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, an optical audio out port and a USB port (although this is only for developers at present). If the intended recipient does not use Wi-Fi or has a high-end speaker system, the Fire TV box is the better option.
Voice Search and Remote
One of the Fire TV's most touted features is its voice search, which lets users find movies, TV shows, music and games just by speaking into a remote control or a smartphone. While our reviewers had mixed luck with voice search, it's still an advantage the Fire TV has over competitors such as the Chromecast and the Roku stick.
The Fire TV box comes with a premium remote control that includes voice search capabilities. The remote control for the Fire TV Stick feels much flimsier, and does not support voice search. Although Fire TV Stick users can buy a voice search remote separately for $30, they're much better off just buying the full Fire TV box at that point.
However, users can employ voice search on either platform thanks to a free smartphone app, currently available for Android and coming soon to iOS. If voice search is a big deal and the recipient does not have a modern smartphone, the Fire TV box is the better option. Otherwise, the stick should be fine.
Gaming is the area where the two devices differ the most. 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, stay 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 $99, while the Fire TV Stick costs just $39. 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 built-in voice search, the Fire TV box is the way to go. Otherwise, save yourself a little money and get its smaller, cheaper cousin.