The Fire TV arrives in a market that is already inundated with devices for streaming online content via your television. There’s an embarrassment of riches out there, but also the potential of frustration for the discerning buyer: the subtle differences between products multiply towards infinity. To make things easier, we’ve compiled the best and worst features of the most popular set-top boxes currently on the market so you can decide for yourself.
Amazon Fire TV: $99
Pros: The Amazon Fire TV seems to cover all the bases established by the Apple TV, Roku and Google Chromecast, as well as some interesting new features. It includes a voice search function, as well as a prediction feature that queues up things Amazon’s algorithm thinks you might like. The free Magisto app allows users to edit and share videos. It boasts a quad-core processor and 2GB of memory.
Cons: No HBO GO, and be aware that the voice search will only yield results within Amazon Prime and Vevo. Needs a separate $40 controller for gaming.
Apple TV: $99.99
Pros: By all accounts the setup is easy, the interface is highly user-friendly and it works with all Apple products. AirPlay allows you to play content wirelessly off your phone or other device. And at 4.4/5 stars, it’s the highest rated on Amazon of any item on this list. It supports HBOGO, Netflix, WatchESPN, Hulu Plus, MLB.TV, NHL GameCenter, NBA, Flickr, YouTube and more. It also allows iTunes access.
Google Chromecast: $35
Pros: Chromecast is a thumb-sized device that plugs into an HDMI port on the TV. It’s simple to use, completely remote-free (controlled by smartphone), and streams music. You can “cast” a Chrome browser tab from laptop to TV, meaning you can stream HBOGO, Netflix, HuluPlus and Google Play. The price tag is nice too.
Cons: Needs a smartphone or PC to watch videos, and it can’t access Amazon Instant Video. No ethernet connectivity.
Netgear NeoTV: $44.99
Pros: Streams live TV. You can connect it to Facebook and share your favorite channels, or wirelessly display your laptop screen on the TV. Any smartphone will work as a remote, and the device is small and compact.
Cons: Doesn’t support all streaming services. Some users report problems with connectivity speed and tech support.
Pros: Roku allows access to over 1,000 channels, and the box itself is practically small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. The most recent version of the remote control app includes a ‘universal search’ feature, which allows you to look for content across multiple platforms. Roku probably wins for non-TV functions, as the remote has a headphone jack and motion control for gaming use. And it comes with Angry Birds Space!
An array of viewing options includes YouTube, Time Warner Cable channels, HuluPlus, Netflix, and more.
Samsung GX-SM530CF: $137.99
Pros: Provides a full web browser, not just a set of platforms and channels. Works with or without a cable card. You can control it with any Samsung phone.
Cons: The app selection is limited (HuluPlus, YouTube and Amazon Prime), and many users complain of bad tech support. Relatively large (6.8 x 9.2 x 1 inches). It’s also the most expensive option we reviewed.
VIZIO Co-Star: $99.99
Pros: “Second screen interactivity” allows you to control apps and transfer content between the TV and your phone or tablet. WiFi, Bluetooth and ethernet connectivity. Supports a full Chrome browser. Features a unique double-sided remote with a full keyboard on the back. Can stream HuluPlus, Netflix and Amazon Instant, but lacking in the sports department.
Cons: Several users complain that the remote is too complicated.