The Amazon Fire TV has officially made the transition from rumored TV set-top box to app-streaming competitor today, as it ships to US living rooms via the online retailer's speedy Amazon Prime service.
That said, Amazon Fire TV is last in line when it comes to its release date, especially vs the established Apple TV and Roku, which first came out in 2007 and 2008 and have been updated three times already.
Amazon has a lot of work to do to catch up to Apple TV, Roku and Chromecast, but it offers just enough in the way of unique features to consider purchasing, even on day one.
Streaming media players come in all shapes and sizes, as demonstrated by the Amazon Fire TV set-top box and Chromecast HDMI dongle.
The good news is that they're all relatively small in size and exhibit colors that blend in with black televisions, with the exception of the purple Roku Streaming Stick.
Amazon Fire TV sits with a low-profile of .07 in and takes on a square shape of 4.5 in x 4.5 in. Roku 3 requires a little more headroom at 1 inch even, but takes up less space at 3.5 in x 3.5 in at its length and width.
Apple fits in between the two at .91 in high and 3.9 in x 3.9 in. At these sizes, it's not hard to fit them in a media cabinet, or if you're uncivilized, stack them on top of a cable box.
Chromecast and the Roku Streaming Stick dongles are even smaller - the size of an oversized USB thumb drive - and conveniently plug into HDMI ports. They're very simple to install.
The two downsides to this design are that they still require a power cable to function and there's no Ethernet port. When it comes to streaming video, that can be a problem for a lot of households.
Amazon Fire TV introduces an innovative remote with a built-in microphone for voice search.
On Amazon Fire TV, finding a movie or show title, an actor you like or a genre you want to explore can all be done by talking to your remote control as if you're from the future.
Roku has a similar 5-button directional pad without the fancy voice search capabilities. On the plus side, the Roku 3 model's remote does have a headphone jack for a useful personal listening mode.
Apple TV's click-wheel remote is small and easy to lose. That would be a problem, except the iOS app is the iOS way to navigate, so it doesn't matter.
Chromecast actually requires a smartphone or tablet to control. This means owning an Android or iOS device is a requirement of the tiny streaming stick. It's not as out-of-the-box friendly in this way, especially if you're a Windows Phone 8 user, but it does mean a QWERTY keyboard is always handy.
A streaming media player is nothing without a worthy collection of apps, and Roku leads the way with more than 1,000 apps to its name. Apple is a distant second with around 100 apps.
The newer Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast are duking it out with about two dozens non-gaming apps each, many of which overlap with their set-top box competitors.