Actual details on the upcoming Amazon Fire TV Cube remain fairly scant. We know the name, of course, and we've got schematic of the back of the cube. (Hint: It's a square with ports.)
Let's imagine things out a little further. We generally know what the Fire TV Cube will do — it'll show shows. And it'll almost certainly have Amazon Alexa built in.
But what else will the Fire TV Cube — can we please just called it Fire Cube already? — need to do to compete with the likes of Roku Ultra?
A few thoughts.
Fire TV Cube price will be key
Price is everything, of course. And while Amazon hasn't given us any clue as to what the Fire TV Cube will cost, we've got a bit of context from which we can work.
Will the price drop on the current Fire TV? Will Fire TV Cube be more expensive than we think? Will it be that much better than Roku Ultra?
The current top-end Amazon Fire TV — the 4K HDMI pendant — retails for $69, but it's often on sale for as low as $49. Meanwhile, Roku runs the gamut with its slate of products, from the $29 Roku Express to the top-shelf Roku Ultra at $89.
The Fire TV Cube should be Amazon's premiere entertainment product once it's released. So it would go up against the Roku Ultra. But you have to wonder if there's enough headroom between a $69 Fire TV pendant for the Fire TV Cube to come in at the same $89 as the Roku Ultra. For just a $20 difference, you'd have to really want to have Amazon Alexa in your living room to not just go the cheaper route.
But I'm not convinced the Fire TV Cube will land at less than $100. (I'll just go on record here and throw out a wild guess that it'll be closer to $119 at launch.) That would create $50 of separation between the Fire TV pendant and the Fire TV Cube, putting it on more of a pedestal. And we're absolutely expecting it to have more powerful hardware, too, so figure the bill of materials will be higher in any event.
Fire TV Cube specs: Performance anxiety
My biggest gripe with the Fire TV pendant is that it can, at times, be slower than I like. That varies some from app to app — PlayStation Vue is still pretty dreadful on Fire TV but sails on the Roku Ultra.
Roku Ultra also has another spec in its favor with a built-in Ethernet port. Fire TV Cube, as we've learned, will require Amazon's microUSB Ethernet adapter. That's not a huge deal, but it is one more thing to buy, and one more inelegant thing to plug in.
Roku Ultra also has the ability to use optical audio, whereas Fire TV Cube will just use HDMI. That'll be a thing for some folks, and not for others.
So will Fire TV Cube be anymore powerful than Roku Ultra? And will specs on paper mean anything anyway? We'll just have to see.
Fire TV Cube external storage? Maybe
Then there's the matter of external storage. The Roku Ultra handles external storage like a champ, with a USB-A port to make things simple.
Fire TV also supports external storage. It gets a little tricky with the pendant because you'll have to split the microUSB port for power purposes, but it works just fine with USB OTG.
Presumably Fire TV Cube will work with external storage in the same manner. You'll have to connect an external drive to the Fire TV Cube through microUSB, but that's simple enough to do.
So you can (probably) do it, it's just not quite as easy as with a Roku box is all.
Fire TV Cube vs. Roku: The bottom line
I think at the end of the day this is going to come down to the same thing it always comes down to.
Will the Fire TV Cube simply cost less than Roku Ultra? I wouldn't bet on it.
Will the Fire TV Cube bring that much more to the table if it's $20 or $30 or $50 more expensive than Roku Ultra? We'll just have to see. And even then it'll definitely be debatable.
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