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Hands On - more

According to Amazon's feature list, "Amazon FreeTime (parental controls) lets you easily limit screen time and create personalized profiles just for kids." Unfortunately, at this point in time, FreeTime is a future feature that Amazon says that is "coming soon".

When it comes to playing locally stored music and video, the Fire TV and the Roku 3 have one thing in common - neither device can play content from a DLNA media server or network share. That's not to say that some developer won't come out with an app (or channel in the Roku world) to add that functionality. On the Fire TV, playing personal media content is limited to photos and video that you have stored on your Amazon cloud account. I find it surprising that there's not an Amazon MP3 cloud player app for the Fire TV. I've got one installed on both of my Android devices.

Though there is a USB port on the back of the Fire TV, currently it's only being used for debugging and developers. Perhaps someday you'll be able to at least stream media via USB. The USB port on the Roku 3, as noted in our review, does provided limited file support for USB playback of video, audio and image files.

Apps (Channels)

There's no disputing it. When it comes to apps, or channels as Roku calls them, Roku is the king of the hill. That's not totally unexpected, as the Fire TV has just launched and the number of apps available at launch is somewhat limited. That's sure to change as Android developers discover that there's a new, powerful platform that they can develop for, or port their existing applications to.

Fire TV's Entertainment category currently has 23 offerings, the gaming category has 136, the music category has 6 and the News & Magazines category has 7. By comparison, Roku has 189 Movies & TV channels, 76 game channels, 98 music channels, 56 News & Weather channels, and a Photos & Video category with 34 channels including Picasa, Flickr, Shutterfly, SmugMug, Plex, etc.

While the categories between the two platforms don't line up exactly, Roku also has additional channel categories for Science and Technology (33), Internet TV (137), Food (39), Kids and Family (52), Screensavers & Apps (60), Fitness and Outdoors (56), Special Interest (122), Travel (51), International (25), and Religion & Spirituality (359) that you won't find on the Fire TV.


I tested the Amazon Fire TV as well as re-tested the Roku 3 on my wired Ethernet network. My typical speeds are in the range of 50 Mbps downstream and 10 Mbps upstream (today measured 57.71 down/11.75 up), so I didn't really expect to see any performance issues while streaming HD content. In fact, tested HD media from Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime all streamed without jitter or pausing on both platforms. I also tested streaming with a Wi-Fi connection, and again didn't experience any problems on either platform.

Not everyone has a connection as fast as mine, so I also tested the Fire TV using a hotspot enabled on my Verizon 4G LTE (Droid Razr Max) phone. Content from the same three services also delivered HD-quality, uninterrupted streams. (Thankfully, I'm still grandfathered on an unlimited data plan.) As noted above, streaming video from Amazon Prime through the Fire TV starts almost instantaneously. Other services took 4-5 seconds for the initial buffer to fill.

Closing Thoughts

Amazon certainly didn't skimp on the components when they designed the Fire TV. It has enough horsepower to last for the foreseeable future. With a quad core processor, dedicated GPU and 2 GB of memory, not only is the Fire TV's performance snappy, it will unlikely prove to be an excellent gaming platform, especially with the optional gaming controller (not tested).

The Fire TV does have several weaknesses, however. The highly-advertised and likely to be extremely popular voice search worked very well. Voice recognition was quick and surprisingly accurate. But voice search is currently limited to Amazon's own content and Hulu Plus. It will become a much more compelling product when other subscription services such as Netflix are included in the search results.

The second weakness lies with its relatively sparsely-populated Apps Store. In reviewing my installed "Channels" on the Roku 3, I realized just how many channels that I found useful are currently missing from the Fire TV platform. Some of those channels include Picasa, Phanfare (I have dozens of albums on both services), TED, Weather Underground, NASA, Flickr, and WSJ Live. But I'm sure that Amazon will be populating their store quickly, as they are currently playing catchup.

I also prefer the user interface on the Roku 3. Granted, the Roku has completely refreshed its interface at least once that I can recall, and their previous interface was much worse than the Fire TV's first version. For a 1.0 release, the Fire TV UI is OK, but I'm sure that it will improve over time.

The final purchase decision comes down to this: Do you purchase a good product (Fire TV) with great future potential that's early in its life cycle and hope for missing features and content to be added? Or do you purchase a less powerful, but mature product (Roku 3) that's missing voice search but holds a significant advantage in content offerings?

Clearly, Amazon is committed to the Fire TV platform and has the resources to help it realize its potential - and probably fairly quickly. If I were to purchase a device today, it would probably be the Roku 3. That being said, I'm going to hold onto the Fire TV instead of returning it. I'm anxious to see how the product matures and it will undoubtedly be used as a comparison product when the next new high-end media streamer hits the market.

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