NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Amazon (AMZN) - Get Report has begun shipping its new streaming media device called the Fire TV Stick, which is a miniature version of its Fire TV media player. At its $39 price point, it's Amazon's answer to Google's (GOOG) - Get Report wildly successful $35 Chromecast and Roku's $50 Streaming Stick -- and a terrific answer at that.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick is very similar to Amazon's $99 Fire TV box. It provides 1080p and 720p resolution video, has 8 GB of internal storage, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and runs Fire OS 3.0 (the Amazon-branded version of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean). As for family differences, the Stick runs on a non-descript, dual-core, 1 GHz Cortex A9 processor versus the TV box's quad-core Qualcomm (QCOM) - Get Report Kraft 300 chip, 1 GB of RAM (512 KB for the system and 512 KB for video) versus 2 GB in the Box and Bluetooth 3.0 instead of 4.0 in the more expensive unit. The box also offers Ethernet connectivity.
Streaming media dongles are all the rage for this holiday season and for good reason -- they're inexpensive, they provide high-definition video, great sounding audio and offer amazingly simple set-up, attaching them to an AC outlet, connecting to a TV and following the instructions. All three devices provide a number of similar features but each is pretty much tied to a different corporate ecosystem. All are slightly larger in size than a USB flash memory stick but actually plug into your monitor/HDTV's via a HDMI port and they're all powered by a separate A/C adapter.
Among the streaming devices, there are major differences which determine what each device can actually accomplish. The Fire TV Stick is fully integrated with your Amazon account information right out of the box. Once logged in, you're in Amazon's world of renting, shopping and gaming. That means, for the most part, everything you can do will be achieved through an Amazon-branded appl or service. If you're an Amazon Prime subscriber, you can take advantage of some of that service's benefits. Coupled with the Fire TV Stick, there's a lot of added value.
Chromecasts are strictly anchored in Google's Android ecosystem. The dongle is controlled by other Android devices such as a smartphone, tablet or PC. The devices allow users to mirror programming from connected device onto a larger screens. Each month, more and more Websites are allowing their content to be streamed using Chromecasts.
The Roku stick is the most agnostic of the three. There are hundreds of providers offering all sorts of audio/video/gaming channels for your streaming pleasure. One of the channels offers live streaming of Time Warner Cable (TWC) television offerings. That means it can be used in place of a separate cable box without having to pay a monthly rental fee. Also, Roku just released a new $40 Roku LT streaming box (not a stick) with an HDMI output for high-definition video as well as a "Composite" connection for watching on older TVs.
Both the Fire TV and Roku sticks come with small, simple remote controls to accomplish tasks, while Google's Chromecast has no remote. The Fire TV stick can also be controlled via voice commands similar to the terrific feature on the more expensive Fire TV box. For the stick, you'll need to download a special app designed for Android and Amazon's Fire phones, with Amazon noting a version for the iPhone is coming soon.
You can also play a number of online games with the stick but to do so you'll need to buy the separate, $40 Fire Game Controller (not tested). For the record, the box has a more powerful processor and more memory so games you can play with the stick might be limited in number and scope. The stick is also very slightly slower when handling some programing commands and transitions.
All three streaming sticks are easy to master and all three accomplish their assigned tasks flawlessly. All can handle Netflix (NFLX) - Get Report , YouTube, Hulu Plus, Pandora (P) and iHeartRadio (IHRT) - Get Report . But ultimately, purchasing any of these little streamers could be determined by what you like to watch. Dozens of sources are offered on each these streaming platforms but they're not all available on each and every device. You need to check and see if the programming that you want is available on the streaming stick of your choice.
If you're currently entrenched in the Amazon world, the $39 Fire TV Stick is a great deal. It could even work out to be a better option for a second or third TV than the $99 Fire TV box.
Final Score: 8.0/10
-- Written by Gary Krakow in New York.
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Gary Krakow is TheStreet's Senior Technology Correspondent.