Choosing Roku Over Fire TV

Dave Zatz —  October 27, 2017 — 19 Comments

My streaming hardware preference has waxed and waned over the years. And, whereas I’d given the Fire TV a slight edge the last year, the balance has now slightly tipped to Roku. Of course, outside Apple TV and Nvidia Shield, a solid, high quality experience can be had under $100 — no doubt about it, both the Amazon and Roku platforms are great.

I’ve preferred the Fire TV voice remote for a variety of reasons, including the feel, layout, and infinitely more versatile Alexa voice control. And, amongst the new stick/dongle-esque streamers, Amazon provides a superior physical design … that doesn’t require a HDMI adapter for certain television mounting situations. Further Amazon has provided a generally richer interface and app experiences. However, where they started to lose me is an updated interface infested with advertising that not only distracts but also interferes with navigation.

On the flip side, Roku’s interface and a large number of apps are ridiculously simplistic. But what they lack in visual complexity, they more than makes up for in clear, efficient interaction… which is ultimately of more importance. Where they really hit it out the park in 2017 are models with new remotes that also control television power and volume. Instead of crippled, unpredictable HDMI-CEC interaction, Roku supposedly uses EDID over HDMI to identify your television and load up the relevant IR codes. And in my small-scale test, it performed remarkably.

As everyone’s priorities are different, it’s fortunate that we have so many great options to choose from in 2017. Those deep into Apple ecosystem would certainly appreciate and potentially gravitate to iCloud photos and AirPlay on Apple TV or those all-in with Amazon will absolutely hate Roku’s Amazon Music app and would prefer Fire TV. And beyond these relatively inexpensive streaming boxes, sticks, and dongles, most modern televisions come with a decent helping of streaming content to meet folks’ over-the-top needs. What’s your pick?

19 responses to Choosing Roku Over Fire TV

  1. As to my current config at primary viewing locations, outside of TiVo — Roku TV in the bedroom, Vizio Chromecast TV in the family room with 2017 Roku Stick, Fire TV in the basement on a really dumb Panasonic Smart TV. I recently unloaded my Roku 3 and 4th gen Apple TV to a pal – remote is awful and tired of waiting around for Amazon. I rotate two Harmony hubs/remotes in and out – depends on my current mood, config, and toddler activity level. They’re packed up at the moment.

  2. By the by, if you get either 2017 Roku Stick and are having problems due to wall mounting or extending beyond display, the company will ship you a free HDMI extender. I requested mine here and received it in about 48 hours.

  3. I’m still rocking three Roku 3 units in our house. I got them refurbished for a sweet price so long ago. I won’t upgrade until they are dead. Plus, no spam buttons on the remote.

  4. Tivo Roamio was a good enough streaming box along with the DRV function. Then I got a Fire TV and the TiVo felt so slow. I also like that the fact that the Fire Tv will switch the input to my TV when I touch a button on the Fire Tv remote

  5. On most counts, I prefer Roku, including remote feel even prior to the new models with sensible TV control. But…

    The one thing that has me using Fire these days is that if I have a film in my watchlist, (which I actually actively use), and that film is available via one of the all-you-can-eat services I subscribe to, it shows up with my that as the first option.

    So, given that I rent/buy a fair amount of a-la-carte films, I save money by having that info show up automatically before I authorize a purchase. And it gives me part of the OnePass experience of being able to have a unified watchlist without diving into Balkanized AppWorld to find stuff.

  6. I’ve tried the 2nd and 4th Generation Apple TVs, 1st Generation Google Chromecast, and Rokus starting at the 2 XD through 3 and a TCL RokuTV. The Roku works the best for me. The Apple TV gets used for music streaming and Airplay mirroring but little else. The Chromecast sits in its box, but I plug it in and upgrade the firmware from time to time. Don’t get me started on TiVo’s awful streaming…

  7. I’m big on Android so I have the Nexus Player and not having Amazon Video sucks. I also picked up a Fire TV and not having Google Play Movies sucked. Now we have 3 Roku devices, and the fact that they practically play everything is awesome.

  8. Between my Apple TV 4 and Roku Premiere Plus no other streaming boxes need apply. I got the Roku as a refurb for not much more that what I paid for a refurbed Roku 2 XS a few years back. I like the simple remotes on both of them. If they were any easier they would run themselves.

  9. Mitchell Greenfield October 28, 2017 at 6:20 am

    interesting perspective. Personally, I use Control4 to control the FireTV and use direct app launching so I rarely use the home screen so I don’t see the ads….

  10. you forgot to mention Google’s Chromecast. its the cheapest by far it can screen mirror anything on your phone and with the release of the new Chromecast ultra it now supports 4k and comes with a ethernet connection option for an even faster connection. clear winner.

  11. Thomas, nope didn’t forget Chromecast. I have and find it inferior. Fewer critical apps (for my household) including Nick Jr or PBS Kids and Amazon. Also I can’t easily pass “the remote” around to other people on the couch and is not always primed and ready to go, involved in some other activity.

  12. Had a Roku stick but am not sure where it’s even gone to. It might be plugged into the switch under the TV but I have not powered it on in forever.
    Have a Chromecast which works a treat with Google Home. Watch Netflix that way much fo the time. Also works great for Google Play Movies, which is my usual rental source.
    Also have an Nvidia Shield TV which has been mostly great. It’s responsible for my conversion to watching a lot more Youtube than mainstream TV these days. I’m always amazed what you find on Youtube.
    Spent like two days in a rabbit hole last week watching videos and learning how to properly fell trees. I don’t even own a chain saw. Still, more interesting and enjoyable than 99% of the stuff on TV these days.

  13. My Chromecast sat unused for a long time after I got the Nvidia Shield TV. But then I got a Google Home and that combo really shines. I am amazed at the videos it can find on youtube from my rambling descriptions sometimes. Also will throw up and play just about any music you want to see/hear. It’s brilliant in the middle of a Netflix binge. Also great to see the trailer from Youtube for just about any movie.
    One great little trick is the fact that you can launch a stream to Chromecast from anywhere and use the Google Home to take it over and voice control it. So I might scroll around to find what I want on my laptop or tablet but then as soon as I cast it I tell Google Home to pause that Chromecast device. After that Google Home will remember that was the last stream it was controlling and further deck-control commands don’t need to specify the device any longer. That’s how I watch Google Play Movie rentals most of the time.

  14. The Roku is a very good product. I would never criticize anyone for going with a Roku. In fact it was my preferred connected device for quite some time, and when I added the Roku 3 to another TV it should have made my to access sing really slow.

    However I have to say for me the Fire TV wins very easily. While there are a number of reasons, here are the big ones for me that make Fire TV far superior and deal-breakers as far as the Roku is concerned:

    1. The Amazon music app: because I bought a great many of my physical CDs over the years from amazon.com having this Library of Music I’ve purchased so easily accessible using the very intuitive and aesthetic Amazon music app is highly compelling an often-used ( other CDs I bought from Amazon. UK or from other brick-and-mortar stores are not included in the library of course). This is music that is part of the Prime membership and not the enhanced access to Greater music library for extra dollars per month. The Amazon music app on Roku is a very sad clunky joke, but not necessarily for nefarious Reasons from Amazon, but perhaps more to do with the OS and the extra expense of developing it for Roku?

    2. VLC media player: it functions just as you would expect from your PC and mobile device experience. I use it primarily for accessing music files on my server and also video. Of course you can player display just about any file and its presence in the Fire TV just makes things a whole lot more simple. Roku’s media player is rather clunky and not quite ready for prime time. And while there are other more sophisticated media players I don’t need those VLC does the job for me.

    3. Dish Anywhere, TiVo, and Slingbox: those apps are truly loaded onto the Fire TV and allow for bringing your TV content directly to your remote location on a big TV without requiring any meddling with a mobile device. Full control from the Fire TV remote nothing more simple than simply then selecting the app and then watching live or recorded television on a big screen in HiDef. Roku implementation of the SlingPlayer requires a mobile device and heaven forbid you want to watch within your own land because the Roku experience will send the stream out to the public internet then back down to your land providing inferior picture quality if your upstream isn’t fast enough. Also with the Roku you can only control the SlingPlayer with your mobile device not the Roku remote which becomes utterly useless. Most unfortunate. There is no cable app North Dish Anywhere app for Roku and this makes a very very big difference for my situation and services and DVRs that I have and to watch remotely on other fire TVs. Further I don’t think we’re ever going to see a TiVo app or Dish anywhere for a Roku and that brings me to my final major reason of preferring Fire TV: the long-term game of Fire TV being based on Android.

    4. Fire TV is based on Android: Roku today is still a major player I personally don’t think that’ll be the case in as little as three to five years. Development costs have seen a recent trend of companies simply taking the economic route of making their apps for iOS or Android and not for Roku OS. I think we’ll see more and more interesting or important apps simply not bothered going the Roku route but that’s not to say that Roku is out of the game very soon but in the long run yes. Of course that’s simply my reading of the tea leaves.

    Finally there’s no question Roku has a lot more apps but quite frankly they are crap apps. The vast majority of people I know are only interested in Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, then after those apps it’s the SlingPlayer app LVL see that wets Roku owners appetites. I do know one or two people who do use some of that really odd apps on Roku that let them see really really old movies are really really old TV shows but it’s only 2 people who I know do that. Roku does have more of the so-called cable TV apps than does the Fire TV. However on those rare occasions when I do need access to on odd episode 2 or 3 times a year, I often use my mobile device and then cast or just mirror it to the Fire TV to view on the big TV, and that’s good enough for such a very rare instance.

    Of course that’s just me and my situation. And for what it’s worth the Amazon Fire TV just works so much faster and more efficient because it was made as a premium product right on day one instead of having to make a choice of what I think is a dizzying array of various Roku models which do you have noticeable differences in performance or outputs. To each his own.

  15. In my above post it should read, “and when I added my Roku 3 it made my Roku 2x seem really slow.”

  16. It has all those apps it’s just not on the Chromecast you download the apps on your phone and play them on the Chromcast. it may not be the same as having it actually on the device but it makes it extremely versatile it doesn’t matter if the website or app support streaming or not you can stream it including your favorite adult sites lol.

  17. Thomas, my wife is 100% iOS, I’m about 80% iOS, and I’m not bringing a laptop to the couch. Even if we were all Android, my daughter is often playing with my phone while I have the TV on … or vice versa. I don’t disagree that Chromecast can be versatile, but fewer households will be comfortable with it than a Roku or Fire TV.

    harrykerrjr, you make a good point about most-used apps… and one reason why I’m looking forward to checking out the new, more powerful 4K TiVo Mini Vox. TiVo doesn’t have many apps, but it has many of the important ones.

  18. Big fan of the new Roku Stick+. Bought one an then a second. Set up easily on both TVs and controls power and volume as expected. Plus just so simple to use.

    Not a fan of Fire TV interface– way too complex and ugly.

    Chromecast has the issues Zatz mentions– my teenage kids actively disliked it for that reason–whenever they wanted to pause or rewind there was no remote to grab and they’d forgotten what app they’d launched the video off of. Why Google doesn’t make an optional remote is baffling.

  19. Love the new 2017 Roku Ultra EXCEPT for the damn 4 dedicated buttons that can’t be turned off. I accidentally hit them all the damn time. I want to throw the remote at the wall!!!!

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