Amazon, Nvidia and Apple are all making serious plays to win over your television, and here we're putting them up against each other.
Perhaps more importantly, these three all represent different content ecosystems. Amazon and Apple both have their own app stores and content delivery services that they'd love you to give them money for, while the Shield TV relies on Google's Android TV and its own first-party gaming service.
First, here's how the hardware breaks down.
|Category||Shield Android TV||Amazon Fire TV (2015)||Apple TV (2015)|
|Processor||Tegra X1 quad-core||Quad-core Mediatek||A8 chip with 64-bit architecture|
|GPU||256-core Maxwell architecture||Power VR GX6250||n/a|
|Storage||16GB / 500GB
|Voice remote included
|Siri Remote included
Third party game controllers available
|Max video output||4K (UHD)||4K (UHD)||1080p|
|Connectivity||802.11ac 2x2 (MIMO)
|Dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, Ethernet||802.11ac Wi‑Fi with MIMO
Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology,
|USB ports||2x USB 3.0
Micro USB 2.0
|1 x USB 2.0||1 x USB-C|
|Surround sound||Dolby 7.1||Dolby 5.1||Dolby 7.1|
Grid game streaming
GameStream remote play
|Android titles through Amazon Appstore||tvOS compatible games|
|Dimensions||130mm x 210mm x 25mm||115 mm x 115 mm x 17.8 mm||98mm x 98mm x 33mm|
|Pricing||$199 / $299||$99||$149 / $199|
Immediately one thing that stands out in Amazon's favor is price. The Fire TV has made some compromises, perhaps, to reach that price point, but undercutting the cheapest Apple TV by $50 is still a plus. Even throw in the price of a microSD card to get to the same or higher internal storage and you'll be saving a few bucks. And also consider that you can get 4K content with that as well, as you can on the Shield TV.
All three have gaming aspirations, but if you're looking for something on that front then the Shield TV will come out on top. Just how good the gaming experience is going to be on the Apple TV is still up for debate but the Shield already has serious credentials. Besides the horsepower inside and access to Android games, the GeForce Now game streaming service puts PC and console quality games onto your set-top box.
We should also look at what else you get, or can get, with these. Amazon includes the voice remote, Nvidia does not but you get a game controller and Apple includes its new Siri remote. Optional extras from Amazon include a $49 game controller, Nvidia will sell you a voice remote and Apple will sell you another remote along with a strap to keep it tied to your wrist. Only Nvidia includes a HDMI cable in the box which is more a convenience than a selling factor. But when the boxes connect via HDMI is it really too much to ask to put one in the package?
Then there's the content. All three of these will cover off some of the big third-party services, Netflix being a top example, but they all have access to some more closed off ecosystems. On the Fire TV you get Prime Video, on the Shield you get Google Play and on the Apple TV you get iTunes. Good luck (right now, anyway) getting any of those three competing services on the other devices. So if you're already invested in one of those, there's not much to say in comparing. Go with the content.
But what about if you just want a capable streaming device with some bonus features, maybe a little light gaming. There's a lot to be said for the Amazon Fire TV. Great hardware, low price, optional game controller and the power of Amazon's content ecosystem. For the more casual buyer, it's probably the one to go for. If you're already in Google or Apple's ecosystems though, forget about it. That's probably the bigger picture. Be it Fire TV, Android TV or Apple TV, they're all just another branch on the ecosystem tree that all three continue to build.