Looking for a cheap, easy way to get streaming video from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube, HBO, ESPN and everything else on to your TV? You have two excellent choices: Roku and Amazon Fire TV.
Roku has long been the most popular name in media streamers, but recently Amazon’s Fire TV system has been. In my in-depth reviews, both work great, and most of the Roku and Fire TV streamers I’ve reviewed have received an 8.0 (excellent) rating or higher.
They have more similarities than differences.
- Both are super-affordable, starting at $30 for Roku and $40 for Fire TV.
- Both have access to approximately umpteen zillion TV apps, including all of the major ones (with some exceptions; see below), and most apps look and behave basically the same on both — even YouTube on Fire TV.
- The latest models are pretty much equally quick, responsive and reliable as long as you have a .
- Both (except for the cheapest Rokus) offer remotes with TV volume and power buttons to control most TVs, so you can ditch the remote that came with your TV.
- Both have numerous models, starting with basic streamers up to 4K-compatible versions with voice, device control and headphone jacks built into the remote.
So which one’s better? It depends on what you want.
Disclaimer: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured below.
Best overall: Roku
My go-to recommendation is Roku. Here’s why.
Better menus. Roku’s no-nonsense menu system places the apps themselves front-and-center and lets you arrange them however you please, just like on your phone. It gets me to the apps and shows I want quickly, without filling the screen with other junk.
Using a Fire TV stick means wading through a bunch of TV shows and movies in addition to the apps themselves. That would be fine if they were the TV shows and movies I’m in the middle of watching, or might actually want to watch — something Netflix’s menus do well. But more often than not, I don’t care about the TV shows and movies on Fire TV’s screen. They just seem like stuff Amazon or its partners want me to watch.
Better search. Search results on Roku are straightforward and price-centric. You’re shown how much a movie or TV show costs and can click through to watch or buy it — and if it’s free because you’re a subscriber, you’ll see that, too. Fire TV’s results are much more confusing, with multiple options and false positives. And once you find what you want, you’re shown just one primary service, and you have to click through to see “more ways to watch.”
More apps. Roku has pretty much every app you could want, including Amazon Prime video, of course. Fire TV also has pretty much every app under the sun, so this isn’t a huge differentiator — unless you want YouTube TV, one of our favorite live TV streaming services, or Vudu or Google Play Movies and TV, two major sources of recent movies to buy or rent that compete directly against Amazon video itself. Fire TV’sapp is a good substitute for those latter two, however.