Apple TV vs. Amazon's FireTV vs. Google’s Chromecast: Which Internet Video Solution Is Best?

Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) is the latest of the major tech firms to release a set-top box, joining a crowded market alongside Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) TV and Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG  ) Chromecast. While these devices may not be of major importance to the companies' respective bottom lines, they do serve to extend their content ecosystems into the living room.

With still relatively little uptake, it's a market that remains open for grabs. How do these three products compare?

Interface
Apple TV has a fairly standard interface, one that should be easily understood by just about anyone capable of operating a television. Like the iPhone and the iPad, Apple TV offers up a simple grid of icons, each representing a different app. Clicking on an app brings up that particular app's content.

Amazon's FireTV is similar, but with a heavy emphasis on Amazon's own content. Vertical rows offer up categories like "movies" and "TV" populated with selections from Amazon's Prime video service. Third-party apps are there, but kept in their own individual row, accessible in a similar way to the Apple TV.

Google's Chromecast, in contrast, is dramatically different, lacking its own dedicated interface. Once you've set it up and turned the TV to the proper input, you must use your smartphone or tablet to control it. For someone technically inclined, this is fairly straightforward, though occasionally annoying, and I can imagine it being quite confusing to the typical user. Rather than having a set Chromecast app, you must have each individual app (HBO Go, Hulu, etc.) installed on your smartphone or tablet. Within these apps, you can tell them to send the content to Chromecast, rather than playing on your device's screen.

Of the three, Amazon's Fire TV is the winner. Compared with the Fire TV, Apple TV is slow, with a noticeable lag between button presses. The FireTV also offers voice control, which Apple TV lacks. Amazon's device could be improved to offer a greater emphasis on third-party content, but the grid of third party apps is no different than what Apple TV is offering. Google's Chromecast comes in last for its reliance on a separate device.

Pricing
Pricing is pretty straightforward: Google's Chromecast, at $35, is the indisputable winner. Apple TV and Amazon's FireTV are tied in second place, each at $99. For that $99, both Apple and Amazon give you the device, a remote and a power cable. Google's Chromecast plugs directly into the TV's HDMI input.

App availability
In terms of pure numbers, Apple offers the most third-party apps (more than 30 in total). Google's Chromecast has about half that, and Amazon's FireTV has even less. Still, it's a bit of a toss-up between the devices, as the apps offered vary.

Amazon's FireTV, for example, is the only device capable of streaming Amazon Prime Video, the second most popular streaming video service. It's also the only option for Showtime Anytime, the Internet-based version of the premium cable network. However, it's currently lacking HBO Go, available on both Google's Chromecast and Apple TV.

Both Amazon's FireTV and Apple TV offer WatchESPN -- a service Google's Chromecast doesn't have. Apple TV has many other network video apps, including the History Channel, WatchABC and the Disney Channel, not available on the other two.

Audiophiles might prefer Google's Chromecast over the others, as it does offer up more in the way of streaming music services (Rdio, Songza, etc.). But those who have purchased a lot of music through Apple's iTunes or Amazon will likely prefer their respective devices.

Amazon's FireTV is capable of playing video games, a feat unmatched by Google's Chromecast and Apple TV. However, to really take advantage of the feature, you must purchase a separate $40 controller, and at least for the time being, there are no must-have games.

No clear winner
After testing all three devices, I can't say definitively that there's a clear winner.

Google's Chromecast is offered at an unbeatable price, but its arcane control scheme limits its appeal. Amazon's FireTV wins on the interface, but is held back by a lack of apps. Apple TV has the most content, but it's sluggish compared to the FireTV, and Amazon's increasingly impressive Prime video service is nowhere to be found.

Unlike smartphones and tablets, which are already showing signs of maturity, Internet-connected set-top boxes remain in their infancy. Until a device that's clearly better than its rivals emerges, the market remains wide open.

Apple TV, Amazon's FireTV, and Google's Chromecast are beloved by one group of people
While subscribers to traditional cable packages might still find these devices useful, they are of particular interest to cord-cutters. As cord-cutting grows in popularity, it seems likely that cable is going away. But do you know how to profit? There's $2.2 trillion out there to be had. Currently, cable grabs a big piece of it. That won't last. And when cable falters, three companies are poised to benefit. Click here for their names. Hint: They're not Netflix, Google, and Apple. 

 


Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 10, 2014, at 2:25 PM, Spicedrops wrote:

    Your distain for Apple products never stops. All of your articles are nothing but a lead in to some report that will change our lives.

    Amazon Fire, and Kindle are nothing more than the old razor and razor blade sales technique. Every time I see an article by the Fool about Apple I wonder who is the fool.

    Enjoy your Fire, while using your pastic Samscum phone. Type out your reviews or what you call advice using an Android tablet with stretched out free apps. Then try and proofread it on Windows 8 PC. Seemless beautifully integrated ecosystem...aghhhh!

    Mike M

  • Report this Comment On May 10, 2014, at 6:55 PM, demodave wrote:

    The author totally overlooks Airplay, which puts anything on your Mac or other iDevice on your TV, including any Amazon Prime Content. This adds scads of content to the Apple TV.

    In a minor nit, the author also overlooks the HDMI cable for an Apple TV. I don't know about the FireTV.

  • Report this Comment On May 11, 2014, at 7:26 AM, HiTech1 wrote:

    The best Internet TV boxes are found over at the new GOOGLE ANDROID/NEXUS TV XBMC CHROMECAST FORUM https://plus.google.com/commun... Highly advanced Android TV Quad Core 4.2/4.3/4.4 boxes!

  • Report this Comment On May 11, 2014, at 1:16 PM, TMFMattera wrote:

    @demodave

    AirPlay is useful, but is limited, and is more of a way to extend iDevice content onto the big screen, rather than being part of the AppleTV in and of itself. As you said, it relies on a nearby iDevice -- shut your iPad off or kill the running app, and you'll lose the stream. And if you don't have one you can't use it anyway.

    Chromecast is similar but can be controlled with just about any PC or mobile device, and doesn't rely on that device for the content -- shut your phone off and the Netflix stream will continue to play. Chromecast has a feature similar to AirPlay in tab casting, but, at least right now, is pretty lackluster.

    Neither Apple TV nor the FireTV include an HDMI cable.

    I use my Apple TV more than my Chromecast or my FireTV, but all three devices have some serious limitations.

  • Report this Comment On May 11, 2014, at 2:28 PM, klirby wrote:

    How can you have a serious discussion about these products without including Roku? I am not a Roku fanboy, although I do have the Roku 3 and the Chromecast. The Roku is much more convenient to use between the two. My next one will be the Apple TV whenever the new one gets released, mainly to use AirPlay.

  • Report this Comment On May 11, 2014, at 2:44 PM, segarolow4 wrote:

    I just have everything sent from my computer to my 55"LED TV.. Are my home theater.

    I have NetFlix. RedBox and the Warner Bros online deal. Hulu.

    Have more then I can ever watch..

  • Report this Comment On May 11, 2014, at 3:42 PM, alnuxserio wrote:

    Unblock American Channels on Fire TV using this simple approach http://thevpn.guru/unblock-american-channels-amazon-fire-tv/

  • Report this Comment On May 12, 2014, at 8:10 AM, CalvinballPro wrote:

    "Once you've set it up and turned the TV to the proper input, you must use your smartphone or tablet to control it. For someone technically inclined, this is fairly straightforward, though occasionally annoying"

    Yeah, the Play and Pause buttons that appear on the phone are SO CONFUSING! It's literally the same as controlling an app on an iDevice.

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