It’s safe to say that the Google Chromecast has had a huge impact on the way you can stream media to your TV. For as low as $30, you now have the ability to easily cast your content to the larger screen, and control it entirely from you mobile device. Amazon, in an attempt to replicate Google’s success in this area, has now jumped into the media streaming arena, albeit with a slightly different approach, with its Fire TV set top box. Given that the Fire TV launched only earlier this month, almost 8 months after the Chromecast was available, Amazon has had enough time to figure out where in the Chromecast excels, and more importantly, where it might be found lacking.
Today, I’ll be putting the two media streaming devices head to head, to help you figure out which one is the best choice for you. Here’s a look at the Chromecast vs Amazon Fire TV!
Hardware and Setup
As mentioned before, Amazon took the set top box approach with its Fire TV, as opposed to the Chromecast dongle. All you have to do is plug in the Fire TV to a power source, connect it to the TV via HDMI, and barring any software updates, the initial boot up is quick, especially since its already logged in with your Amazon account that you used to make the purchase. Any Amazon Prime video purchases and active rentals are all ready to be watched within a few moments after starting it up.
The Chromecast is a far simpler device, and is a dongle, that is just about 3-inches long, which is designed to just stream media from your smartphone or tablet. While setting up the Chromecast is also quite fast, it’s not as quick as the Fire TV. The Chromecast plugs into the HDMI port on your TV, and is connected to a power source via the USB port on the device. A few more steps are required that you’ll see on the screen, like typing in your network password, and you should be up and running in just 5 minutes.
At launch, the Fire TV supports over 30 applications, including Hulu, Show Time, Crackle, Prime Instant Videos, and a lot more. Essentially, all the big players, with the lone exception of HBO, are supported. Another additional feature of the Fire TV set top box is the ability to play 3D games, with over 100 titles already available, including some great ones like Asphalt 8 and Riptide GP, with thousands more coming. Gameplay is actually really good, with performance quite similar to what you’d expect from a high-end Android smartphone.
If you use Amazon Prime as your means of accessing media, including their cloud music offering and even photos, the Fire TV makes very easy and fast to access all of this. It is eventually cached to the box, and once you click on the file, it opens without delay, and this applies to videos as well. Another aspect of this feature, which is called ASAP, that it attempts to predict what you’ll watch next depending on your viewing habits, and downloads it to the Fire TV without the need for any user interaction.
Things get even easier if you own a Kindle Fire, using which you can easily push any Amazon media directly to your Fire TV just by flicking it over. The Kindle then serves as a second screen, and gives you additional information about the media is watching. Basically, as long as its in the Amazon realm, accessing your media is a very simple task.
All the apps available are downloadable from the dashboard. You can use the to navigate to the app you’re looking for, or voice search for it, and downloading the app just takes a few minutes. Once you get into the application though, the normal functionality of Fire TV is gone, and you’re now dependent on the capabilities of the app. For example, pressing on the menu button will yield different results, and more importantly, voice search works with only a limited number of apps.
Unlike the Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast had very limited app support at launch, and was basically limited to Google services like Play Music and Movies, Youtube, and Chrome, along with Netflix. It took Google around 6 months to open up the SDK, and once that happened, the floodgates opened, with the number of apps adding Chromecast support growing everyday. Since these are Play Store apps that you’re downloading to your mobile device, you get updates regularly. Once you launch these apps on your phone or tablet, a new icon indicates whether it works with Chromecast or not, and if it does, you can stream whatever content is that app to your TV.
Ease of Use
The Fire TV is preconfigured with the Amazon account that you’ve used to place the order. Once you turn your TV to correct input option, the Fire TV user interface shows up on the TV. The interface is quick, fluid, and looks really good, and in a lot of ways is very similar to the UI of the Kindle Fire, which falls in line with their ideology of having one interface for all their devices. There is really helpful tutorial video when you start the Fire TV for the time, that gives a good idea of how to get around, and you can always find this tutorial again via the Help menu.
From the home screen you can do a voice search for an actor, director, movie title, or as mentioned, an application. The concept seems great, and it works for the most part. But as I said, voice search isn’t a feature available with all apps and these definitely creates some problems. For example, if I want to continue to watch House of Cards on Netflix, I should be able to use a voice search to return to where I’d stopped, but instead, it takes me to a screen that gives me the option to rent House of Cards on Amazon Prime instead. It does feature Hulu results if you’re a subscriber, but this lack of integration creates inconsistencies within the experience that can become quite frustrating.
You sometimes find yourself cycling through videos to find what you’re looking for, in situations where voice search doesn’t work. There is also no way to pin items, and sometimes leaves you flipping and scrolling through menus and listings to get to exactly where you need to go.
Using the Chromecast is certainly a lot easier, as you’re using your mobile device as the host to control all the media. All you need to do is open an app, connect to the Chromecast, and from there, you can play whatever media is available in that app on your TV. You can use your smartphone or tablet to adjust the volume, play, pause, and skim through content. For people like me who always have their mobile on them, I’d always prefer this method to control my content, as opposed to using an additional remote that is required with the Fire TV.
|Google Chromecast||Amazon Kindle Fire TV|
|Processor||Single core||Quad core|
|Controls||By app via mobile device||Gaming control, remote|
|Gaming Apps||None||100+; "thousands" more coming|
|Music Apps||Google Play, Vevo, Pandora, Rdio, Songza||Vevo, Pandora, Vimeo|
|Sports Apps||None||Watch ESPN, NBA League Pass|
|Video Apps||Google Play, HBO Go, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle, YouTube||Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Crackle, Showtime Anywhere, Bloomberg TV|
|Remote||By app via mobile device||Voice search, physical remote (no line of sight needed)|
|Display mirroring||Yes||Only via Kindle tablets|
In summary, the choice between the two entirely depends on how invested you are in which ecosystem. If you have a Kindle device, use Amazon Prime, and use the cloud storage offered by Amazon, there’s no easier way for you to access and stream all your media than the Fire TV, which also gives the benefit of being able to play games on the bigger screen of your TV. The Chromecast on the other hand is ideally suited for anyone you always has their Android mobile device with them, and is just looking for a simple way to stream content to the bigger screen of your TV.