Apple TV vs. Fire TV: Can Amazon's new contender knock the champ out of the ring?

Amazon Fire TV

Amazon's Fire TV set top box is set to go toe to toe with Apple TV. Can it dethrone the current champion?

The set top box market is heating up. In the U.S. it's been a two-horse race between the Apple TV and Roku's boxes. Things began to change after Google introduced its Chromecast device last year. Apple TV remains the champion, but now there's a new contender: Amazon's new Fire TV. Does this spell the end of Apple's dominance in the set top box arena?

A strong contender

The Fire TV goes on sale Wednesday for $99, the same price as the Apple TV. It comes equipped with a remote control that also supports voice control, and features Dolby Digital Plus surround sound. There's a host of other features that make Fire TV a desirable option for people looking to extend and enhance their TV viewing experience.

A variety of popular streaming video and audio services are supported out of the box. Amazon Instant Video, perhaps predictably, headlines the box but it also supports Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Showtime Anytime (a feature as yet unavailable on the Apple TV), ESPN, Bloomberg, Vevo, Pandora and many others. HBO Go is a no show, at least to start.

What's more, you can play games on the Fire TV. Amazon's launching the box with more than 100 and is promising more to come soon. Many are free to play, many are priced for only a few dollars. Amazon's also developed a gamepad for the device.

The Fire TV is a more impressive box under the hood than the Apple TV — Amazon has put in a quad-core processor (compared to the Apple TV's aging single-core A5 processor, the same one found in the now-defunct iPad 2); four times as much RAM (2 GB), and a dual-band/dual-antenna Wi-Fi configuration with Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) support, similar to Apple's latest Macs and AirPort Extreme.

The Apple TV's body blow: integration

What the Fire TV is missing, of course, is arguably the Apple TV's killer feature: integration with other Apple devices. Apple TV and AirPlay makes it easy to stream content from your Mac or iOS device, and many Apple TV users do exactly that. You can control your Apple TV using your iPad or your iPhone, too. And sharing your Mac's iTunes library is a cinch.

The Apple TV is as versatile to use in the boardroom and classroom as in the living room; it's an easy to configure and use system for Keynote and PowerPoint presentations. What's more, it has an Apple logo on it, which makes it an object of some familiarity to consumers who already own another Apple product.

Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years

Apple's sold a lot of third-generation Apple TVs. Tim Cook confirmed at Apple's recent shareholder meeting that Apple TV sales topped $1 billion in 2013. Steve Jobs once described Apple TV as "a hobby" for his company, but those days are long behind it — the Apple TV is a legitimate and important part of Apple's revenue stream.

Having said that, Apple TV is very long in the tooth. It's been more than two years since Apple released the third-generation Apple TV, and save a minor in-line revision in January of last year, the box has gone untouched. There is no question that Apple is working on a new Apple TV to replace its current model.

Now that Amazon has introduced Fire TV, we're free to focus attention on Apple's next-generation set top box, whenever it's ready. Will it be able to match Fire TV feature for feature? Only time will tell. Apple's focus is on creating products that improve the lives of its customers, devices that surprise and delight them. I'm sure the next Apple TV will.

I can't wait to see what Apple has in store, but I'm also trying to temper my enthusiasm with realism. For years we've been tantalized with talk about Apple in the TV space. Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson quoted Jobs as having "finally cracked" TV shortly before his passing. Tim Cook called television and area of "great interest" in an interview. We're naturally left to speculate. And speculating on Apple's plans is often a fool's game.

One thing is for sure with Fire TV: the set top box market just got really interesting. Amazon doesn't go half-way when it introduces a new hardware product. It's arguably the only Android competitor besides Samsung that really competes formidably against Apple in the tablet market.

More than anything, Fire TV means that Apple has to up its game. To that end, I can't wait to see how Apple counters.

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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Apple TV vs. Fire TV: Can Amazon's new contender knock the champ out of the ring?

70 Comments

As always a most perceptive article! I like you am looking forward to the Apple TV version 4!

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I considered an AppleTV, but ended up getting Roku. I haven't been disappointed with my purchase yet, though I do sometimes wonder what I am missing.

For people that don't have an AppleTV - this Amazon box might be an alternative... but I've got an AppleTV, and am content with my iTunes library.

I have an Apple TV and have had it longer and I have owned a roku for about a year and a half. Apple TV just sits now. Roku owns my home entertainment Apple TV is too limited. Just my opinion

I purchased the Roku, mainly because I got it on sale. While never having tried the Apple TV, I do like the Roku. Other than iTunes, what benefits does the AppleTv have over the Roku?

iTunes integration seems to me to be the reason for being with an Apple TV. Chromecast, Roku, and now Amazon Fire can't play iTunes content. Since I own hundreds, if not thousands, of titles in iTunes, mostly I use the Apple TV when I want to stream content to my TV.

I also own dozens of movies and tv shows on Amazon, so this box shows promise, particularly since it will be a game playing machine as well. XBOXONE and PS4 are also entering the home theater arena, and competition is a good thing for innovation, pricing, and features.

So, wonder when/if we get a proper Amazon Instant app for our Apple TV. Guessing any chance of that happening soon is gone for a while while this Fire TV sells.

One thing I noticed of their comparison chart? The only service they list that they don't have a check mark is HBOgo, (which I am guessing that will be corrected in the next 6 months). Interestingly, they leave iTunes off. Hmm.... Which is the point you bring up as Apple's "killer app"

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CX5P8FC/ref=amb_link_1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER...

Also, doesn't the Apple TV have Optical Audio out? Pretty sure it does. Assuming that the 4th gen will have Siri, likely on the remote, as well.

Continuing to speculate, MIMO seems like a sure thing, but my biggest issue with their chart? When it comes to number of games, they list none for the Apple TV. They SHOULD clarify, number of NATIVE games.

So this is a good entry for Apple TV fans. Because it will push Apple.

Yes. It has optical out and it's Dolby Surround Sound capable. I'd be delighted to see improved audio capabilities in a new Apple TV.

The only service Amazon admits they don't have that others do is HBO Go...but Apple TV has: Netflix, Bloomberg, MLB.tv, NHL, MLS, RedBull TV, Crackle, YouTube, Wall Street Journal Live, Vevo, Qello, Vimeo, flickr, Crunchyroll, KORTV, ESPN, Disney, HBO Go, AND all your iTunes podcasts, videos, and audio. FireTV doesn't have all those. That chart is VERY misleading and intentionally leaves out a number of Apple TV services they don't have.

Right. I get that, too. It is marketing material. Any product launch would do the same. So I get that.

What I don't like, and feel is a blatant intentional misrepresentation, is the games section. Apple TV has games. Some that offer native resolution on the TV with the iPhone or iPad acting as the controller. What the fire TV has that the Apple TV doesn't is NATIVE apps. Now, had that one word been included, I would not have any beef with the chart

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On a day one launch give me a break they have the big ones and will get more in the months ahead. Look how old Apple TV is and it still sucks in terms of real channel content. Roku slays it.

I got an Apple TV about 4 months ago. It runs Netflix quickly and efficiently and my kids like watching Youtube videos on the big screen. But the best feature (for us) is that we can easily display our family's photo collections (either via the Computer Library app or doing AirPlay from an iDevice). We're pretty committed to the iOS/OS X environment so I don't see how the Amazon box can compete with that. Definitely agree with other commenters though - the more competition that's out there the better we all are.

The AirPlay feature is even more a killer app than I realized. I am all in Apple, so I know how well it works for sharing content. But I noticed my realtor has one in her office, the design studio for the house we are looking at building had one. We sat down with the designer and she AirPlayed stuff right over from her MacBook Air. It's was awesome. I was thinking it was just me who shared the pictures and plans I took with my wife to make it easier for us to sit and discuss.

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I am an Apple fan, but I don't believe that Apple TV is the champion. I would give that honor to the Roku 3.

The US buying public disagrees with you. Personal choice not withstanding, the Apple TV is the best selling set top box in the country.

I guess if you equate best selling to champion ok. I'm not sure i'd always say high sales is how i'd measure it. Take cars Tesla was the car of the year but it didn't outsell the ford focus. Honestly i think Appletv sell on name alone and netflix. I'd also argue an xbox 360 probably outsold them all as a streaming box. But i get your point.

Well this US public buyer disagrees with you, respectfully of course. Just because something sells the best, doesn't make it the best product. I am curious to know the return rate for the Apple TV, or better yet, it's usage rate. The Apple TV's biggest flaw is the fact that it traps you further into the ecosystem (though I guess for some that is good). And while the Airplay feature is a great feature, as well as the ability to Stream iTunes content, I find it kinda pointless to have a Mac, ATV, an TV plugged in to view something on a TV for other material. Again, although that last part was more of a personal circumstance, it isn't necessarily the best just because it sells the most. Roku still takes the cake on preferable in my book (I own both).

And what is wrong with the ecosystem? The Apple TV will allow you to view movies from and Mac of Windows PC running iTunes. The ecosystem just works. As an IT person I am sick of having to kludge devices together. Apple's integration just works.

Realistically no matter what device you buy you are likely getting it to be able to watch NetFlix. After that you have to look at what additional features you want. I want it to be able to watch movies from My older Mac now running as a media server and listen to my music from the same. The ability to use Airplay to show things from my iPhone or iPad and the integration into iCloud is great.

It is an Opinion, but I don't like to be stuck to one ecosystem, that is just how I am. I do agree about not wanting to kludge devices together, but the Apple TV isn't giving everything I want, so that's where the Roku 2 comes in. I also don't want to have be viewing movies from my Mac, I see why Airplay is such an important feature but I personally don't need it. To me, the point of these boxes is to not require a computer to complete the experience. With the ATV & R2 together I get to have my cake and eat most of it too. If Apple can give Its ATV remote a headphone for private listening, then I can finish eating the cake.

Possibly lists all versions of apple tv vs 1 version of roku. That is how most marketing works. Honestly though, I can believe apple tv outselling roku. Most people look at me funny when I say I have a roku. I think a better name might have been in order, at least adding TV or box or something to the roku.

I know it was only announced today so it's early but unless it launches outside the US it'll be as limited in scope as all the other US-only services. Apple are the main content provider for non-US countries because their services are actually available, well, mostly <cough> iTunes Radio <cough>.
Things can and are changing but to answer your question as of right now, my answer would have to be, "No, what's a 'FireTV'?".

This is not really true. I am an AppleTV user based currently in Canada which is probably closer to "being the USA" than any other non US location, and the Apple TV has very limited capabilities compared to what's available in the USA.

Apple's content more or less ends at the border the same as the rest of the countries. This is because the USA has always been under the impression that the USA *is* "the world." Individual Americans are often nice folks, but as a country, the USA is a giant egomaniacal "bro" of a country that believes the rest of the world to be mostly irrelevant.

Ah, sorry, I didn't mean to suggest that we outside the US get full use of Apple's services, that's what I meant by 'mostly', though maybe even that's not true! All I meant was that Apple provides more content to the rest of the world than the others do.
One of the things I like about iMore is that it has a less US-centric view than a lot of sites.

There used to be some truth in that, but not any more. Content line-ups on Xbox Video, Google Play, Amazon Instant Video, Blinkbox, and several others here in the UK are by and large identical to iTunes. Some (such as Blinkbox) actually offer more, as they have HBO content, and if you want to buy digital content, cross platform wins every time for obvious reasons.

Just to be picky ... the idea that Steve Jobs told Walter Isaacson that he had "cracked" the TV (design) problem is actually ... false.

What he is reported to have said was that he had "cracked" the (theoretical) problem of a UI for a TV set. There is currently no evidence that Apple is making a TV, and no evidence that they have some whiz-bang design for one waiting off in the wings.

The comment has been wildly misinterpreted and taken so far out of context until it has almost no meaning at all at this point.

"until it has almost no meaning at all at this point."

That's predicated on the assumption that it had any meaning to begin with.

The one feature that seems to be glossed over here AND on the FireTV's website is the fact that it has a USB port on the back and supports various video formats. The implication being that I could plug in a drive full of videos and music directly to the box, instead of having to do iTunes sharing from a local computer to the ATV.

For me, that is a HUGE plus. Add in Pandora as a native app (the only thing I really Airplay on a regular basis) and we might have winner on our hands. Voice control is also pretty sweet.

That being said, I am not going to adopt v1 of any product. Plus I want to see if this motivates Apple to actually do anything more than base spec improvement to the ATV4.

glad you said that. I missed that. i even asked about that on another thread. I think on most sites especially apple sites the users simply only use netflix. They don't have content so they ALWAYS ALWAYS ignore that feature. They never mention networking, codec support, subtitle support, etc. I almost never see discussions of whether it easily sees the network or drops connection or loses network shares. But when i go to the forums of many a devices (usually researching purchasing options) and it's full of these issues. Another thing i rarely see mentioned is is there lag in menus, or lag loading usb drives. I'm convinced this stuff is simply not done by most of the appletv device buying public so they don't address it. for me it's the most important thing.

So to sum up:
Get the Apple TV if you use AirPlay or would like to option to use airplay, and/or if you mainly use iTunes to buy movies/music.
Get the Fire TV if you have an amazon prime membership and/or if you would like the option to plug in a USB based storage device to watch movies/music.

Would be nice if there could be one device that does all four of the above.

Problem i see is i have a xbox 360 and a wdtv player and these boxes do less than both.
Especially considering i don't use amazon's service either.

Update: well looking on the verge they are showing more than they are saying on imore so it may have lots more to it. further investigation to come.

"Tim Cook confirmed at Apple's recent shareholder meeting that Apple TV sales topped $1 billion in 2013." - no he didn't. He stated that AppleTV was responsible for over 1b in content sales. Big difference.

The author also seems oddly ignorant of the Amazon Fire integration capabilities (odd because it's one of the main selling points of the Fire).

ok looked at a more the page from amazon. i'll have to see this in practice but it looks pretty darn good. it's a roku rival surely. missing some things like hbo but i dont' have hbo so i don't care. and i'm sure it will come.

Peter, I agree with how you ended the article, for sure. I hope this is great and makes Apple make an even greater 4th and ultimately 5th gen ATV.

When companies put out great new products, competing companies need to put out better products. We win.

I love these set top boxes and have several, including the Roku 3 and an AppleTV. I am glad that I bought the AppleTV because we are an Apple family and Airplay is a killer feature. Just recently we had a lip sync contest with our family in Illinois, Ohio, California and Kansas. We used Google Hangouts on my Macbook Air and airplayed it to our big screen via the AppleTV. It was great to see all of my nieces and nephews dancing on the big screen and that party alone justified the price I paid for the AppleTV.
That being said 90% of the time we use the Roku. It can play anything and has a great interface. PLEX trumps iTunes integration for us as iTunes crashes my computer frequently.
I do not see anything that makes me think I need Fire TV, but it does also have integration. You can mirror your Kindle Fire tablet display to the Fire TV. Not only that, you continue to watch the movie you pushed from your tablet, while doing other things on the tablet. Cool feature if you have a Kindle Fire, which I do not have and do not care to get.

If you use Amazon video, the Fire is an obvious choice. (Unless you prefer Roku)

If you are heavily invested in iTunes or use AirPlay frequently, the AppleTV is the way to go.

In between those extremes, either one will serve very well.

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Certainly true for the last gen Xbox and Playstation. The new ones, not so much. The app line-up on UK PS4s is comically awful at present. (although still far superior to UK Apple TVs!)

From what i know from what i'd seen i'd disagree. It may be better at navigating do to it's fast processor and dedicated gpu, search due to voice search, interface looks more attractive, more apps, better remote that's bluetooth and doesn't require line of sight, i read the wifi is can push data much faster than roku or appletv, seems to support more codecs and containers than appletv and roku do, and that's off the top of my head. So seems there are many things it will be not just good but better than current devices at.

Yeah, you're right, but I think I should make myself clear. What I said was from an Apple fanboy/itunes invested customer's viewpoint. 98% of my media are tv rips, and the rest is from iTunes. So, I am not dissing fire TV, in fact, I think that it would make an awesome XBMC media center. The choice is clear. If invested in apple=aTV, otherwise Roku or fire tv...

I loved my 2nd gen AppleTV with jailbreak. Now I have a smart tv and have no use for it except bringing it to friends houses. My tv has one feature that the next appletv needs, the ability to watch whatever is on your tv on your device(like a reverse airplay). It's nice to play something on the DVR and go sit on the porch and watch on a tablet. I see no reason they can't throw an HDMI input on the appletv.

Apple TV has only one thing going for it and that is iOS integration. Roku has left Apple in the dust with content and the Fire and Chromecast likely will too. At this point, I think Apple's reliance on iTunes will end up hurting it in the long run but I see no reason why Apple would ever give up that revenue stream.

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Roku is basically has one good channel, Netflix. Evrything else outside USA is useless on it and are basically horrible internet channels. The interface is pretty bad. I guess it's great if you pirate your movies, plus it's a bit cheaper so of course lots of people have to instantly try promote it everywhere because they saved $15, even tho it's basically the equivalent experience of using windows xp.

Fire tv looks to be another android device but it's not cheap enough for android users, so not sure who would buy it.

Appletv has better ui, and the iTunes store which crushed anything roku provides, new releases and even music. Old shows on Netflix dont compare for movie rentals.

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The Roku has been (very) slowly improving in the UK. It still lacks Amazon Instant Video (which is available on US Rokus, but not UK ones bizarrely), and some UK catch-up services, but it at least has the most essential UK service of all - BBC iPlayer. (which is nowhere to be seen on the Apple TV)

the issue outside the U.S. is content rights. all these channels have to pay for the right to stream in different regions. They pay in the U.S. because it's easy to get the deals done. They pay in Austrailia too because the deals are easy to get done. Europe, and the far east have lots of beuracracy and laws that make it difficult or simply not profitable to pay for the rights to stream content. Not to mention streaming movies are not actually some cash cow as netflix is finding out. Every quarter if netflix makes more money the people that own movies simply raise what they charge for rights killing netflixes profits. That's why they are trying to copy hbo and creating their own content. Because deep down they are trying to become a tv channel that makes content and can distribute it through it's own distribution network NOT a streaming services. That's why you're seeing movie always dropping off of Netflix. So if you're pandora or rdio or beats or redbox you need to fork over money to stream in every region to make the app worth doing for that region and often they say, "look Warner Brothers, you want to charge of 10 million to stream to the UK but we only estimate we'll generate 11 million in revenue. It's not even worth it to risk expenditures on the app if we're only making maybe 1 or 2 million.

To my eyes, the PS3 is still the best streamer out there. Here in the UK, no other box has as comprehensive a line up of services (especially not the Apple TV, which is stunningly useless outside of the US). It's cheap, and you get a blu-ray player and an amazing game library. Don't expect Fire TV games to come anywhere near the quality of PS3 software.

Hopefully Apple will come up with something which is interesting to more than just Americans, but I won't hold my breath.

can i ask you. Is there any European based company that makes any box that does what appletv and roku do just as good but geared towards Europeans? I ask because it seems like a big whole. Like why isn't a european company making a box for European tv networks, and movies with content out of europe? You'd think there is demand and someone would be jumping to meet it.

As I said, the games consoles - PS3 and Xbox 360 in particular, are a good option for Europeans. Samsung's Smart TV platform is also well established in Europe.

All Apple need do, is open an app store on the new Apple TV. There are already iPad/iPhone apps for virtually every European streaming service, many of which could be easily ported to an Apple TV like device... if Apple allowed it.

As for a European made device, well that's essentially any Apple TV. They all use UK designed CPUs and UK designed GPUs, with industrial design and UI design by a British guy. So in a way, they're European devices.

Apple need to do a better job with the apple tv, I like the way google integrated with the tv, you can control the TV with the Google tv remote, with 4GB of internal storage you can download apps, you can even receive and send text, check your Facebook page, you can go browse online, stream video, and you can access your pictures, music and movies, I believe Google tv is in a different level

Calling the Apple TV the Champ is a bit far fetched. I would call Roku the current champ. I bought my Apple TV after returning from my Honeymoon. I used it once to show the family photos from the vacation, and haven't really used it since. I use my Roku on a daily basis, mostly for Plex.

No.

Edit: Unless... Unless... Unless! Unless this thing can have its ass hacked to Hell and back to let us do whatever we want to with it. If it can be hacked to holy Hell so I can run AirPlay and other stuff on it...

Oh wait, no, I'd still get an Apple TV since you don't have to mod it.

NEVER MIND!

I don't think it'll ever take off like the Apple TV. At least not initially. Because as with everything else ever invented in the States, unless you live there, nothing works. We can't use Amazon Prime in Canada. We don't even have iTunes Radio here. Rdio is the only streaming service that we have. So somewhere around 90% of the apps on the Fire won't work in Canada, plus, Amazon won't even ship the Fire to Canada, and I'm assuming a whole lot of other countries. That may change in the future. For example the original Kindle was out for 2 or 3 years in the States before we got it here, and even then, we had to order the books from the U.S. Amazon site, as the books weren't allowed to be sold in this format in Canada. That has since changed, but I wouldn't even consider the Fire to replace my Apple TV until it's usable.

I use my Apple TV every day because I am so deep in the Apple ecosystem and it works best for me. I also own a Roku box but it's collecting dust in storage. I didn't find anything too exciting about the extra Roku channels beyond what Apple was offering.

I've been all over avsforums threads on this and so far it's a great interface but suffers from the same problems as appletv & roku. positives is it uses plex, super responsive, nice interface, gonna be hackable, sideloadable for apps, xbmc.

my issue is so far wdtv slaughters it for playing local content and i have terabytes of local content. I'm getting that it's not playing dts, its having pass through issues. My wdtv can play EVERYTHING.

Seems like if you're stuck in apple you're gonna stay in the apple tv cause well you're praying to the apple alter. Me i'm not into apple. i just have an iphone.

I do think in time this thing will be a hackified beast. If they add codec support and some sort of local play that doesn't require transcoding it will be awesome.

But i'll be anxious to see what avsforums say because all the reviews i see are basically about the basic crap most people use appletv/roku for: the don't get past netflix and hulu and maybe airplay if you're on a apple site. I need to know about the details and stuff.

They're both similar. It is and always will be a matter of preference and opinion. Read the reviews and make the best decision you can based on your budget and needs.

No it can't compete. The nice thing about the apple TV is that I can add my own movies and stream them to any of my apple devices. Unless amazon adds this feature it will not compete as far as replacing an entire family TV / streaming to device system.