Hi everyone, as anyone has read this blog over a long period of time knows I am a big fan of media streaming players.

And if you’re new to this blog and also new to the term media streaming player; let me briefly explain what that fancy personal tech speak means! It simply means a small device, about the size of a sandwich or smaller, that connects to your TV and the Internet service you have at home and allows you to easily send content from the Internet to your TV so you can watch Internet accessed videos on that big HDTV you have in your living room. The sending of video content from the Internet to a TV or a mobile device is called streaming hence the term media streaming player that collectively describes these small Internet connecting devices.

There have been three major types of media streaming players for a while and they are: The Apple TV (which despite the name isn’t a TV), Roku players and the relatively new Google Chromecast. In addition to these media streaming players you can also stream videos through many gaming consoles like the XBOX but as those are device more expensive and really are devices that are intended to be used by major league gaming fans I’m not going to go into detail about those right now!

So we’ve had three major streaming players for a while Apple TV which costs $99, Roku which offers several models that range in price from $49.99 to $99.99 and Google’s Chromecast which actually looks like a thumb drive and which you plug into an HDMI port on your TV.  The Chromecast costs $35 and now we’ve got a new entry – a fourth major streaming device has walked on stage – Amazon’s new Fire TV which like the Apple TV isn’t a TV at all but instead a small device about the size of a CD case.

And now I’m going to tell you why as an owner of three of these four media streaming players, The Apple TV, The Roku 3 (the high end Roku model that costs $99) and the new Amazon Fire TV – I’m really impressed by the Fire TV!

But first let’s just take a quick look at what all four media streaming players offer in the way of channels (aka apps) just so we can compare the similarities and occasionally differences between the media streamers.

And if you’d like to cut to the proverbial chase and skip all the detail about the Apple TV, Roku player and Chromecast please skip the next four paragraphs!

The Apple TV is a great device for those persons who dwell in the Apple/iTunes universe. With the Apple TV you can send iTunes purchased video and photos from your iPad, iPod Touch or iPhone to your TV, you can access any videos or songs/albums you’ve previously purchased from iTunes, you can buy more TV shows, movies and music from iTunes and you can access a number of apps/channels including: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Watch ABC, PBS, Bloomberg, YouTube, Crackle, HBO Go (HBO subscription required), The Weather Channel, Bloomberg, iTunes Radio and more.

The Roku streaming media players are also great devices for those who wish to stream TV shows, movies and music from the Internet to their TVs. Roku offers more channels than any of the three other media streaming players, over a thousand of them, including a number of niche channels and some major channels like Netflix, Hulu Plus, PBS, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora Internet Radio, TuneIn Radio, Acorn TV (for those who love British TV shows like the ones shown on PBS!), Crackle, HBO Go, Vudu, Blockbuster on Demand, ESPN Now and more.

And on a unique note, the Roku player is the only media streaming player that currently has a universal search function and what that means is that you can search for movies or TV shows and you will be searching across all Roku channels so if you do a search for the TV show Mad Men or a specific actor like Jimmy Stewart you’ll get results that tell you all the Roku channels you can find the TV series Mad Men on or Jimmy Stewart movies on – so if Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Vudu all have Jimmy Stewart movies you’ll see that in the search results which means if you have a Netflix subscription and the Jimmy Stewart movie you want to watch is available through Netflix then you will know that you don’t have to rent or buy access to it through Amazon Instant video or Vudu!

Google’s Chromecast’s streamer, which as you’ll have noted cost the least at $35, offers the fewest channels – 15 of them as of today and they include: Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Pandora, YouTube, Crackle Rdio, Google Play Movies & TV (that’s Google’s store for video content), Google Play Music (Google’s music store), Songza, Red Bull TV, Plex, Post TV and Viki.

And now a fourth major entry in this category has arrived — Amazon’s brand new streaming player the Fire TV; the Fire TV like the Apple TV really isn’t a TV but instead a small streaming media player, this player is about the size of CD case and offers channels that will sound familiar to you if you’ve read this far because they are channels also offered by some of the other three media streamers. Fire TV channels currently include: Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, HuffPost Live, Bloomberg TV, Crackle, TuneIn Radio, Pandora, Watch ESPN and more.

And you might well be thinking at this point why is it that since the media steaming players are so similar in the content they offer… just why I am I so impressed with the Fire TV?

And I have a three part answer to that question which basically boils down to three new things that the Fire TV does that the other three media streaming players don’t do!

  1. Voice Searching: And this is a biggie! There have been other widely available voice activated options on mainstream personal tech devices, most notably on smartphones and tablets – personal assistants like Apple’s Siri, but this is the first time a main stream media streaming player has come with the capability for you to talk to the device, via a small microphone built into the remote and say John Wayne, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Stephen Spielberg, Jon Hamm or Kathryn Hepburn and lo and behold all the movies and/or TV shows that are available to watch that feature those actors pop and you can then easily select the movie or TV show you want to watch that features the actor or actress you are searching for without having to enter a search via the streaming player remote; and without having the use the previously tedious hunt and peck on the TV screen with the remote to search for titles. You can also vocally search for specific titles like: The Hobbit, Gravity, Inspector Lewis or The Vikings and those programs too will display.

So…no more searching by the cumbersome process of typing via a key-the-letters-in-one-at-a-time on the remote! Very cool! Granted, right now this voice searching only works with the Amazon Instant Video channel, or app if you prefer that term, but it is still cool as no other media streaming player has this feature; and it is expected that Amazon will expand this voice activated feature to work with other channels and apps as time goes on.

  1. Apps: And this too is a biggie! We tend to use the term “apps” and “channels” almost interchangeably today when talking about media streaming players; however, until the Fire TV was released the other major media streaming players really only featured, with a few minor excpetions, what we can think of as video and music access channels like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Pandora and Blockbuster – because the channels or apps were all about allowing you to access video and music content and thus the channels really weren’t apps in the sense that you can get a wide variety of apps in many categories for your smartphone or tablet from the Apple app store or the Google Playstore. And with the Fire TV this is changing! There are actually Android apps that have been available in the Amazon & Android App stores that you can now access through your Fire TV and they truly are apps – apps like Minecraft, Sev Zero, Solitaire, Badland, The Bard’s Tale, Tetris, Atlantis Sky Patrol, Prince of Persia, Cannabolt, Snyder Arcade, Mystery Castle and more! And again granted there are only a few dozen of these apps at the moment but that number is sure to grow and the fact that you can really access apps on your TV through the Fire TV streamer is cool because it offers you even more bang for your entertainment buck!
  1. Game Apps: And yet another biggie! And this third point is obviously linked to the availability of appson the Fire TV; because, all of the apps I mentioned in the last paragraph are game apps! And the game apps are like the same titled editions that you can get from your app store and are available at the same or a similar price. And the pricing is a big deal too becausefor the first time main stream consumers can easily access and play games via apps on the big TV in their living rooms without having to buy a pricey gaming console like the Xbox or PlayStation and the pricey gaming cartridges for that gaming console! The game apps are priced in the same range as the titles you can access in your app store and download to your smartphone or tablet; most of the Fire TV game apps are $1.99 to $2.99 and some are free – so this is a big deal! The availability of game appsis also a big deal for a second reason; because it is a step further down the path that will eventually allow us to access all apps on all our devices and pick up where we left off in reading an e-book, watching a movie or TV show, listening to an album, playing a game or indeed doing any activity via an app on another device. For example, say you’re standing in line at the grocery store waiting you turn to pay for your groceries, you’ll be able to bring up your favorite game app and start playing your favorite game and then stop playing the game when you pay for your groceries, leave the store and go home and later pick up playing that same game in the same place you left off on the large screen TV in your living room! And that is cool!

Now just as an FYI For anyone who doesn’t know this – you can do some of that pick up where you left off thing via mobile devices right now. If you’re watching a video through Netflix or Amazon Instant Video on your smartphone or tablet you can stop the video and later pick up where you left watching the video via the Netflix or Amazon Instant Video app on your media streaming player. However, we can’t yet pick up where we left off on all apps and with all formats on all our Internet connecting devices – but we’re getting closer to that point and the Fire TV is another few steps down that exciting path if Internet connecting devices integration.

Have a great weekend!

Linda R.

 

References:

Amazon Fire TV review: Impressive debut, but room to grow. CNET. Online. Accessed April 19, 2014, http://www.cnet.com/products/amazon-fire-tv/

Amazon Fire TV Apps & Games. Amazon. Online. Accessed April 17, 2014, http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=7031433011

Best media streamers. (2014, March 4). CNET. Online. Accessed April 18, 2014, http://www.cnet.com/topics/media-streamers/best-media-streamers/

Browse. Roku. Online. Accessed April 17, 2014, http://www.roku.com/channels/#!browse/movies-and-tv/by-popular

Mossberg, Walt. (2014, April 15). Amazon’s Fire TV Lets You Search for Videos by Voice. Re/code. Online. Accessed April 18, 2014,http://recode.net/2014/04/15/amazons-fire-tv-lets-you-search-for-videos-by-voice/

Now Casting. Google. Online. Accessed April 17, 2014, http://www.google.com/intl/en-US/chrome/devices/chromecast/apps.html

What’s On. Apple. Online. Accessed April 17, 2014, https://www.apple.com/appletv/whats-on/

 

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