Finance

Battle of the Budget Streaming Players

It’s no secret that more people are cutting their cable TV services in exchange for online streaming services like Netflix, HBO Max and Hulu. But what streaming device should you grab to plug into your television and replace your cable box?

With shopping on a budget in mind, we look at the best Roku and Fire TV streaming sticks. We compare the differences so that you can find the best streaming media stick for your home or office.

What Is a Streaming Stick?

A streaming stick, or streaming media stick, is a thumb-sized device that you can plug into your television’s HDMI port. Once plugged in and powered on, a streaming device enables you to watch your favorite shows and movies from different services.

Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV platforms are two of the most popular hardware options available. All streaming devices require active internet connections and strong Wi-Fi signals within your home to operate reliably.

Many streaming media platforms, such as Netflix and Hulu, require an active subscription. For people on a tight budget, or those who enjoy free content, we offer a roundup of the best free TV apps you can download.

Roku vs. Amazon Fire TV Streaming Sticks

What Features Do Streaming Sticks Have?

Streaming Stick Video Features Audio Features Remote
Roku Streaming Stick 4K ($49.99) 4K UHD with Dolby Vision and HDR10+ Dolby Audio Pass Through Standard Roku remote
Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ ($69.99) 4K UHD with Dolby Vision and HDR10+ Dolby Audio Pass Through Upgraded remote w/ headphone jack, remote finder
Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite ($29.99) 1080p HD Dolby Audio Pass Through Simplified Fire TV remote w/o volume controls
Amazon Fire TV Stick ($39.99) 1080p HD Dolby Atmos Standard Fire TV remote
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K ($49.99) 4K UHD with Dolby Vision and HDR10+ Dolby Atmos Standard Fire TV remote
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max ($54.99) 4K UHD with Dolby Vision and HDR10+ Dolby Atmos Standard Fire TV remote

Roku and Amazon offer similar streaming stick options, so we want to make it easier to sort through the selection. We’ll discuss multiple factors around each device and provide recommendations.

It’s important to find not just the best streaming device available but the best choice that works in harmony with your digital lifestyle.

Apps, Games and Special Features

The most significant decision you’ll need to make when selecting between all of these streaming sticks is whether you would prefer to join Team Roku or Team Amazon.

The majority of hardware each company offers is similar, so the most significant differentiator will be the available apps, games and special features offered by either platform.

This decision has become much easier over the years, with both platforms offering many of the same apps and games. When it comes to major streaming services, you’ll likely find your favorites on both: Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, FuboTV, YouTube TV, etc.

However, if you are looking for a specific streaming app or video game, it doesn’t hurt to search each store before purchasing.

For example, for a while, HBO Max wasn’t available on Roku, while Peacock wasn’t on Fire TV. Luckily, that’s been fixed.

Special features are slightly different, with Fire TV offering exclusives such as deep Alexa smart assistant integration and access to Amazon’s cloud gaming service, Luna.

With Alexa’s integration, you’ll be able to search for shows, control smart home appliances and even peek out of your Alexa-supported front-door camera.

Roku doesn’t provide much when it comes to exclusive features, so the company doesn’t have much (if any) advantage here. The Roku Channel was once exclusive, offering free TV shows and movies for Roku streaming stick users, but it is now available as an app for Fire TV.

Common Audio and Video Features

Audio and Video Support

Streaming Stick Video Features Audio Features
Roku Streaming Stick 4K 4K UHD with Dolby Vision and HDR10+ Dolby Audio Pass Through
Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ 4K UHD with Dolby Vision and HDR10+ Dolby Audio Pass Through
Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite 1080p HD Dolby Audio Pass Through
Amazon Fire TV Stick 1080p HD Dolby Atmos
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K 4K UHD with Dolby Vision and HDR10+ Dolby Atmos
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max 4K UHD with Dolby Vision and HDR10+ Dolby Atmos

Is your television HD or 4K UHD? This will help determine which Roku or Fire TV streaming stick is right for you. Different models offer varying levels of support for TV technologies, so you’ll want to ensure you’re picking what will best match your setup.

If your television offers 4K UHD picture quality, you’ll be OK with either of Roku’s options, the Streaming Stick 4K or 4K+. On the other hand, Fire TV purchasers will want to grab the Fire TV Stick 4K or 4K Max, as the regular Fire TV Stick and TV Stick Lite support only HD.

Pro Tip

To determine whether your TV supports 4K UHD, check the included manual or call the manufacturer and provide your model number.

If your television supports only HD content, you can still grab a 4K streaming device, but you won’t be able to take advantage of the increased picture quality. In these cases, saving some money with the Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick Lite could be a solid option.

All 4K UHD streaming stick options from Roku and Amazon are compatible with HDR and Dolby Vision. For TVs that support these features, you’ll be able to enjoy more vivid colors and deeper blacks for a more immersive viewing experience.

Pro Tip

If you’re looking for a Fire TV device that can do even more, check out the Fire TV Cube, which offers Alexa voice control from across the room and more storage for apps and video games.

Where Roku’s streaming sticks fall short is with their audio support. If you have an advanced home theater setup with Dolby Atmos, none of Roku’s streaming stick offerings will support the technology.

On Amazon’s side, Fire TV Stick, Fire TV Stick 4K and Fire TV Stick 4K Max all support the technology. Stick Lite is the only option that doesn’t.

Remote Controls for the Streaming Sticks

Features for Each Remote Control

Streaming Stick Volume Controls Headphone Jack Lost Remote Finder
Roku Streaming Stick 4K
Roku Streaming Stick 4K+
Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite X
Amazon Fire TV Stick
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max

You can control Roku and Amazon streaming sticks using an app on your smartphone. But you’ll likely prefer to use the included hardware remote for ease. While the remote controls are similar, they do have slight differences.

On the Roku side, the Streaming Stick 4K and 4K+ provide a nearly identical user experience, but the 4K+ model throws in a few extra features.

For example, if you’re a late-night TV watcher, you may enjoy the built-in headphone jack on the 4K+ model, enabling you to listen to shows in private without bothering those around you.

The 4K+ model remote control also includes a rechargeable battery, so you don’t need to fiddle with batteries when the power begins to drain. This is something we’d love to see with all streaming devices.

Our favorite extra feature on the 4K+ remote is the Lost Remote Finder, which lets you find your remote easily if you’ve misplaced it somewhere, such as between your seat cushions.

Amazon’s Fire TV Stick remotes are nearly identical, except for its cheapest model, the Fire TV Stick Lite. While all other remotes feature dedicated volume control buttons, the Stick Lite does not.

If you want to enjoy your TV using a single remote, it might be best to avoid the Fire TV Stick Lite, which will require you to keep an extra remote for volume near you.

What It’s Going to Cost You

Prices of Each Streaming Stick

Streaming Stick Price (MSRP)
Roku Streaming Stick 4K $49.99
Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ $69.99
Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite $29.99
Amazon Fire TV Stick $39.99
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K $49.99
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max $54.99

Amazon and Roku’s streaming sticks don’t sport price tags that are likely to break the bank. But we’d rather you not spend extra money if you don’t need a feature.

If you’re looking for a 4K streaming stick, Amazon and Roku’s offerings cost about the same. Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K and 4K Max cost $50 and $55, respectively. The extra $5 for the 4K Max will provide you with faster Wi-Fi 6 support.

Roku sticks to similar pricing, with its Streaming Stick 4K costing $50, but stepping up to the 4K+ will cost you $70. The main difference between the two is the remote control, so you’ll want to decide if it is worth the extra $20.

Pro Tip

Roku offers cheaper streaming devices that aren’t in stick form. Be sure to also check out the Roku Express and Express 4K+ along with the more expensive, and feature packed, Roku Ultra.

Amazon’s Fire TV Stick and Stick Lite are cheaper options if you don’t have a television that supports 4K UHD video. The standard model will run you $40, while the Stick Lite with a remote lacking volume controls and no Dolby Atmos support will cost $30.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is Roku Better than Amazon Fire TV?

Roku and Fire TV offer great TV streaming experiences for anyone who needs a way to watch their favorite online streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu. Fire Stick provides a few advantages with its exclusive features, including access to Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant and the ability to control smart home appliances.

Does Roku Have a Monthly Fee? How About Fire TV?

Using your streaming device will not cost you extra; once purchased, it is yours for life without any additional charges. However, you may need to pay to access streaming services, such as HBO Max, YouTube TV and Disney+. However, free services are available for those who want to save money while enjoying great TV shows and movies.

Will Roku or Fire TV Work Without the Internet?

You will need an active internet connection to use your Roku or Fire TV Stick — all streaming devices require a connection. Before setup, you’ll need to ensure your home has an active internet connection with a stable Wi-Fi signal.

Michael Archambault is a senior writer with The Penny Hoarder, specializing in technology.




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