Roku vs. Amazon Fire TV: Which streamer is best for Netflix, YouTube, Disney Plus, HBO Max in 2021?

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Looking for a cheap, easy way to get streaming video from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, HBO Max, Hulu, YouTube, Apple TV Plus and everything else on to your TV? You have two excellent choices: Roku and Amazon Fire TV. Roku had long been the most popular name in streaming devices, but Amazon’s Fire TV system has been gaining ground and both now boast over 50 million users, respectively. At CNET we’ve spent countless hours testing devices from both platforms and in general both work great. Most of the Roku and Fire TV devices we’ve reviewed have received an 8.0 (excellent) rating or higher. 

So how do you choose? To start, realize they have more similarities than differences.  

  • Both are super-affordable, starting at $30 for their cheapest players. 
  • Both have access to approximately umpteen zillion TV apps, including all of the major ones. Most apps look and behave basically the same on both.
  • The latest models of Roku and Fire TV are pretty much equally quick, responsive and reliable as long as you have a solid internet connection.
  • 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 if you aren’t bouncing around to other inputs. 
  • Both have multiple models, starting with basic streamers up to 4K-compatible versions with voice control built into the remotes.

So which one’s better? 

Best overall: Roku

My go-to recommendation is Roku over Fire TV. There are really just two major reasons.

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. 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Using a Fire TV device 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.

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Amazon

CNET expert Ty Pendlebury summed it up nicely in his review of the Fire TV Stick. “If you like to graze for content, the Fire TV might be more appealing, If you know what you want already, or at least what app you want to watch, a Roku is probably a better choice.”

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.”

Cheapest: Roku Express (unless Fire TV is on sale)

The cheapest Roku player is the $30 Roku Express, a fine choice for a bare-bones streamer. It brings all of the advantages of Roku I mentioned above, and performs perfectly well, but lacks any of the extras discussed below.

The cheapest Fire TV is the $30 Fire TV Stick Lite. It has more features than the Roku Express, including a voice remote and TV control, and often goes on sale for under $30.

Of course, there are a bunch of other more expensive Roku players — seven in all — and three more expensive Fire TV streamers. Many of them are better choices than these basic versions because they don’t charge much more for additional very useful extras.

Best for 4K TVs: Roku Streaming Stick Plus

The main battle is between the $50 Roku Streaming Stick Plus and the $50 Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. This is a close one, but in my opinion, the edge still goes to Roku. 

Roku’s main advantages are the same as above (interface and search), but Roku also has more options to rent or buy 4K movies. Two major stores, Vudu and Google Play Movies and TV apps, are absent altogether from Fire TV, while a third, Apple’s TV app, won’t let you rent or buy movies from directly within the app. This isn’t a huge advantage, however, because you can always rent and purchase movies elsewhere and access them (thanks to Movies Anywhere) from directly within Fire TV’s own menus.

The Fire TV Stick 4K’s main advantage over Roku is compatibility with the Dolby Vision HDR format, which might be important to you if your TV performs significantly better with DV than standard HDR. But for most people, that advantage doesn’t overcome Roku’s strengths.

If you don’t mind ditching the stick design, Roku’s $40 Express 4K Plus remains our favorite media streamer available right now. It has nearly all the same features as the Streaming Stick Plus but is $10 cheaper. 

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Want to watch TV hands-free, commanding the TV with just your voice? Fire TV + Alexa speaker, like this Echo Dot, works better than Roku + Google Assistant/Alexa.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Best for voice: Fire TV + Alexa

If you care about using voice control to find TV shows and movies, Fire TV wins.

Every Fire TV has voice capability built into the remote, including the $40 basic Fire TV Stick. Most Roku players also offer voice remotes but the cheapest, namely the $30 Express and the $35 Roku Express 4K, lack that feature. 

Both voice systems let you easily search, launch apps and control playback (fast-forward, pause, etc.) via voice, but Fire TV also lets you do everything Alexa does, including control smart-home devices, get a weather report and answer questions, complete with on-screen results. Alexa’s voice also talks back through the TV’s speakers.

If you have an Alexa speaker like an Echo Dot, you can do pretty much everything hands-free on Fire TV (no remote required) with standard Alexa commands. Say “Alexa, watch Roma” and Fire TV launches Netflix and starts playing the movie, for example. 

Roku players work in the same way with both Alexa and Google Home speakers but not as well. Netflix doesn’t work and you have to remember to say “Roku” at the end of every command (“OK, Google, launch Hulu on Roku”). Still, if you own a Google Home speaker already and want to use it for TV control, Fire TV isn’t an option.

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You can use the Roku app on your phone for private headphone listening with any Roku player


Sarah Tew/CNET

Best for private listening via headphones: Roku

Roku has long had a really cool feature on its higher-end players: A headphone jack built into the remote control itself. You just plug your headphones into the clicker and the audio on the TV or soundbar mutes automatically, and sound comes through the headphones instead, complete with volume control on the ‘phones.

Among the latest Rokus, the $80 Ultra LT and the $100 Roku Ultra each come with a headphone jack remote.

In addition, every Roku device offers private listening via the free Roku app on your phone. It works exactly the same as with the Ultra — just fire up the app and attach headphones to your phone. 

Fire TV’s only option for private listening is to pair Bluetooth headphones, but it’s not nearly as effective. Doing so can introduce audio lag (lip sync error) and you’ll need to have a volume control built into the headphones.

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With a mute key and the ability to command sound bars and receivers in addition to your TV, Fire TV’s remote is better for device control.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Best for TV and device control: Fire TV (especially Fire TV Cube)

Both Roku and Fire TV offer devices with buttons on the remote designed to control your TV. It’s a great feature because it allows you to ditch your TV’s own remote and use the streamer’s clicker for everything. In both cases setup is dead-simple — the streamer automatically recognizes your TV and programs the remote wirelessly, without you having to do anything besides confirming it works — but Fire TV is cheaper and more capable.

The cheapest Roku streamers that come with TV control remotes are the $40 Express 4K Plus and the $50 Roku Streaming Stick Plus. The Fire TV Stick has a TV control remote for $40. These remotes have buttons for TV power and TV volume up/down and mute. 

Roku’s remotes can only control televisions, but with Fire TV you can also control sound bars and even AV receivers. Yes, if your TV supports HDMI CEC and you have an HDMI sound bar, the Roku’s volume and power buttons can probably control it, but Fire TV’s remote can control pretty much any bar.

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The unique Fire TV Cube can control your TV and a bunch of gear using “Alexa” voice commands.


Sarah Tew/CNET

And Roku doesn’t have anything like the $120 Fire TV Cube. A little box designed to sit near your TV, it combines all the capabilities of the Fire TV Stick 4K and all the capabilities of an Echo Dot, plus the unique ability to control a full-on entertainment system via voice. Using it can sometimes feel like magic, but it’s not for everyone. Check out the video below if you’re curious.

By this point, you hopefully have enough info to decide for yourself which of the two most popular streamers works best for you. For our full reviews of Roku and Fire TV devices, as well as their competitors like Google’s Chromecast with Google TV, the Apple TV 4K and the Nvidia Shield, check out our list of Best Streaming Devices. 

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Source from www.cnet.com

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