With the announcement of the Fire TV Stick Amazon has launched another small streaming device into an already crowded market.
How does it compare to Chromecast? Is it as good as the Fire TV box, which started shipping in the UK this week and how does that measure up to the forthcoming Nexus Player?
What’s the best out of these for streaming TV, casting content and playing Android games on your TV? Let’s take a closer look.
Google’s Chromecast was launched at the beginning of the year and allows you to beam content from your smartphone or tablet to your TV.
It originally launched with Google Play Music and Movies, Netflix and YouTube. Since it arrived in the UK, BT Sport, Now TV, Blinkbox and others have all jumped aboard the Chromecast wagon. Prime Instant Video, Amazon’s subscription streaming service, is conspicuously absent.
Android devices can make use of screen mirroring, which makes watching unsupported content possible – although not always brilliant.
You can cast content from any device running Android 2.3 or higher device, from Chrome on Windows, Mac or Linux using the Chromecast tab extension.
It’s also pretty versatile in that you can cast tabs from the Chrome browser on Windows, Mac and Linux devices using the Chromecast tab extension. This is useful for presentations when you want to show off a website, maps or photos to colleagues or friends.
Unfortunately, streaming full HD content occasionally struggled in our tests, so you may want to choose another option if you can’t abide anything less than 1080p.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
Like Chromecast, the Fire TV Stick slots into a spare HDMI slot on your current TV and instantly gives you access to a range of different streaming services including Netflix, Prime Instant Video, Sky News, YouTube and Spotify.
You can control the Fire TV Stick with a voice-activated remote (sold separately) or like Chromecast, you can use your phone as a smart remote with the Fire TV Remote App for Android and Fire devices and eventually iOS devices too.
You’re also presented with a navigable menu of services to swish through, as opposed to Chromecast which is all about you casting existing content on external devices to your TV screen.
The Fire TV Stick is a more powerful alternative to Chromecast with 8GB of storage, compared to 2GB on Google’s dongle and it supports dual-band WiFi technology which promises a more robust connection wireless connection.
As well as giving you access to a wealth of content you’ll also be able to pick from a wider selection of games with the Fire TV Stick. To get the most out of gaming on the Fire TV Stick you’ll need to fork out for an Amazon game pad (£35) in order to properly play titles like Minecraft, Asphalt 8 and SevZero.
The hardware’s not as powerful as Amazon’s Fire TV set-top box, so if you’re sold on the idea of gaming you might want to consider that instead. Unfortunately, the Amazon Fire TV stick isn’t yet available in the UK so it’ll be a while before we can test out its video streaming chops. It’s available for $39 in the US on pre-order (about £25 at the time of writing), which is quite a bit less than the £79 you’ll need to stump up for the Fire TV box.
Google Nexus Player
It’s an altogether bigger proposition than Chromecast and the Fire TV Stick, literally. While this still connects to your TV via HDMI, it’s not tucked away out of sight. It’s a set-top box that will jostle for space with your Blu-ray player, Sky+HD box or whatever else you’ve got sitting beneath your TV.
Like the Fire TV Stick, the Nexus Player is designed to stream media and operate as mini games console. You’ve got the choice of a voice-controlled remote and a full game pad.
Android games like Chaos Rings, Need For Speed and NOVA 3 ought to all play like a dream thanks to the quad-core 1.8GHz chip and 1GB of RAM.
The Nexus Player offers buyers the best of both worlds. You can browse through a menu of services or cast content to your TV from your phone or tablet.
Content discovery on the Nexus Player is aided by the Android TV interface, which combs across services you’ve got installed. Searching for Harry Potter films, episodes of Peep Show or Game of Thrones the Nexus Player will tell you if they’re available on Prime Instant Video, Blinkbox or All 4 (the new name for 4oD). So even if Netflix isn’t showing a BBC classic, the content you’re after should hopefully surface on BBC iPlayer.
Unlike Chromecast, Prime Instant Video will be available on the Nexus Player from launch. As the device is also compatible with the Cast API, any services that have been primed for Chromecast – including BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Now TV, BT Sport, Pluto.TV – should work with this device too.
Prices and release dates haven’t been announced for the Nexus Player yet. Given the similar specs, it could sell for the same price as Amazon’s Fire TV – £79 – or it could be a little higher.
Amazon Fire TV
Amazon’s Fire TV streaming box is now available in the UK, for the price of almost three Chromecasts.
It’s an altogether more powerful proposition than Google’s TV stick. It comes with a faster processor, more memory, more storage and a more sophisticated WiFi unit, which means that streaming content and playing games should be a much smoother experience. Like the Nexus Player, there’s also an Ethernet port, which means if you’ve got poor WiFi reception at home at least you’ve got the option of wiring it in.
Out of the box you’ll be able to watch content from Netflix, Prime Instant Video, Sky News, YouTube and tap into a library of games with prices averaging at £1.07. Music can also be streamed straight to your TV from Spotify, TuneIn Radio and Amazon Music.
You can get Spotify on your TV through Chromecast’s mirroring option, but it’s not always an elegant solution. The less said about Chromecast’s gaming credentials, the better.
Like the Fire TV Stick, searching for content on the Fire TV box is aided by Amazon’s ASAP feature. This setting attempts to get a handle on your streaming habits. This means that recommendations are not only better tailored to you, but Fire TV will also anticipate what you want to watch and when.
It will actually start queuing up shows in advance of you hitting the play button, so you’re not staring at a buffering for seconds, or even minutes. This feature can also be enabled on the Fire TV Stick – good to know if your broadband service isn’t that fast.
You can control Fire TV with the supplied voice-controlled remote or pick up a gamepad for £35. Fire TV will set you back £49 if you already have an Amazon Prime account, otherwise it’s available for £79.
Verdict: Cost vs content
In the argument with streaming sticks and services, it’s content that will win it.
Chromecast is the oldest streaming solution. There are more apps available, plus you can cast content from a wider range of devices and do things like cast Chrome tabs while carrying on working. That said it’s technical limitations mean it’s overshadowed by the competition in the quality stakes.
Amazon Fire TV stick isn’t available in the UK yet and although it will probably cost the same as Chromecast, on paper it’s more powerful. The improved specs promise an even faster, smoother and more reliable experience. By the time it arrives on the shelves, will this be eclipsed by something more powerful?
Right now what you can buy is an Amazon Fire TV box. This is more powerful than Chromecast, comes with a large selection of streaming services, if not as large as what you get on Chromecast, plus it has a cool sideline in games.
If you like the idea of a powerful mini-streaming device that gives you a semblance of console gaming for less than £100 then you could do worse than buy a Fire TV box.
Your choice also may come down to ecosystems and how much you’re invested in Google’s world or Amazon’s universe.
If you’ve already bought a ton of apps and content on Google Play you might want to save your pennies for the Nexus Player. On the other hand, if you’ve got a Kindle tablet and an Amazon Prime subscription, in which case you’re getting Prime Instant Video for free, and you store pictures and video in Amaxzon Cloud Drive, then you may be more inclined to plump for Fire TV.
In terms of raw power, Fire TV seems like the best option but given the popularity of Chromecast you may have to resign yourself to the fact that new services are more likely to arrive on Google’s TV stick first.