When Amazon recently jumped into the fray with its “Fire TV” (don’t try to find it at firetv.com, though), the war for Streaming TV was ignited. It went head to head with Apple and Roku for a piece of the streaming TV pie and, for the time being, comes out on top….for now. The Xciting part of Amazon’s entry into streaming TV is that consumers are now being offered some Xcellent options by which to cut the cable cord and Xtract some decent savings for their entertainment.
The Roku box offers free movies and TV from Crackle, CNBC, CNET video, Disney, Fox News, Pandora and a few dozen other niche channels. Add Netflix and/or Hulu Plus as well as Amazon Instant Video — which Apple TV declines to offer. At $69-99, Roku offers a decent value proposition and it works well; I’ve used it for the better part of two years and have been pleased with its ease of use and responsiveness. However, now Amazon has come out with its Fire TV which is priced in the same range as the Apple TV but offers a much faster processor (Quad-core), gaming capabilities and four times more memory. Fire TV also offers voice search and Dolby surround sound. A good comparison of the four major streaming boxes can be found here as well as here.
Some of the things that really distinguish Fire TV from the others is its voice search capability that eliminates the clumsy TV-screen keypads that occasionally drive me insane. Moreover, Fire TV’s gaming capability allows it to offer lower-tier gaming that is far less expensive than Xbox or PS4. However, Fire TV does not currently offer HBO Go — which can be found on Roku and Apple TV.
Finally, there’s Chromecast, offered by Google. It is the lowest cost and, not coincidentally, the lowest functionality, of all of the streaming options. It is relatively simple to use and offers a decent first-time experience to the newly initiated. But, at this time, Chromecast doesn’t offer iTunes or Amazon Instant Video access, which are two of the largest content providers in the streaming TV environment. It’s a decent value proposition, but offers limited capabilities. However, Android TV is on the horizon and the general consensus is that it will be a more upscale set-top box that will give Fire, Apple and Roku TVs a run for their money.
Any of these options are worth exploring as an alternative to Cable or Satellite TV. They all offer decent content, with the only Xception being access to live sports programming. Currently, the Cable and Satellite companies have that niche sewn up pretty tight, Xcept for what is available on the major over-the-air broadcasters, such as NBC, CBS and Fox. If you need your sports fix and aren’t willing to head down to your local sports bar for some brews and b-ball, then you are likely stuck with the overpriced cable offerings.