This is one of those products that is so logical for the company to have, it’s kinda a shock they didn’t have it already.
It’s like if McDonalds announced a quadruple cheeseburger: a logical expansion of their offerings that fits right in with everything else.
So the Fire TV, Amazon’s Apple TV, is not surprising, but is it good?
The Fire TV faces some stiff competition. Not only Apple’s lovely TV, but the media streaming powerhouse of Roku. And Roku, for that matter, has Amazon on it. Can the Fire TV really offer more than Roku for the same money?
One of the cleverest things Amazon does is automatically link the Fire TV to your account. I have to assume that when you buy it, they register the serial number or something, so when it connects to the Amazon servers it knows it’s yours.
Well, in theory. Instead of waiting for Amazon to send us a review sample, Gary bought it and sent it to me for review. So I received the Fire that was linked to his Amazon account. I, of course, logged out immediately (after buying every movie I could find, naturally. Pretty sure buying all the Saw movies and 200 episodes of Dora the Explorer flagged him for some kind of list).
So unless you have to do that, there’s basically no setup. I did have to enable Dolby Digital Plus in the settings, as I wasn’t getting surround sound. Not sure if this was a quirk in my system, but it’s worth looking out for.
The remote is like a thick version of the Apple TV remote, or a thin version of Roku’s. It has a lovely texture.
The menus navigate quickly and smoothly, far better than the early Roku boxes (though the 3 is similarly smooth).
One of the cooler features is a voice search, where you press a button on the remote, and it listens. In my testing it understood me perfectly, finding the TV or Movie, and with a click you’re there. This only works with Amazon content though.
As you’d expect, the majority of content is the same as you’d find on Amazon’s website our other streaming apps. The “free” content for Prime subscribers is set apart fairly well, better than in many of the apps.
You can install the ubiquitous Netflix and Hulu Plus apps. These work as well as they do on other devices. I checked Hulu and the picture quality looked as good as it does on other gear.
Renting and streaming Amazon content is quick and seamless. Movies look good, though not as good as Blu-ray (obviously). I rented Ender’s Game (a decent translation of the book, btw) and Hunger Games: Catching Fire (ditto), and found that while the detail was good, shadow gradations were a little stepped. Not badly, just noticeably if you were looking for it.
So where does the Fire TV fit in the media streamer world? Well, it’s most similar to the Apple TV, in that its clearly there to drive you to buy content from their ecosystem, with other content more of an add-on. However, Apple TV’s biggest benefit (in my book), is its ability to tie in with iTunes. Streaming music from my computer in my office to my theater is what I use my Apple TV for the most. You can sort of do this with the Fire, but you have to use the Plex app and software. Some won’t be bothered by this, but I find it less user-friendly than the Apple TV.
Also, Apple’s box has HBO Go. The Fire doesn’t (despite a rather misleading GoT tile in the photo above). I’d be shocked if the Fire doesn’t get it in the future (it has Showtime Anytime now, though). Since the TV and movie content on Amazon is basically the same as Apple, and the price is the same, I’d have to say Apple’s box is the better buy, unless you hate Apple.
The Roku is an even easier sell, since it has all the same content as the Fire (with an Amazon app), plus many more apps with other content (including HBO Go). In addition, there are cheaper Rokus that offer the same content with just a slightly slower user experience. So again here, I’m going to lean towards Roku, especially for those who hate Apple.
One of the Fire’s claimed benefits is its ability to work as a gaming console. Sort of. The controller is backordered (and a steep 40% of the price of the Fire TV), so I wasn’t able to test this. I’ll be honest, though, it wouldn’t have changed my review any. I’m a gaming snob and the idea being able to suffer through a mediocre console game (or in this case, a potentially poorly ported Android game) isn’t going to sway my opinion of the Fire any. I barely enjoy real console games, and those have a lot more processing power than the Fire.
But I’ll tell you what, when I get the controller I’ll do a quick writeup on the experience and I’ll do my best to keep an open mind. Since this is HDGuru not HDGamer, even if the games are amazing (they’re not), it’s not like I’m going to suddenly say to get it over a Roku or Apple TV.
If you’ve read this far, you’ll probably be surprised that I do actually like the Fire TV. It’s got a slick look, works smoothly and well, and does everything it’s intended to. It’s just… overpriced. Roku offers more content, Apple too, plus the latter’s integration with iTunes on your PC. So if you only have $100 to spend on a media streamer, there are better options. Which isn’t to say the Fire TV is bad, it isn’t it’s very good. It just needs to be cheaper and have a few more non-Amazon apps to make it more competitive with the competition.
So HDGuru.com gives the $99 Amazon Fire TV 3 out of 5 stars. It’s currently available on, shocker, Amazon.
Have a question for the HD Guru?
Copyright ©2014 HD Guru Inc. All rights reserved. HDGURU is a registered trademark.