Amazon has unveiled the Fire TV Stick, and it’s being sold as a device to compete with the Google Chromecast. The Fire TV Stick boasts more memory and onboard storage, however the only hardware difference that really matters is that it has the better dual-band WiFi; and that’s only because the Amazon Fire TV Stick and the Google Chromecast are totally different devices that work in totally different ways.
The best way to think of the Amazon Fire TV Stick is a shrunken Amazon Fire TV, which is why it requires more RAM and storage to install apps and such. This is also the reason it requires its own independent remote. The Google Chromecast, however, is purely a device to carry the Google Cast protocol to your TV, which means you don’t have to install any apps on the device to get your content. Therefore the Chromecast only needs enough RAM and processing power to play the video stream on your TV.
The way Chromecast works is this: app developers build the Google Cast protocol into their app by adding it to their media service; next, they update their software with the Cast button so that you can select which device to cast the data to; finally, the end-user is able to select the Chromecast (or any Google Cast enabled device) within the app, which will then connect to the source of data and stream it.
So let’s say for example, you’re watching a YouTube video on your phone, tablet or laptop; you press the Cast button and then select which Google Cast device to stream it to – let’s call that Chromecast A. Once you select Chromecast A, it will connect to YouTube over your WiFi network and stream the video directly from YouTube. Other than controlling the video stream, seeking, pausing and so on, the Chromecast completely takes the device you used to start the cast out of the equation, unless of course that’s where the data comes from, for example if you’re casting your mobile display.
For new services to work on Chromecast, most of the work is done on the back-end, which makes it simpler for app developers in some respects. All they have to do is enable Google Cast and update the app with Google Cast functionality. Therefore, their existing apps won’t have to be recreated and updated to work on a big display, which often means the workflow of an app or service has to be updated for a larger screen.
Another pro of the Chromecast is it’s impersonal. If you set one up in a shared space – such as if you have a roommate – they can’t accidentally buy things from your account whilst using the Chromecast, as the only content they can access via the device is content they own or for services they pay for, such as Netflix, HBO Go and so on.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
As I said earlier the Amazon Fire Stick TV is like a shrunken Fire TV box. Much like the Chromecast you plug it into your TV, add a power source, connect it to your WiFi and it works. Where the Fire TV Stick is different is that it has an entire operating system on the device, allowing you to install and play apps and games. It’s also the reason the Amazon Fire TV comes with a remote, as there’s a lot more going on, unlike on the Chromecast which just shows you by default pretty pictures from Google+ until you select something to cast. The default screen is the ‘home’ screen, which is busy. It displays content, such as recently watched film and TV, apps and games to install, as well as recommended content from Amazon Prime. Beyond that you can then switch between different content categories, such as film, TV, apps and games.
For new apps, games and services to come to the Amazon Fire TV Stick they’ll need to rebuild and probably adapt their apps for the big screen, if they haven’t done so already for Apple TV or Android TV. At launch however the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick have a lot of content and services. Some games promised at launch are Flappy Birds Family (multiplayer flappy bird), Disney Castle of Illusion, multiple Sonic titles, and a few more games. You can see the full list here.
More details on the Fire TV Stick are available here.
So which is right for me?
Well it really does depend on what’s right for you. Although YouTube is present on the Fire TV Stick, Google Play Music isn’t, so if you subscribe to that service, you won’t be able to access it on the Fire TV Stick. The Fire TV also doesn’t have HBO Go, or BBC iPlayer at launch, which for American and British people choosing between the two could be a deal-breaker. If you buy a Chromecast though, you won’t be able to get any of Amazon’s myriad of cloud-based content services, such as Amazon Prime TV and Film, Amazon Prime Music, or its photo backup service.
Below we’ve created a list of Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV Stick supported apps. You can see the list of apps on the Fire TV Stick here, and Chromecast enabled apps in the US here and in the UK here.