Best Streaming Device For 4K: Roku vs. Apple TV vs. Amazon Fire TV

Cam Secore
Updated 05/27/2018

best 4k streaming device

After months of testing, I found Apple TV 4K to be the best overall streaming device for 4K TVs. It has the most 4K content options and a brilliant interface. However, the price isn’t feasible for most people. As a budget-friendly alternative, I recommend Roku Stick Plus. You’ll get an excellent experience for $100 less than Apple TV. If you don’t have a 4K TV yet, read my page on streaming sticks.

Now, let’s find out how I reached my conclusion, by comparing four 4K streaming devices (Apple TV 4K vs. Roku Ultra vs. Roku Streaming Stick Plus vs. Amazon Fire TV) while evaluating six categories: interface, setup, content, speed, remote, and bonus.

apple tv vs roku

Apple TV 4K

10
  • Interface: It’s the most polished design (similar to iOS) and easy to find content.
  • Setup: Installation is quick and seamless if you have iPhone. “Single Sign-On” is great.
  • Content: The App Store is similar to iOS with the essentials and lots of 4K content.
  • Speed: Apple TV gen four is fast, but Apple TV 4K is even faster with iPad Pro chips.
  • Remote: It’s easy to lose and not a fan favorite, but it’s sleek, and Siri is excellent.
  • Bonus: You can’t stream YouTube in 4K, and the remote is laggy from far distances.

Best for you if...

You’re an iPhone user and like the iOS interface or have lots of iTunes content. Apple TV 4K (and non-4K) are the best streaming devices on the market regardless of your phone. The only caveat is price. Apple TV 4K is $179, while the non-4K is $149.

roku vs apple tv

Roku Streaming Stick+

8
  • Interface: The interface is dated and sometimes clunky.
  • Setup: Setup is more time-consuming compared to the other devices.
  • Content: Roku OS is unbiased and doesn’t favor Amazon or iTunes. Good 4K selection.
  • Speed: Not as fast as Apple TV, but plenty of power.
  • Remote: Voice control works and has dedicated app buttons.
  • Bonus: Roku makes money by collecting your user data, but the ads aren’t terrible.

Best for you if...

You want a great streaming experience for $100 less than Apple TV. You'll get tons of content, unbiased search, and enough speed to get the job done, but you're stuck with an old-school interface. Roku Stick+ is my pick for most people.

roku ultra vs apple tv 4k

Roku Ultra

8
  • Interface: The interface is dated and sometimes clunky.
  • Setup: It takes longer to setup than the others.
  • Content: Roku OS is unbiased and doesn’t favor Amazon or iTunes. Good 4K selection.
  • Speed: Not as fast as Apple TV, but plenty of power.
  • Remote: Voice control works fine and has dedicated app buttons.
  • Bonus: Ethernet and USB port, Micro SD reader, remote finder and headphone jack.

Best for you if...

You want everything Roku Stick+ has to offer, but you need an Ethernet, USB or Micro SD port. Roku Stick+ and Roku Ultra have the same internal specs and software, with the only difference being that Ultra has a remote finder and extra ports.

apple tv vs fire tv

Amazon Fire TV

6
  • Interface: It’s attractive but littered with annoying ads throughout the platform.
  • Setup: It’s quick and easy because it prefills info based on your Amazon account.
  • Content: Next to no 4K content, but it has all the basic apps.
  • Speed: Slower than the previous generation and the slowest of those I reviewed.
  • Remote: There's no volume or power off control.
  • Bonus: Cool integrations with Amazon Prime Video.

Best for you if...

You’re heavily invested in Amazon’s ecosystem or have Amazon Channels. The third generation Fire TV is slower and more Amazon-centric than the previous generation. I don’t want to be inundated with ads, so I stay away from Fire TV even when it’s deeply discounted.

 

Why listen to me?

  1. I’ve been obsessed with gadgets since I was eight years old.
  2. I bought each device with MY money.
  3. I’ll update this post frequently because my opinions change.
  4. I don’t have insider access. I’m just like you, the everyman.
Learn more here or subscribe to my email list for new posts and gadget giveaways.

My Experience

It’s sad and blatantly shows my dedication to Apple, but I didn’t buy a 4K TV because Apple didn’t have a device that supported 4K. Of course, other factors like price and lack of 4K content affected my decision as well.

I’m so immersed in Apple’s ecosystem that I felt I’d be cheating on them if I left for a different device.

Now, prices of 4K TVs are similar to 1080p TVs, and Apple finally released a 4K HDR version of their streaming device.

So, I finally broke down and bought a 4K TV.

Then, I bought seven streaming devices to try: All-New Amazon Fire TV (Gen 3), Amazon Fire Stick, Roku Ultra, Roku Streaming Stick, Roku Streaming Stick Plus, Google Chromecast, and Apple TV 4K.

If you’re interested in streaming sticks that only stream 1080p, I wrote about them here.

However, if you want to find the best 4K streaming device, stay here.

I used each device for at least a few days (some much longer), installed my apps, and played with the settings thoroughly.

I kept my two Apple TV 4K devices in my main watching rooms. I wouldn’t give up my Apple TV for anything, but I always try to remember that not everyone’s a huge Apple nerd like I am. Most people will be satisfied with Roku.

Apple TV 4K

10

Interface & Picture Quality (A+):

  • The design is more polished than any other streaming device and stays consistent throughout all the apps. No advertisements anywhere!
  • The TV app shows, and curates, all available content in the world, and when you click on a show, it plays in the correct app to which you have a subscription. The “Watch Now” feature (inside TV App) keeps a queue of everything you’re watching, across all your apps (i.e. Showtime, Hulu, HBO, Amazon etc.). It starts the show on the episode you left off.
  • Whenever a text field appears on Apple TV, you’ll get a push notification on your iPhone prompting you to enter text via your iOS device’s keyboard.
  • Apple TV has stunning screensavers. They’re drone shots that move slowly through different cities for four minutes. My friends and I have spent hours looking at these. This is trivial, but it shows Apple’s attention to detail. Check them out here.

Setup (A+):

  • Apple TV 4K’s setup is perfect if you have an iPhone. When you place the phone next to the Apple TV, it collects your Apple ID and WiFi information, so you don’t have to enter it.
  • If you’ve used iPhone or iPad, Apple TV will be second nature. Everything’s set up the same and all of your content apps from your phone download to your Apple TV automatically.
  • Typing in emails and passwords for every service isn’t fun. Apple gets around this with “Single Sign-On.” You sign in with your cable provider, and all your apps will work without signing in again. Not all cable providers are available, but even if yours isn’t, Apple saves your default email and makes it easy to sign into your apps.

Content (A+):

  • Apple TV has an App Store similar to the one on iOS. The App Store has every popular video streaming app including Amazon Video, Vudu, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, DirecTV, and YouTube TV.
  • Your iTunes HD purchases are upgraded to 4K for free, and Apple is charging the same amount for a 4K movie as it did for HD. (Amazon has matched this too.)
  • Apple’s 4K HDR library is the biggest. Plus, you have Netflix and Amazon Video available in 4K. Apple is three years late to the party, but it’s good news for consumers and the future of 4K.
  • Apple supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Apple TV is the only streaming device on my list that supports Dolby Vision.
  • The only major missing service is Spotify, but you can AirPlay Spotify from your phone.

Speed (A+):

  • The non-4K Apple TV was by far the fastest device I tested, but Apple TV 4K is noticeably speedier because it uses Apple’s 64-bit A10X Fusion chip (the same chip in iPad Pros).

Smarts (A):

  • Siri with your TV is brilliant. Hold down the button and ask it to find you certain movies, genres, open apps, check the score of a game, or perform any of HomeKit activity. Siri’s the only thing that I use to bring up movies or shows that aren’t in my “Watch Now” yet.
  • Unlike Fire TV and Roku, Apple TV shows the words you’re saying as you say them. These are all small details, but they make for a more polished product.
  • HomeKit works with Apple TV and can be used as your home’s “hub.” This means you can control your lights, thermostat and others devices while you’re not home.
  • AirPlay with your iOS device is great. Swipe up on your phone and tap the AirPlay button and then you’re mirroring your phone’s screen.

Remote (B+):

  • Although the remote is easy to lose, it feels great in your hand and is beautiful! It controls your TV and soundbar via HDMI and the IR outputs.
  • It needs charging once a month via the lightning cable rather than batteries.
  • If you’re an iPhone user, you can control Apple TV from command center (swiping from the bottom).

Bonus (F):

  • For Apple TV 4K’s price, you should be able to use as part of a premium home theater setup. Dolby Atmos is the latest audio standard, but Apple TV 4K doesn’t support it yet. (Apple said it will with a future software update.)
  • The remote gets laggy from far away distances. I have my Apple TV placed in the same spot as my previous generation Apple TV (I never had an issue before). After some troubleshooting, I think the Bluetooth in the remote isn’t as reliable as the previous generation.
  • YouTube has a substantial 4K content library, but because it uses the VP9 video format, you can only play 1080p videos from the YouTube app.

Roku Ultra & Stick+

8

Interface & Picture Quality (C):

  • Roku is getting over the app quality issues with their new 8.0 software. Roku’s “feed” shows potential by curating movies to watch, while content you “follow” show up in the feed as it becomes available, but the overall Roku interface leaves much to be desired.
  • The interface feels dated, and you don’t get a universal experience. Every app is set up differently and has different playback controls. This will probably be overlooked or not noticed by most people. I’m obsessed with nice design and in the minority.
  • Dolby Vision and HDR10 are the two competing HDR standards. My eye isn’t tuned enough to tell the difference, but critics say Dolby Vision looks better. Roku and Amazon Fire TV only support HDR10, but Apple has the most HDR content as they support both standards.

Setup (D):

  • Setup is annoying. Roku gets docked because of how beautiful Amazon and Apple are in comparison. Roku requires you to create an account and asks for your credit card. Every time I set up a new Roku, I can’t seem to log in. However, the clunky setup can be overlooked because it’s only a one-time thing.

Content (A):

  • Amazon favors its content and Apple prefers iTunes, but Roku doesn’t play favorites. There are no biases in the search. If a movie is free from one of your subscriptions, why should you pay for it? When searching for a movie or show, it displays results from your installed channels from lowest to highest price.
  • Amazon Video, Google Play Video, Vudu, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, DirecTV, YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue, Spotify, and Pandora are available. Roku has every streaming service I’ve ever heard of other than iTunes. They claim to have 500,000 movies and shows. No streaming device comes close to that number.
  • Roku’s 4K content selection is vast. You get 4K content from Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, Vudu, and others. Also, Roku does a great job of organizing and showing where to find 4K content.

Speed (B-):

  • Ultra and Stick Plus have enough power to do what’s needed. Going in and out of menus is quick, and much faster than Fire TV, but Roku’s speed doesn’t have anything on Apple TV.

Smarts (F):

  • Roku does voice search but only to find movies or shows. There’s no virtual assistant like Alexa or Siri. Roku can’t handle complex questions or tasks, but I’m alright with that because their voice system does what it’s supposed to.

Remote (B-):

  • I don’t love the preset streaming buttons (i.e., Netflix, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, and Sling) on the remote. It would be cool if you were a member of all those services, but I’m left with three useless buttons.
  • You can control your TV’s volume and power with the remote. Setup for this was slick. It plays a sound on your TV and automatically enters codes until you don’t hear the sound anymore.
  • Roku was the last to get voice control on the remote, but they did a solid job. The voice controls don’t do fancy things like Alexa or Siri, but Roku’s assistant finds the show and which app to stream it in when you ask.

Bonus (C+):

  • Roku makes money by collecting your user data and showing you advertising. There’s no way to opt out, but it’s not too concerning because the ads stay out of the way.
  • Roku’s phone app is great for opening streaming channels. When you tap on services in the app, it shows on the TV.
  • Private listening mode is a cool feature if you have roommates or you’re just trying to be quiet. You plug your headphones into the remote, and the volume is turned off on the TV and is played in your headphones.
  • Roku Ultra has an Ethernet and USB port, Micro SD card reader, remote finder, and a headphone jack in the remote. Otherwise, Roku Stick+ and Roku Ultra have the same internal specs and work the same.

Amazon Fire TV

6

Interface & Picture Quality (F):

  • It looks more attractive than Roku but it’s confusing to use. You’re probably already paying for HBO and Showtime through other means. This makes Amazon Channels useless and more of a distraction than anything.
  • Half of the home screen is advertising Amazon’s content.
  • Under your row of hand-picked apps, there are your “most used” apps. In most cases, this results in duplicate apps from the first row and it just looks bad. The “most used” is not editable or removable.
  • At the bottom of the screen is a “sponsored” section that’s static. You’ll see car, razor, travel, computer, and cat food advertisements. Why are you cluttering up my home screen with this garbage?
  • Amazon’s trying to pull out individual content from other apps and curate it, but it turns into a mess.
  • When you ask Alexa to launch an Amazon Prime video, the content opens right away, but it doesn’t always play the 4K version. Why are there two versions of the same movie? It should be one movie and the definition should auto adjust depending on the type of TV display you have.

Setup (B-):

  • Amazon Fire TV already knows who you are if you buy it with YOUR Amazon account, which makes installation easier. Also, if it’s your second Amazon device and your WiFi settings are saved, you don’t have to worry WiFi setup.

Content (D):

  • This device favors Amazon’s content in a big way. There are advertisements for it everywhere. I felt like I was being sold something the whole time. I paid money for this device; I just want to relax!
  • There’s a lack of 4K HDR content. There’s no iTunes or Vudu. You’re stuck with just Amazon (which lacks HDR content relative to iTunes and Vudu), Netflix and YouTube.
  • Amazon supports HDR10, but not Dolby Vision. I can’t tell the difference between the two standards, but people smarter than I say Dolby Vision is better.
  • For HD content, there’s Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, DirecTV, YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue, and others available.
  • YouTube TV is the best live TV streaming service, but there isn’t an app and won’t be.

Speed (D):

  • Fire TV got smaller from the previous version, but I assumed it would it keep the same speed. On the contrary, it’s noticeably slower. It works well with all of Amazon’s content and Netflix, but it struggled with things like Playstation Vues’ guide. There’s not enough power.

Smarts (A):

  • The remote has most of the powers of a typical Alexa device, like controlling the house lights.
  • If you want to go hands-free, you can flawlessly sync your Alexa devices, like Echo or Dot. It’s by far the best integration with a smart speaker. For Amazon content, you can tell Echo “Alexa, play Transparent on my Fire TV” and the content starts up without the need to press any buttons. It’s a streamlined experience, but it only works with Hulu, PlayStation Vue, and Showtime.

Remote (D):

  • You can’t control the volume with the remote, nor can you turn off the TV with it.

Bonus (B):

  • Amazon Fire TV is the best way to watch all of Amazon Prime’s content. It’s perfectly optimized and there are cool exclusive features while watching. For instance, you can see all the actors when pausing a show.
  • Amazon Channels integrates Amazon Video, HBO, Showtime and Starz into one platform. If you use Amazon Channels, you’ll pay for HBO, Showtime, and Starz through Amazon on a monthly basis rather than your cable provider. Amazon’s version of HBO and Showtime are cheaper than buying them outright.
  • You have more options for controlling the picture compared to Roku. You can change the color depth and format. This might come in handy if you can’t get the picture to display how you want it, but it’s not a necessary feature.
  • There’s Dolby Atmos support, although there isn’t content that takes advantage of this yet.
 

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