Review of the Amazon Fire TV
July 29, 2014 Leave a Comment
We had a TV problem at the house. The kids wanted to watch TV in the living room, because that’s where the TiVo lives. The den only had a Wii that connected to Netflix. We had an Amazon Prime subscription that had thousands of free movies and TV shows, but we could only watch them on a computer or the Kindle Fire.
When the Amazon Fire TV was announced it sounded like just what we needed. The Fire TV is a streaming set top box similar to the Apple TV or Roku. The differences are mostly in which streaming services they support. Amazon has a chart comparing the Google Chromecast and the others on the Fire TV page.
(The Chromecast is a different thing from the rest. The others are standalone boxes. The Chromecast requires a computer, tablet, or smartphone to “cast” content to it. There is no remote and the content is limited, but it’s cheap at $35.)
Fire TV can stream Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Showtime Anywhere, and dozens of other services. The only disappointment is that HBO Go is missing.
Amazon Fire TV Setup
The only thing surprise when unboxing is that the Fire TV is tiny – about the size of two CD cases stacked together.
Fire TV requires an HD television with an HDMI connecter, SD televisions aren’t supported. The package doesn’t contain an HDMI cable. I had a couple in the cable drawer, but if you need one the AmazonBasics HDMI cable is 6 bucks.
There is an Ethernet port if you want to connect directly to your Internet router. Otherwise you connect to the Internet over WiFi. Once the box was connected to the TV and the power cord was plugged in, entering the WiFi password was the only setup step.
Amazon Fire TV arrives pre-configured with your Amazon login. If you have Prime, you can access Prime content as soon as you power up. Fire TV knew all of the non-Prime movies and TV shows we had ever purchased from Amazon. We could just click and watch. It also knew about Kindle Fire apps like Minecraft we had purchased that were available for Fire TV.
Usability and Navigation
The remote has a microphone for speaking the names of shows instead of typing them with the onscreen keyboard. The voice recognition works well and the keyboard is there as a fallback. One feature I’d like to see is the headphone jack Roku includes on their remotes. With the headphone jack you can turn off the TV’s speakers to avoid disturbing anyone.
Navigating through streaming services is very good. The Netflix interface is much better than the interface on TiVo or Wii. The home page features recently-released and popular titles so it’s easy to find something to watch.
The content on the home page is all Amazon. Streaming services like Netflix are treated as apps. The top item on the home page is a list of recently-viewed content and apps. Amazon was smart to put it at the top. At our house the Recent list gets used all of the time to access streaming services and games.
Fire TV Games
No one is going to throw away their X-Box for a Fire TV, but the games are a nice bonus. Hungry Shark Evolution and Polar Bowler are popular at our house. The kids love Minecraft on a big screen. Using the Fire TV, Kindle Fire, iPad, and iPhone they have four player Minecraft parties in the den.
You’ll need an Amazon Fire Game Controller for most games, so budget another $39.99. A dedicated game button on the controller takes you directly to the game menu. Except for the microphone, the game controller duplicates the remote control’s features, which is handy when the little remote is hiding in the couch cushions.
Some games are free, others cost money. A typical paid game costs 99 cents, though Minecraft was $6.99. New games download in a minute or two.
Amazon Fire TV Conclusion
For us the Fire TV was easily worth $99. Between the movies, TV shows, and games we’ve gotten $99 worth of entertainment in the first month. The hardware is good, the interface is good, and the integration with Prime content is excellent.
Before you buy the Fire TV there’s just one thing you have to ask yourself…