Amazon's Fire TV stick has finally come to the UK, months after first launching in the US. It's now available to pre-order from Amazon.co.uk, with shipping to begin on 15 April. And it will only set you back £35.
With so many HDMI dongles, set-top boxes and streaming media devices to choose from, it's getting difficult to decide which one is for you and which one is the best. In an attempt to help you navigate through the confusion, Pocket-lint has narrowed the focus by pitting the specs of the main streaming sticks up against each other.
We've put Amazon's Fire TV Stick head-to-head-to-head, if you like, with Google Chromecast and the Roku Streaming Stick, all with the aim of helping you figure out which to buy. They're equally awesome in their own right, but at the end of the day, you probably only need the one.
The Fire TV Stick costs £35, while the Chromecast currently costs £30. The Roku Streaming Stick costs £50. If price is your biggest concern, the Chromecast is cheapest without discounts, but there's comparatively little between them.
The Fire TV Stick is a smaller, slightly less-powerful version of the Amazon Fire TV set-top-box that plugs directly into the back of your HDTV and serves as a dedicated media hub with a remote. It runs a modified version of Android and lets you stream media from many Android apps and even pair with a Bluetooth controller to play games.
Google's Chromecast device is also an HDMI dongle that plugs into your TV and runs a modified version of Android, although it requires a smartphone or tablet to operate it remotely.
As for the Roku Streaming Stick, it's basically a Roku 2 in stick form, but plugs into a TV directly just like the two rivals here. All three of them aren't quite completely wireless as they all require power from an external source.
The Fire TV Stick offers double the processing cores and double the RAM of the other sticks, with 8GB of storage, while the Chromecast has 2GB of storage and the Roku has 256 megabytes. Amazon likely added more storage because of its additional emphasis on games. Amazon also packed in a powerful Wi-Fi chip that's on par with the Roku.
Both the Fire TV Stick and Roku feature dual-band/dual antenna (MIMO) Wi-Fi, whereas Chromecast only has a single-band Wi-Fi antenna, making it considerably less robust than the others in being able to transmit and receive data signals. Range can be limited in this case.
All three devices output 1080p video and are capable of up to 7.1 surround sound.
READ: Google Chromecast review
The Fire TV Stick interface puts movies, shows, music and your personal photos at the forefront with a curated experience. All non-Amazon apps and services are available in their own app sections. If you have Amazon Prime, libraries for Prime Instant Video and Prime Music (Amazon Music in the UK) are also available in their own sections and built into the operating system.
The Chromecast is not a standalone device. Although it plugs into your HDTV, it doesn't have any kind of on-screen menu system or even a remote. When it isn't active, for instance, it will only display a continually-updated rotation of wallpapers as well as the device's network status. You have to control it through your smartphone, tablet or PC.
Like Roku's other media hubs, the Roku Streaming Stick has its own channels library, which are essentially apps, which are presented in grid form. You can download whichever ones you want and there are hundreds available. In the UK that includes Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Now TV and access to the Sky Store to buy or rent cloud movies.
In terms of speed of use, the dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM on the Fire TV Stick ensures everything runs quickly and smoothly, almost as well as the normal Fire TV in fact. The same can't be said about the Roku or Chromecast sadly, which can be a bit more clunky.
The Fire TV Stick has an app selection that's identical to the Fire TV set-top box, which isn't as well-stocked as the apps available in Google Play or even the Amazon Appstore for Android smartphones and tablets. However, there are few major apps (channels) available on the Roku Streaming Stick that aren't also available on the Fire TV Stick, with the exception of, for US customers, HBO Go.
Amazon is pledging to add HBO Go to US versions of Fire TV by end of year, while Sky owns the rights to HBO content in the UK, so shows like Game of Thrones are available through Now TV on Roku. Now TV is not currently available on the Fire TV Stick though (or the main Fire TV box).
Fire TV Stick does however offer access to video content from Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, Flixster, Crackle and more. Amazon's own streaming service, Prime Instant Video, is not available on Chromecast or the Roku Streaming Stick.
Where the Chromecast differs is that it doesn't host apps itself, rather requires you to tell it to play video from a compatible app on your mobile device or PC. It doesn't stream from your phone or tablet though, it takes the stream from the internet, so it won't use your phone's battery or processing power to work.
All three devices are comparable in terms of apps and content, but Roku is probably the best served (with access to more than 1,000 channels), followed by Chromecast. The Fire TV Stick has other cards up its sleeve however.
Amazon wins this round, hands down. Since the launch of the Fire TV set-top box, Amazon has been steadily getting developers on-board in terms of porting games to the platform. Many of the titles available are big name games as well, and the Fire TV Stick works with the Fire TV set-top box's optional game controller.
Its dual-core processor isn't quite powerful enough for some of the more graphically intensive games available on the larger Fire TV set-top-box, but the Roku Streaming Stick and Chromecast just don't compete.
The Fire TV Stick supports Miracast, allowing you to mirror your Android device, Fire Phone or tablet's screen directly to the Fire TV without requiring another app like the Chromecast. Roku Streaming Stick also recently gained support for Miracast.
With the Chromecast, you need to use the Android or iOS Chromecast app or the Google Cast extension added to Chrome on your PC to send videos from different services loaded your device to your HDTV. It works like AirPlay by adding an option to supported apps. Just tap it to stream what you're watching to Chromecast over Wi-Fi.
Similarly, you can also control and stream media from your smartphone or tablet with the free Roku app. The app is like a remote control, serving up navigation buttons and text input support. There's also a feature called Play On Roku that can stream photos and movies stored on your mobile device to the stick.
The Chromecast is somewhat more interesting than Roku and Fire TV when you want to move over to a PC. The Google Cast extension for Chrome lets you stream any tab you're viewing to the Chromecast, meaning you can turn any site into a streamable web app, essentially, thus expanding the content available through Chromecast.
You can also play local files by pasting the path of any video file on your PC into Chrome and then streaming that tab. Some argue that there's too much latency though, preventing you from truly turning your HDTV into a wireless monitor.
The Chromecast is the only one of these three devices not to come with a dedicated remote control, meaning you're limited to the play/pause/forward controls in supported apps, such as YouTube and Netflix. Amazon's remote for its Fire TV Stick differs slightly from the one for Fire TV in that it doesn't come with a microphone - which we'll cover in a mo - but in functionality its similar to the Roku's in that neither requires line of sight to operate. The dongles will be hidden around the back of the TV after all.
Chromecast also doesn't have a remote control app for phone and tablet, as you just use the control in supported apps, but both Roku Streaming Stick and Fire TV Stick have remote apps for multiple platforms, which is something worth considering if control and ease-of-use are a primary issues for you.
Only the Fire TV Stick offers integrated voice search. You can add the same remote that comes with the larger Fire TV for an additional £25 and use its built-in mic to audibly search for a film or TV show. It also works with apps not just from Amazon's library but some third-party services like Netflix.
It is a pretty cool feature and one that we wish all streaming media devices offered at this point, even though Fire TV's voice search only works with a limited number of apps and doesn't include a text-based search option. If you don't want to spend extra on the remote, you can always use the device's app remote and your smartphone's microphone to search for content as that works too.
Only the Roku Streaming Stick offers a universal search function. Such a feature makes it easier to manually find the TV shows or films you want across all the third-party apps supported by Roku.
Which one is for you?
The Amazon Fire TV Stick and Roku Streaming Stick are for those of you who are heavy media streamers.
They have physical remotes and easy-to-understand interfaces, don't require a mobile device or a computer to work, offer more content (and more direct access to content due to their remotes and on-screen menus). They also support local streaming from mobile devices, which is one of the Chromecast's biggest draws.
Keep in mind the Chromecast is still useful for hackers. It has an open-ended design that makes it easier for people to play with, and it has Chrome tab and screen mirroring, which is something dedicated PC users will enjoy. Professionals can even use it as a wireless display adapter by casting work presentations. And it's technically the cheapest.
Therefore, if you just want to stream Netflix, go with Amazon Fire TV Stick or Roku Streaming Stick. If you want a gadget that's going to send whatever is on your monitor to your HDTV, go with the Chromecast. If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber it's a no brainer.
The fact that the Fire TV Stick is better specified might make a big difference, especially as it's the quickest in operation. And gamers might like the idea of having a hidden, albeit casual, console to tap into too.
In price terms none of these will break your piggy bank, so it's really down to what features you are most looking for - no matter which side of the pond you live on.