If you have friends or family invested in the Amazon ecosystem of products, there's a good chance that they'll want an Amazon Fire TV. The only problem is that the Fire TV is not a single product: you can buy it in either box or stick form.
Tom's Guide has reviewed both the Fire TV and the Fire TV Stick, and we were reasonably pleased with both products. While it's true they have more similarities than differences, there are a few ways in which they vary. Buying a Fire TV Stick for a gamer, for example, would be a bad idea, while buying a Fire TV box for someone who doesn't have a 4K TV would be a waste of potential. On the other hand, both devices can access most of the same channels, and thanks to an update in their firmware, both will also recommend personalized content from a variety of sources and keep track of your video quality.
Here are a few differences to keep in mind if you just can't decide between the two.
|Fire TV||Fire TV Stick|
|Ports||Ethernet, Digital Audio, microSD||None|
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If you pick up an Amazon Fire TV Stick, one end connects to an HDMI port, and one connects to a USB port or an outlet (as we discovered, the outlet is the much more reliable solution). That's all you need to know. Video and audio both come via HDMI. The device uses Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet and Bluetooth for its remote and optional controller.
The Fire TV box, on the other hand, is a much more versatile device. In addition to HDMI and power ports, it also has an Ethernet port, a digital audio out port, a USB port and an expandable memory slot for up to 128 GB of microSD storage. If the intended recipient needs Ethernet, high-quality audio or lots of storage space, the Fire TV box is the better option.
If you have a 4K TV, the Fire TV box will help you get the most out of it. This device supports a variety of apps in full UHD resolution, including heavy hitters like Amazon Video, Netflix and YouTube. The Fire TV Stick, on the other hand, caps out at a full HD resolution of 1080p. While the Fire TV box will work with full HD machines, and the Fire TV Stick will work with UHD machines, you should probably get the one that's optimized for your TV's display.
While the Fire TV and the Fire TV Stick run on the same operating system, the stick is much less powerful. Consequently, it cannot support as many games, especially when the games are technically demanding.
The Fire TV box has access to favorite titles such as Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto, Max Payne, The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. The Fire TV Stick does not, although it can still run lightweight casual games, such as Wind-Up Knight.
If gaming is a big concern, stick with the Fire TV box, and consider an optional Amazon Fire controller ($40) as well. If not, the stick will suffice, but don't expect gaming to be more than an afterthought.
Price and Value
Arguably the biggest difference between the two systems is how much they cost. The full-fledged Fire TV retails for $90, while the Fire TV Stick costs just $40. There's no one-size-fits-all advice for which of the two to buy, but generally speaking, I found that the Fire TV Stick was a perfectly good product without the box's bells and whistles.
If you need an Ethernet connection, high-quality audio, core gaming capabilities and 4K capabilities, the Fire TV box is the way to go. Otherwise, save yourself a little money and get its smaller, cheaper cousin.