When it comes to hardware for streaming digital content, the Amazon Fire TV seems to be in a league of its own. The Apple TV is a great device, but the Amazon Fire TV has taken its set top box to a whole new level. The Amazon Fire TV is not just a TV streaming device, but also works as a gaming console and a media centre for the home.
Amazon has stated that the Fire TV is not a gaming console, but what it presents suggests otherwise. While the Fire TV works great for streaming movies and television content, Amazon has also paired the device with a surprisingly well made gaming accessory and a variety of games. The Amazon Fire TV is a great Apple TV alternative, supporting services like Netflix, HBO and Amazons very own On demand services. It seems that Amazon has set out to create its very own ecosystem to take out the streaming media market.
With a price tag of only 99 dollars, the Fire TV makes for a great deal. Its focus is on performance, search and openness, but the bonus includes real gaming capabilities that other TV streaming hardware has blatantly ignored.
The Fire TV holds a very simple design, being a simple matte black box sporting the Amazon logo on top. There is just one single LED on the front of the device that lets you know if the device is on or off. There is one HDMI port, an ethernet port and optical audio jacks on the back of the device. There is also a single USB port.
In terms of size, the Fire TV is slightly larger than the Apple TV, but still rather small. One great part of the Fire TV is that the remote for the device connects via bluetooth instead of infrared. This means you can hide away the device and still maintain full remote functionality. One of the biggest annoyances of the Apple TV is having to get the right angle with the remote to control the device.
The Fire TV has a solid feel to it, made tom plastic, aluminum and silicon. Inside the device, there is a large heatsink that keeps everything nice and cool. This is needed, thanks to the high powered internal components of the Fire TV. Inside, there is a 1.7GHz quad core processor [Snapdragon] and an Adreno 320 GPU. This is way more powerful than the Apple TV and other competing brands. This makes for a faster user interface, and real gaming performance.
The remote is simple and works well. The buttons feel nice when pressed and you can see a couple of buttons on there that Android users might be familiar with. There is a directional pad for navigation, as well as six buttons in rows of three. The best part of this remote is that it has an actual search button. It is clear that Amazon wants this button to be the primary method of navigation when it comes to finding something to watch. There is also voice search, so you press and hold the microphone key, then speak into the mic. Within a second or two, results start popping up on the screen. This is one method of navigation that the Apple TV is definitely lacking.
The Fire TV runs similar to the Fire OS, but tweaked. The UI is smooth, looks fantastic and works well. It is a truly intuitive user interface with a focus on content. The home screen of the Fire TV is full of movies, TV shows and apps that have been arranged in an way that is easily read and navigated. There are side scrolling carousels that let you browse through the content without leaving the page you are on. There are also sections for games, movies, TV shows and the search function. While the Apple TV holds a simpler design, the Fire TV user interface does seem to be more usable when it comes to navigating through content.
When you plug in and turn on the device, a demo video will show, giving you a decent idea of what the Fire TV can do and what features are available. This is great for those who aren’t exactly tech-savy and need a bit of direction. There are also more help videos available under the settings menu in case you get stuck. Amazon also offers excellent support, available via a single button press that will connect you to a support hotline from Amazon. These extra features make the Fire TV a great option for older users who need that extra bit of guidance.
The carousel layout is constant throughout the user interface. It is similar to the Netflix layout, making it easy to navigate visually through movies, TV shows and games. When looking through a huge library, it can take some time to move through these carousels, but I much prefer this method of navigation to what is offered by the Apple TV, which seems a bit too simple and not visual enough.
The best way to find something to watch though, is using the search function. Whether you use the text search option and type in what you want, or the voice search function. The voice search only works for Amazon content, but if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber this is not an issue as that is most likely your main source of content. The search also offers quick links to videos on Hulu, but not for Netflix.
When it comes to services supported by the Fire TV, the main contenders are there. You can access content from Hulu, Netflix, Youtube, Showtime Anytime, ESPN, Crackle and more. There are also music streaming services like Pandora and iHeartRadio. This is all in combination with Amazon’s very own on demand services. There are a tonne of TV shows and movies available from Amazon Instant Video, but if you want to go elsewhere, there are a range of options available.
Games and Gaming
The biggest feature that the Fire TV has that holds over its competitors is its gaming functionality. The Apple TV and other alternatives offer pretty much nothing when it comes to gaming. The Fire TV on the other hand, offers games and even has its own gaming controller. The controller is sold separately, but is worth the purchase if you plan on taking advantage of these gaming functionalities.
Amazon has recently started its own game development department, so it is very likely we will see more and more games becoming available for the Fire TV and other Amazon devices. There are games currently available, including the hit titles Killer Instinct and Sev Zero.
The Fire TV also offers up a selection of great Android games, including MineCraft, Dead Trigger 2, Asphalt Airborne and more. Most of these games look great on a HDTV, and the gamepad from Amazon makes the gaming experience feel more like you are using a gaming console, rather than an Android device hooked up to a TV.
Amazon has made it clear that they will be improving the gaming experience, offering thousands of titles in the future to expand its gaming library. This is good news for those who are looking for a decent gaming console but are not a fan of the classic consoles like the Playstation or Xbox. The Amazon Fire has 8GB of storage, and considering that most of the games available are small in size, you won’t need much more storage than that. Not to mention, the content you watch is all streamed, minimising the need for real hard drive space.
Playing games on the Fire TV can be pretty fun thanks to the great gaming controller. There are heaps of free trials and demos available, so you can test out games before you make a purchase. The gamepad is similar to the Xbox 360 gamepad, offering analog sticks, two trigger buttons, two shoulder pads, a directional pad and four face buttons. It has a great battery life and comes at a cost of around 40 dollars. You can also purchase two controllers for multiplayer gaming.
The Fire TV is a fantastic device that is only expanding when it comes to library collections, games and apps. With a dedicated gaming controller, this device moves beyond streaming and becomes a true home media and entertainment system. It is priced extremely competitively and is likely to give the Apple TV and Roku a run for their money. With a great voice search function, a large library of content and an intuitive user interface, the Fire TV is a great option when it comes to a streaming set top box. The bonus? Its also a pretty neat gaming console.