aNewDomain.net — Amazon’s recently-released Fire TV is a great addition to its current hardware lineup. With this move, Amazon enters the abundantly-crowded realm of video streaming, already represented by several different versions of Roku devices, the Apple TV, and Google’s Chromecast, to name a few.
Like the Apple TV and Roku 3, the Amazon Fire TV is a small set-top device. Measuring just 4.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.7″ (115 mm x 115 mm x 17.5 mm), it comes with a remote control and offers 10/100 Ethernet, USB 2.0, and HDMI ports as well as an optical audio connection.
Fire TV’s hardware, which runs a customized Android OS, is impressive. It has a quad-core processor, dual-antenna, dual-band Wi-Fi with MIMO, 2GB RAM at 533 MHZ, Bluetooth 4.0, and 8GB of built-in storage. It supports both 720p and 1080p up to 60 fps and has Dolby Digital Plus up to 7.1. No other streaming device comes close to those hardware specs and it shows. Performance is fast and smooth. One added perk of these blazing specs is instant playback with essentially no loading time.
Stream and Search with Ease
The setup for Fire TV takes just three easy steps. Like other devices of this type you are expected to provide your own HDMI cable and enter your Wi-Fi password, if necessary. If you purchase the device directly from Amazon, it comes preconfigured with your Amazon account information. The interface is easy to navigate with the small remote, which works via Bluetooth, which means you don’t need a line-of-sight to search. In most instances this is a plus, but if you use one of the popular Logitech Harmony remotes, you’ll find it incompatible. Perhaps Logitech will find a solution for that.
The truly-outstanding feature of this device is the voice search. Just press and hold the microphone button on the remote and say the name of a movie, TV show, actor, actress, director or genre. The results appear right on the big screen. I loved the voice search and found it to be quite accurate. At this time, however, it only searches Amazon content. It would be even better if it could search through Netflix, Hulu, and other content providers. I would also like to see a separate search for the free Amazon Prime content.
A streaming device is only as good as its content. And that’s where Amazon has a leg up. It already supports Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, Crackle and the other big streaming services, with more being constantly added. Of course, Amazon’s own content is front and center on this device with 40,000 videos. Amazon is also airing its own programming, like Alpha House and Betas, and has recently made more content details. For instance, it is now the exclusive streaming agent for Downton Abbey and Justified and has just added the popular Fox TV show 24.
Of course, for free access to Instant Videos you have to be an Amazon Prime subscriber, which costs $99 a year, but also offers other perks like free shipping on many items and a lending library for Kindle books. As with other streaming devices, you have to also have a paid subscription to services such as Hulu and Netflix to view their content on a streaming device.
One category most streaming devices come up short in is sports coverage. The Fire TV addresses that with its free access to several ESPN channels, which cover a wide variety of sports from baseball to Polo.
Amazon’s Fire TV, like the Apple TV and Roku 3, costs $99. While the Chromecast and Roku Streaming Stick are less than half that price, they don’t have their own remote controls like the more-expensive units.
As expected, the Fire TV is tightly tied to Amazon. If you have a Kindle Fire HDX, you will be able to sling content from the Kindle to the TV wirelessly, while using the tablet for other work at the same time.
The Fire TV can also display photos and videos, and play music from your Amazon Cloud Account. This functionality works seamlessly. This device has more of a focus on music and games than most other streaming devices. You can play music through services such as Pandora, Tunein and iHeart radio. With the Fire’s excellent Dolby Digital audio hardware, the music sounds great on the external speakers attached to my TV.
Although I haven’t yet tried the $40 gaming controller that works with the Fire TV, Amazon already has games from EA, Sega and Ubisoft and has invested a hefty sum into developing its own games.
The Fire TV has parental controls and a $2.99 all-you-can-eat monthly subscription for kids, to be released shortly. As it has just come out, the Fire TV is poised to have content additions and plenty of surprises to come. Stay tuned for them here.
All in all, while its not the cheapest streaming device on the market, the Fire TV brings great hardware and some welcome new features to the world of streaming.
For aNewDomain.net, I’m Sandy Berger.
Based in Pinehurst, North Carolina, Sandy Berger is a veteran tech journalist and senior editor at aNewDomain.net covering tech tips and tricks, apps, gadgets, and consumer electronics. Email her at Sandy@aNewDomain.net. Follow her on Twitter @sandyberger, +SandyBerger on Google+, and on Facebook.