The set-top box market now has a new, powerful contender: It’s called Amazon Fire TV, and if you are looking for a device to stream all the latest media to your TV and entertainment system, you should take a close look.
For those unfamiliar with the set-top box phenomenon, these small, unobtrusive devices — like Roku, Apple TV, etc. — hook up to your TV and allow you to stream video and music from the Internet using a variety of apps and interfaces. It’s a great way to watch Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, WatchESPN, and other handy streaming services on your living room TV, especially if you don’t already have the capabilities somewhere in your entertainment system.
While putting an Amazon brand device on your speakers and flat screen may sound weird, the Fire TV is worth a look, especially if you are already invested in Amazon media. Let’s look at the key facts and features.
What Can the Amazon Fire TV Do?
For $100, the Fire TV (about the size of several CD cases stacked on top of each other) can hook up to your TV and an Android hybrid interface to operate a variety of popular TV apps, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Crackle, and network apps like NBA, Bloomberg TV, WatchESPN and others. On the music side there are recognizable names like Pandora and TuneIn.
Inside the device, there’s a quad-core processor, a dedicated graphics processor, 2GB of RAM, a Wi-Fi receiver, and 2GB of memory — specs much like those used in a smartphone or small tablet.
The hardware also includes a Bluetooth remote to operate the Fire from your couch, although the box itself is equipped with a microphone and voice recognition capabilities, so you can pick out a show by annunciating clearly, too.
The Amazon Service World
Much like the Apple TV connected with iTunes, the Amazon Fire TV is designed to tie into the brand world that Amazon has built. This does not mean you have to have a Kindle tablet to get the full Fire TV experience, but the more you use Amazon media, the happier you will be.
Amazon Prime services like instant video and video rental will be available on the device, although you still need an active Amazon Prime subscription. Regular Amazon Video services are also available if there’s a specific movie or show you want to rent and stream if you have a computer with an Amazon media library of tunes and shows, the Fire will link to that library and stream whatever you want over to your TV. You can even use Amazon Cloud Drive to watch slideshows on the TV.
If you do happen to have a Kindle App, the Fire TV lets you fire it up to utilize “X-Ray” which now not only lets you examine the details of books, but also offers you information on actors, music lyrics, and many other content-related tidbits.
Video Game Future?
Interestingly, Amazon is also pushing the video game aspect of Fire TV. You can purchase an additional game controller for the device (for $40) and play a collection of mobile titles, which include Asphalt 8, The Walking Dead, and an adapted version of Minecraft, among many other free-to-play and cheap mobile games.
Amazon has stated intentions to start making video games of its own in the future with its recently acquired studio Double Helix. The company has also announced publishers ranging from 2K and Ubisoft to Disney and Double Fine, who have agreed to become part of the project. One result of this new game focus is Sev Zero, a casual third-person shooter.
While the Amazon Fire TV cannot compete with mainstream consoles like Xbox and Playstation, Amazon does seem to be aiming for a middle ground between smartphone games and expensive, Triple-A titles that will satisfy semi-serious gamers in your family.
The Bottom Line
Amazon has put together a unique set-top box with Fire. The voice recognition and gaming capabilities help it to stand out from the crowd, and the price is competitive. If you are already a fan of Amazon services, it should make it onto your list. If you prefer other media services, the choice is more difficult.
If you already have a media streamer or console, the Amazon Fire TV will not add much to your entertainment system. If you still lack a dependable media streamer, then Amazon’s latest gadget is worth considering.