Now that the new Apple TV has been annouced, the big question is, how does it compare to the next generation Fire TV? We won’t be able to fully answer that question until Amazon officially announces a new Fire TV, but based on the leaked specs and the FCC filing, which we believe to be for the next generation Fire TV, we can make some pretty good guesses. Join me on a magical speculative voyage into the future of streaming set top boxes.
I am writing this article with the assumption that the leaked specs and the FCC filing are accurate and are in fact for the next generation Fire TV. Obviously, if the future proves this to not be true, this article will be inaccurate. Remember, this is mostly speculation based on the information we currently know about the upcoming Fire TV.
Decoding video for playback is both a difficult and easy task for the mobile processors like the ones found in the Apple TV and Fire TV. It’s difficult because it requires heavy computation that can potentially consume 100% of the CPU’s resources, but it’s easy because these devices contain dedicated hardware designed specifically for decoding video which frees up the CPU from the burden. That’s why, for example, my old HTPC struggled with 720p YouTube flash videos but breezed through h.264 1080p video, and why an inexpensive device like the $39 Fire TV Stick can play buttery smooth high-bitrate 1080p video. The Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, next-gen Fire TV, and new Apple TV all have dedicated 1080p decoding, but only the new Fire TV has dedicated 4K decoding.
Advantage: New Fire TV
CPU and GPU Power
The new Apple TV comes with Apple’s A8 processor from the iPhone 6 which is a dual-core CPU clocked at 1.4GHz paired with a PowerVR GX6450 GPU. The new Fire TV has a quad-core 1.5GHz (or 1.9 GHz) CPU with a similar PowerVR GX6250. When it comes to raw power, the Fire TV wins in the CPU department, but the Apple TV wins in the GPU department. When comparing benchmarks of the leaked Fire TV device with the iPhone 6 which contains similar specs to the new Apple TV, the A8 in the new Apple TV outperforms the new Fire TV system-on-a-chip in most categories. Since Apple designs their own chips, as opposed to Amazon’s off-the-shelf chips, they have a knack for getting every last bit of performance from their processors. Resulting in superior performance, even when they’re less powerful than the competition.
Advantage: New Apple TV
The new Apple TV comes with Siri. With that comes not only natural voice search, but also a bit of the personal assistant features like weather and sports lookup. This is leaps and bounds better than the voice capabilities built into the current Fire TV, which is limited to a comparatively rudimentary voice search. That said, Amazon has a potential ace up its sleeve by the name of Alexa (from the Amazon Echo). If Amazon builds Alexa into the new Fire TV, its capabilities will be on par with Siri in the Apple TV and potentially better. Amazon has been improving Alexa faster than I’ve seen them improve any product. Every few weeks Alex gains new skills and Alexa’s new developer options leave it with the potential to grow far beyond Siri’s closed skillset.
Advantage: New Fire TV if it comes with Alexa, otherwise Apple TV
The new Apple TV finally comes with a real app store. With an operating system based on iOS, the new Apple TV benefits from the iPhone and iPad’s industry leading app ecosystem and developer pool. The new Fire TV, on the other hand, will certainly inherit most of the existing Fire TV’s nearly 3,000 apps. That said, I have no doubt developers will race to create Apple TV apps and quickly surpass the Fire TV in both app quantity and quality.
Advantage: New Apple TV
The Apple TV remote comes with an accelerometer for motion gaming capabilities out of the box. A little known fact is that the current Fire TV voice remote also contains an accelerometer, but Amazon has chosen not to use it. To me this means Amazon may have had motion gaming aspirations for the current Fire TV that never panned out which we may see surface with the new Fire TV. We don’t know anything about the new Fire TV’s remote capabilities, so it’s difficult to compare it to the new Apple TV’s remote. That said, it’s unlikely the new Fire TV remote will come with a touchpad like the new Apple TV remote, which has potential for gaming controls. However, the Fire TV has a first-party game controller made by Amazon which we expect to carry over to the new Fire TV. While the new Apple TV does support third-party game controllers, there’s something to say about having official hardware for advanced gaming from the device’s manufacturer. It’s not as good as including a game controller with every device, but it’s better than relying solely on third-party options.
Modding and Unofficial Apps
The current generation Apple TV was never jailbroken (i.e., rooted). The new Apple TV will likely be just as difficult, if not more difficult, to crack. This means you cannot install any unsanctioned apps, like Kodi, on the new Apple TV. I fully expect to be able to sideload apps like Kodi on the new Fire TV as easily as the existing Fire TV. This is the nature of Android. Being based on Android, the new Fire TV will also be more susceptible to rooting than the new Apple TV, which means there is greater potential for modding the device beyond its default capabilities.
Advantage: New Fire TV
The new Apple TV comes in a 32GB and 64GB variant. The new Fire TV appears to have 8GBs of internal storage like the current Fire TV. This is a big advantage to the new Apple TV, but the new Fire TV does support expandable external storage through a USB port and an included microSD card slot. Internal storage is better for apps since not all apps can be stored on external storage. The advantage of external storage is obviously the flexibility to add as much or as little as you need. If you want to load up your streaming box with dozens of games, the new Apple TV is probably better for you, but if you want to load up your streaming device with media files or want to easily transfer files around, then the new Fire TV, with its removable storage, is probably better for you.
Comparing what we know about each next generation streaming device reveals advantages and disadvantages for both. There isn’t a clear winner which, if you ask me, is the best outcome. It means there’s a variety of features for us, the users, to choose from. Some will jump ship for the new Apple TV, while others will laugh away the new Apple TV as an irrelevant competitor. There are many other small nuances for each device, like the Fire TV’s optical audio port or the Apple TV’s remote volume buttons, that are not covered in this article. Regardless of whichever device is right for you, it’s great to see the market expanding and moving forward with exciting new features and capabilities.