The Amazon Fire TV
The Amazon Fire TV is a streaming media player, which means it takes content from the Internet (videos, music, games, etc.) and displays it on your TV. The Fire TV comes in two models: the Fire TV, which is a small box (like theRoku 4 and Apple TV) and the Fire TV Stick (like theGoogle Chromecast and Roku streaming stick). The two models work very similarly but obviously there are some differences; otherwise the stick wouldn’t be $50-60 cheaper now, would it?!
- Both models support 1080p HD resolution. The box also supports 4K Ultra HD.
- The Fire TV box connects to your TV with an HDMI cable and plugs into the wall with a standard A/C adapter. The Fire TV Stick plugs directly into an HDMI port on your TV, which makes it great for wall-mounted TVs. The power comes from a USB cable that you can plug into a USB port on your TV or into the wall with the included adapter.
- The box is faster and has more memory. It also has a port for connecting it to your router with an Ethernet cable and a USB port and microSD slot to provide additional storage, none of which the stick has.
- The box has a bigger library of supported apps. (See full list of Box Appsand Stick Apps.)
What can you do with a Fire TV?
Watch Streaming Videos
Not surprisingly, the Fire TV is very tightly integrated with the Amazon Instant Video service. But there are tons of other content providers that work with it including Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO and HBO NOW, Sling TV, ESPN, Disney, PBS, History, YouTube, NBA, and many more.
Note: Buying an Amazon Fire TV does not give you access to the content you can watch on it, just like buying a TV does not give you access to cable TV shows. You need to have accounts with each service that provides the content (some free, some paid) and/or subscribe to a cable/satellite package that gives you permission to access shows from specific networks through the Fire TV.
Listen to Streaming Audio
The Fire TV supports lots of music services as well, including their own Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify, and iHeart Radio.
There are free and paid games available for both devices, including highly popular ones like Crossy Road, Candy Crush Saga, and Minecraft. Additionally, there’s a Fire TV Gaming Edition, which has a full-on console so you can play more complex games.
See the full list of apps and games for Amazon Fire TV and theAmazon Fire TV Stick.
Mirror a Mobile Device’s Screen
If you have a compatible Kindle Fire tablet or Android device, you can duplicate your screen on your TV. This has a couple of benefits:
- Any streaming media you can access via your compatible device you can now watch on your TV—for example, you can watch shows from broadcast and cable networks this way if the network streams them on their websites or through mobile apps that don’t have built-in Fire TV support.
- You can also see any non-streaming content from your tablet or phone on your TV. Maybe you want to scroll through your Twitter feed on a large screen or access your email or browse match.com profiles—anything you’re doing on the device will display on your TV.
All models of the Fire TV come with Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated, artificial intelligence software (aka Amazon’s Siri). In addition to letting you search for content to play on your Fire TV, Alexa can also give you news headlines, weather reports, stock prices, sports scores, business phone numbers, etc. (Some of these functions may not be available on the Fire TV right away, but the company says they’re planning to continue adding capabilities over time.) In early 2016, Amazon rolled out Alexa functionality to first-generation Fire TV boxes and sticks as well. To use it on the stick, you need avoice remote, which you can buy separately.
So is there anything NOT to love about the Fire TV?
Well, since nobody’s perfect, there are a few things:
- The previous version of the Fire TV box had an Optical Out port to connect the audio to a home theater system. For some reason, that’s been removed from the new model.
- Because Amazon has a strong vested interest in getting you to purchase Amazon content, the on-screen interface is VERY Amazon-centric. For one thing, unlike some of the other devices out there, the apps for major content providers like Netflix and Hulu aren’t pre-installed on the player. It’s not a huge deal to install them, but it’s an extra step that I think isn’t necessary.
- There’s currently no podcast app for the Fire TV. (Whaaa…? How are people supposed to listen to The Luddite Lounge?! Well, I do it my mirroring the podcast app from my Kindle Fire.)
My two cents
I have the second-generation Fire TV box as well as both the box and stick models of the first-generation products and I find them all very reliable and easy to use. I tend to use the stick more often than the box mainly because I have a few other devices on the small table that my main TV is on.
I think if you’ve never used a streaming media player before or you don’t care about all the bells and whistles, the Fire TV Stick is a great one to start with. You get A LOT OF value for your money. The box is better for those people who always want the best performance available and, of course, if you’ve already made the move to a 4K TV and have access to 4K content.