What with Netflix, Amazon, Disney and Apple streaming a tsunami of unmissable TV and movie content into our homes, there's never been a better time to buy a video streamer. These compact streaming sticks and dongles plug into your TV's HDMI port and open up a vast world of on-demand films, TV shows, music and even games.
Both Amazon and Roku make fine video streamers. In fact, they're some of the cheapest and the most popular models on the market.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa and the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K provide one of the simplest ways to stream TV shows and films in HD to the big screen. Fire TV is a great platform backed by one of the major players in the video streaming realm.
Amazon's main competitor? Roku. Huge in the US, and growing in the rest of the world, Roku makes several streamers but we're particular fans of its Roku Streaming Stick+. Like the Amazon's Fire TV sticks, it score the full five stars in our review.
So which streaming platform is better: Amazon Fire or Roku TV? Which offers the best selection of content and apps? And which company's video streaming device serves up the best sound and picture quality?
Amazon and Roku's offerings may look similar on the surface, but read on and we'll reveal some key differences that will help you make your buying decision...
On a tight budget? Go for the basic Fire TV Stick with Alexa £39.99 ($34.99, AU$69.99). It's Amazon's most affordable streamer, comes with an Alexa voice remote control and supports HD video streaming.
Want to step up video quality to 4K? It's a toss up between the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and the Roku Streaming Stick+. Both devices are priced at At £49.99 ($49.99, US$130) and support, 4K, HDR and surround sound.
Winner: a tie, it depends on your budget
Amazon's Fire TV is one of the simplest ways to stream TV shows and films (HD and 4K) to the big screen. The firm's Fire TV Sticks provide access to a multitude of streaming services – plus hundreds of original TV shows and movies created by Amazon.
Unsurprisingly, Amazon puts its own Prime Video content front and centre of its Fire TV platform. That's not necessarily a bad thing – but you'll notice that content discovery is heavily skewed towards Amazon's featured Prime Video shows .
Both Fire TV Sticks cover all the bases when it comes to streaming. As well as Netflix, Apple TV, Disney+, Hulu, Showtime, YouTube TV, Sling TV and HBO you'll find local TV station catch-up apps, such as BBC iPlayer in the UK. You also get Plex for network streaming, plus Spotify, Deezer and Tidal for music. Sadly you don't get Sky's Now TV app (UK), Vudu (US) or Google Play.
The Alexa voice assistant is key to the appeal of Fire TV – it allows you to quickly find films and TV shows using your voice. Plus, if you’ve got another Alexa device, such as an Echo Dot, you can issue commands ‘out loud’ meaning there's no need to even find your Stick’s remote control.
As we noted in our review, "Issuing commands feels natural, they’re always understood and enacted upon quickly, and you can do more than simply search for a show or pause what you’re watching."
But, again, Alexa is slightly hampered by Amazon's interest in promoting its own shows. You'll find that the search function is not universal, so iPlayer, for example, isn’t included in results. Netflix is included but Amazon results are prioritised.
Finally, it's worth nothing that the Fire TV user interface is far superior to the Prime Video app – and does a better job of highlighting 4K and HDR content.
So how does Roku compare?
Roku has emerged as a major competitor to both Amazon and Google in the last few years. Its was also the company was first to launch a 4K streaming stick in the UK – the Roku Streaming Stick+, which boasts 4K and HDR10 support. It's a slimmer device than the chunky Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, and therefore much easier to accommodate in your TV's HDMI slot.
The crucial choice between Roku and Amazon is that Roku doesn't make its own TV shows. Instead, Roku launched a free, ad-supported TV streaming channel in the UK and US. Anyone with a Roku streamer can gorge themselves on 10,000 movies and TV episodes, of varying quality.
Because Roku doesn't have its own shows to promote, there's no hard sell as to what to watch. The result is an unbiased content discovery platform that's much cleaner – and better organised – than Amazon's. Navigating multiple streaming apps and flipping through menus is quick and hassle-free too.
Roku serves up all the major apps, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV, Google Play, HBO, Hulu, Showtime, YouTube TV, Sling TV, Fubo, NBC and hayu. You also get Now TV (UK), Vudu (US) and Google Play – none of which are available through Amazon's Fire TV streamers.
Voice controls are basic but can you also control and stream media from your smartphone or tablet with the free Roku app, which serves as a remote control. There are some clever features, including the ability to listen privately through headphones so as not to disturb others in your household.
Unlike the Fire TV, there’s no HDMI extension cable in the box. You can order one free from Roku’s website, but that’s not ideal. The Stick+ is powered via your TV’s USB socket, making it more convenient than the Fire TV.
Roku provides a great platform and plenty of bonus features, but, ultimately, Amazon Fire TV one-ups Roku when it comes to voice controls, Prime Video content and all-round performance.
Winner: it's close but Amazon Fire TV Stick pips it
The Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa serves up video content in up to 1080p HD resolution. The picture is crisp as we would expect for the money, with plenty of pop in the colours and dark scenes are rendered with plenty of panache. Sound quality is impressive for such a cheap device, too.
But what of the two 4K sticks?
When we reviewed the Roku Streaming Stick+ we praised its stable 4K picture but noted that, unlike the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, it doesn't support Dolby Vision HDR. In fact, the Roku only supports HDR10.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K has a lot more HDR firepower – it supports HDR10, HLG, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision.
The same goes for sound. The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K supports Dolby Atmos - practically unheard of for this kind of money – while the Roku Streaming Stick+ doesn't.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K might be not be the prettiest to look at but it's the most format-friendly and the star performer here.
Winner: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
Amazon and Roku have both scored their fair share of five-star reviews for their streaming products, but which one should you opt for?
There's little doubt that Prime Video subscribers – and those who love Alexa – will be attracted to Amazon Fire TV. The interface might be Prime-focused but it's quick, easy to use and offers plenty of streaming apps.
The 1080p Fire TV Stick with Alexa might be cheaper but it's not the best value; splash out the extra £10/$10 and you'll be rewarded with the format-friendly Fire Stick 4K which supports Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos sound. We think it's the best streamer on the market right now.
If you're not a fan of Prime Video, Roku's sleeker, unbiased interface will appeal. It only has basic voice controls (not a 'smart assistant', such as Alexa) but the Streaming Stick+ is still an incredibly innovative product that's a doddle to use and great value for money.
Read the full review: Amazon Fire TV Stick
Read the full review: Roku Streaming Stick+