With the relocation of our older TV into the bedroom, we realized that it is currently nothing more than a receptacle for the XBox 360, sans XBox Live. Our grand plan was to attach a Google Chromecast so we could access Netflix and Amazon Prime videos. Alas, the two HDMI ports on the back of the TV are spaced in a way that makes it physically impossible for this arrangement to occur. With the recent release of the Amazon Fire TV, we decided to attempt our first, and extremely delayed, foray into the set-top box market.
The Amazon Fire TV comes in a simple and compact black box with logos of the various supported apps on the front. Like most set-top devices (Apple TV, Roku), this list includes Netflix and Hulu Plus. Inside, you’ll find the relatively small device that is a 4.5″ square and 0.7″ thick. Also included is an elegant and streamlined remote, a power cord, 2 AA batteries, and a quick start guide. Note, you will have to supply your own HDMI cable.
The quick start guide’s boast of a three step setup was no lie, but as with seemingly any device released nowadays, the first thing it did was to download the inevitable initial update. It took a good 10 to 15 minutes for what I imagine is the latest firmware to be installed and running before I was greeted with the informative intro cartoon on key features.
I can say that even in the limited time I’ve had with the device, the voice search on the remote works as advertised. I hate how inefficient and frustrating manually searching on smart TVs with the remote control is so I was really hoping this feature would be a worthy replacement. And it truly is. Time will tell if I maintain this stance, but for now, it understands what I say in no more than 2 tries (although for whatever reason it had a tough time comprehending the word “air” when my wife searched for “air disasters”).
The UI is clean with a focus on large tiles that can scrolled left and right, similar to Netflix. That familiarity aided in how quick and easy it was to access all the Fire TV has to offer. I wasn’t able to figure out how to “upvote” or indicate that a review was helpful, which has become a standard for all things Amazon.
Another positive is how speedy this device is whether it is during navigation of the menu system or loading up movies and shows. Compared to Netflix on the living room TV or the Kindle Fire, there was hardly any loading or buffering after selecting something to watch. Extended time with the Fire TV will show whether it is affected by the dreaded Netflix bottleneck by ISPs but the quad core processor definitely helps things zip along.
A gripe I do have so far is that when the results of a search are displayed, there is an option for playing the selected media on another app (such as Hulu Plus) instead of Amazon Video. But I have not come across the option to launch the show/movie from Netflix even if it is available on Netflix. It would save some steps rather than having to launch the Netflix app and then search from there for the same show.
Some features I haven’t gotten to try out yet include how gaming performs (which is a big part of their marketing push), the music apps, displaying photos and videos from the Amazon Cloud, and the FreeTime feature which is aimed at limiting screen time and content for kids while also letting them have a unique profile. I look forward to exploring more of what this set-top is capable of so look for a review in the near future.
For now, I leave you with the immortal Gary Busey and his (paid)take on the Amazon Fire TV.