By Tony Swartz, member of the Technology Team
After better than twenty years of ever-rising rates and content packages with a host of channels, but never the right ones, early this spring, I reached the limit of my patience, deciding to finally cut the cord. I determined to switch from television satellite and cable systems, and instead to stream television content from the Internet. I knew that there were many decisions which would have to be made, but none more critical to me than those surrounding accessibility. With streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, finding content would involve more than entering a channel number or pressing the channel up and down on a remote.
In the last several years, I had received both an Apple TV and Amazon Fire Stick as gifts and had played with them a bit, mostly to access my MLB account. After reading a good number of accessibility related articles, I concluded that, fortunately, these would be my most accessible options for streaming content. But which one would prove more accessible?
I knew that both included remotes with tactually distinctive controls and access via verbal commands, but which would be more intuitive? Since I was already familiar with the iOS world, my first impression was that the Apple TV would most likely have the upper hand. But to come to a final conclusion, I would have to judge both with two specific tests.
One streaming package I have chosen is Hulu Plus because it offers access to local television stations. For many who live relatively close to their local stations, receiving the signal is just a matter of connecting an antenna, but for me living north of Allentown and wanting to receive Philadelphia stations, over-the-air reception using an antenna is not an option. I would instead have to depend on a streaming service. I had no problem accessing live television on the Hulu app on my iPhone, but the Apple TV failed this test miserably. Using the Fire Stick from anywhere I learned that I could simply ask to play ABC Philadelphia or NBC Philadelphia on Hulu and within seconds WPVI channel 6 or WCAU channel 10 would play. Fire Stick 1: Apple TV 0.
My next test was to order up a specific program. With the Apple TV, while it’s possible to open up an app with a voice command, once in the app, it’s necessary to search out content using the remote. While it is possible to find specific content, the process is tedious and time-consuming. On the Fire Stick I simply asked “play Grace and Frankie on Netflix”, and within a few seconds my content was playing. Fire Stick 2: Apple TV 0. Fire Stick wins.
Since that decision, I’ve since purchased two Amazon Fire TV sets, a 32 inch and a 50-inch model and have learned a great deal more about the Fire TV world. It’s been a very long time and many sets have come and gone since I’ve felt in complete control of all the settings of my television. There’s nothing comparable in the Apple sphere, because the Apple TV is just an add-on, similar to the Fire Stick. I’ve learned that both the Fire TV and Fire Stick have a screen reading mode, Review Mode within VoiceView, which is far superior to screen access with Apple TV. With respect to the Fire TV world, I’ve learned that the sound quality of the larger screen size is much better than that of the smaller screen models.
Lastly, from Amazon’s accessibility page, here are some accessibility features of the Fire TV.
If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or prefer to read along, turn on closed captions. They display on-screen text for the dialog and relevant sounds or music in movies and TV shows. You can turn on closed captions using the device accessibility settings or from the playback menu for a specific movie or show.
VoiceView is a built-in screen reader that speaks on-screen text out loud as you go through menu options and settings. You can use it to set up your device and navigate the controls. To switch VoiceView on or off, hold down the Back and Menu buttons on your Fire TV remote at the same time. The Back and Menu buttons are the left and right buttons in the top row of three small buttons. You can also use VoiceView to have the names of your Fire TV remote buttons spoken to you when you press them. To turn on the Explore Your Remote feature, press and hold the Play/Pause and Select buttons at the same time. The Play/Pause button is in the center on the second row of three buttons and the Select button is in the center of the Navigation Ring.
Audio Description describes actions, characters, scene changes, on-screen text, and other visual content. You can turn on Audio Description in the Audio menu while watching an individual movie or show or turn it on globally using the device accessibility setting.
Take a closer look with Screen Magnifier. To enable Screen Magnifier, hold the Back and Fast Forward buttons, or go to Settings and select Accessibility to find out how to zoom in, zoom out, and pan in any direction.
Text Banner is an assistive technology designed for customers with a narrow field of vision. It consolidates on-screen text into a compact, customizable, written banner that appears in a fixed location on the screen.
HIGH CONTRAST TEXT
Fire TV devices have High Contrast Text, a feature designed to help make text easier to read. It changes most of the text on-screen to black or white and adds a border of the opposite color.