Amazon unveiled its Fire TV set-top box yesterday, and there's no denying it looks a lot like the Apple TV. But unlike Apple's "hobby," which has grown better over time, Amazon is going all-in on its first round out. With the Fire TV now out in the US, and hopefully due to come over to the UK before too long, we thought it would be an interesting exercise to see how it stacks up against the two-year-old Apple TV. Read on for our thoughts...
From a purely physical standpoint, the two boxes certainly look the same. They're both small black squares; the Apple TV is a bit squatter, at 23 x 100 x 100mm, while the Fire TV is thinner, at 18mm, but takes up a larger 115mm square footprint. They each weigh just over 270 grams, and both are small and unobtrusive enough to fit into any home cinema setup.
As far as other similarities go, both boxes feature HDMI video out up to 1080p, and both have Ethernet ports for wired connections, or dual-band/dual-antenna Wi-Fi. It's worth noting the Fire TV also uses MIMO (multiple input/multiple output), which could help kick wireless speeds up a notch.
The boxes are harder to compare from a hardware perspective. The Apple TV is powered by a single-core A5 chip. You'll find a dual-core version of that chip in the iPhone 4S, iPad 2, fifth-generation iPod touch, and the original iPad mini. It's definitely a bit long in the tooth at this point, though it seems to power the Apple TV just fine. The Fire TV, on the other hand, is powered by a 1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm CPU, which Amazon says makes it three times faster than Apple TV. It also features 2GB of RAM, compared with the Apple TV's 512MB. So on paper the Fire TV definitely wins, though in reality it's difficult to benchmark these devices.
Another important factor is content support, and in that regard, both boxes are solid. Comparing content in the US currently, you can watch Netflix or Hulu Plus on either, along with YouTube and a number of other services. Apple TV has support for HBO GO, which is lacking on Fire TV. But then the Fire TV offers access to Amazon Instant Video and Showtime Anytime, two popular services that Apple TV lacks.
While both boxes come with remote controls, they were far from created equal. Apple TV uses a fairly standard remote that requires a line of sight, and allows you to control volume as well as whatever you're watching. The Fire TV remote does this as well, but it also adds voice search, so you don't need to key in search terms letter by letter. What we've seen so far looks impressive, but the success of voice search is largely based on how well it works, so we're going to have to put it through some heavy testing before making a call on that.
It's an easier decision if you're a gamer. While the Apple TV allows you to mirror the games on your other Apple devices to the big screen, the Fire TV functions as its very own gaming system. Amazon has already enlisted a number of developers like Disney, EA, and Ubisoft to bring game content to the Fire TV, and is also working on developing its own titles. You can play games on it using the included remote, but Amazon is also selling a far more advanced controller for $40 (£25). The average price of a game is said to be $1.85 (£1.10). There are over 100 available right now in the States, and Amazon says thousands more are coming soon – so we can expect loads when the device (hopefully) reaches these shores.
Both boxes cost $99 in the US, and the Fire TV will likely match Apple TV at the £100 mark here, so price won't be a deciding factor.
There are still other unique features that could be compared, like FreeTime for kids on Fire TV, or AirPlay on Apple TV. Ultimately, though, it comes down to content. What should really drive your purchasing decision is which box has the television shows and movies you want to watch. Let's just hope we get the Fire TV over here in good time...
You might also want to see our comparison of the Roku 3 and Fire TV.