T3 Smackdown: Apple TV vs Amazon Fire TV

Which one is worthy of your hard-earned cash?

The biggest tech companies in the world are having a serious crack at trying to get into your living room, and both Apple and Amazon have recently unveiled new set-top boxes designed to sit under your television set and provide access to a wealth of content and games.

If you're in the market for such a gadget we've broken down the key differences and similarities between these two - it should make your purchasing decision a lot more straightforward. And if neither of them seem to fit your requirements, don't forget there's always Android TV.

Device history

Apple TV

Some context is always helpful when trying to decide which gadget is best for you. The Apple TV was born way back in 2007 but the model launched this year is really the first major upgrade since then. Its purpose has always been to get Apple content (music, movies, TV shows) up on the big screen, but now the device has support for apps and games too.

As for Amazon, its Fire TV box first appeared on the scene in April 2014. Right from the start it supported a limited number of games, and the usual video, music and photo options were available too. This year's model focuses mostly on internal hardware upgrades, but Amazon's smart Alexa voice assistant now comes as part of the package as well.

Specifications

Amazon Fire TV

Hardware specifications aren't something you necessarily need to lose sleep over when it comes to set-top boxes, but it's still useful info to have. The fourth-generation Apple TV brings with it a dual-core, 64-bit Apple A8 chip and 2GB of RAM (thanks to iFixit for the teardown). You get a choice of 32GB or 64GB of internal storage as well if you want to store music, podcasts, movies and TV shows locally.

As for the Amazon Fire TV, it brings with it an even more powerful quad-core CPU (apparently making the box 75 percent more powerful than last year's edition) and 2GB of RAM. This extra grunt makes the Amazon box capable of streaming 4K video whereas the Apple one maxes out at 1080p. The on-board storage is a paltry 8GB - Amazon obviously wants you to stream most of your media - though you can add in a microSD card.

TV shows and movies

Apple TV

So what can you actually watch? Apple has a strong hand here because the Apple TV ecosystem is based around existing iOS apps - Apple has the best mobile app store out there so you can make use of services like Netflix and YouTube as well as iTunes. Once developers have pushed out the necessary updates, anything you can get on an iPad (from Spotify to Vimeo) should be available on the Apple TV.

The Amazon Fire TV's interface is a more cut-down affair, though there's support for Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo, Spotify and of course Amazon Instant Video in there. There's not much to choose between them in terms of apps and content but Apple probably edges it slightly - unless you're an Amazon Prime customer and want access to the company's own streaming services above anything else.

Extra features

Amazon Fire TV

Both boxes have intelligent assistant apps (Siri and Alexa) that respond to your voice and can help with searches and functions. Both come with simple but capable remote controls too to help navigate around the interface, though only Apple's can boast a clever integrated touchscreen for easier operation.

Casual gaming is an option whichever box you choose, though Amazon seems more committed, with its own controller and a dedicated gaming edition of its device. The Apple TV is going to support third-party controllers though otherwise you'll have to use the supplied remote, Nintendo Wii-style. For games with Apple TV support, you can start playing on an iOS device and carry on on the set-top box, so it's a purchase that makes sense if you're already heavily invested in Apple's ecosystem.

Conclusion

Apple TV

It's hard to pick a definitive winner in the battle of the set-top boxes: Amazon's gadget boasts 4K video playback, for example, but the Apple TV interface and app selection is stronger. As with many of these purchasing decisions, a lot depends on the ecosystem you're already comfortable with - you can't get iTunes movies on the Fire TV while the best Amazon Instant Video experience is likely to be on the company's own hardware (though Amazon does develop an iOS app).

The price is an important consideration too, and Amazon has the edge here: the Fire TV is available for £79.99 in the UK and $100 in the US. There are no official UK prices for the Apple TV yet but in the US it's going to sell for $149 for the 32GB edition and $199 for the 64GB edition - that's significantly more than Amazon's box and the older Apple TV.