Entering an already packed arena of set-top boxes, Amazon aims to bring the Fire TV to the top. And they may have done just that. The Fire TV is a $99 set-top box that does more than just movies and TV shows, but we also get gaming here. In this review we're going to go over every inch of the Fire TV and see if it's really worth all the hype and most importantly, if it's worth it's price tag.
I'll admit, when the Fire TV was announced last month, I didn't think it was really necessary. As I already have a Chromecast and thought that was enough. Since I really don't watch much TV (heck my TV was used a second monitor on my desk for the past year). But since receiving the Fire TV to review, I've changed my mind a lot. And I'm leaning more towards having a Chromecast + Fire TV type setup. Which I'll explain more in a bit. The Fire TV does more than just streaming movies and TV Shows, but also music, pictures and even gaming. When you compare the specs of the Fire TV to the Chromecast, Apple TV or even the Roku, it's a no contest. I mean the Fire TV has a modified Snapdragon 600 processor inside with 2GB of RAM, while these other boxes have 512MB of RAM inside. So there's no lag anywhere on the Fire TV. And gaming is just amazing.
Hardware & Performance
We already touched on the hardware a bit, for the Fire TV. As far as specs go, we're looking at Qualcomm Krait 300, quad-core to 1.7 Ghz, 2GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage, dual-band, dual-antenna WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n networks, Bluetooth 4.0, Ethernet port, USB port, and a HDMI port. The Fire TV is actually a really nice looking set-top box, that can go beside your TV, or if you have a full TV stand like most people, it can go on a shelf below it. It's a black box basically. But the top and bottom are featuring the soft-touch plastic that you'll find on the Samsung Galaxy S5, Nexus 5 or Nexus 7 2013. It gives it a nice feel while still looking great. It also has the means of producing 1080p video at 60fps, which does look amazing.
As far as performance goes, I have no complaints with the Fire TV. The only complaint I have really is the fact that Hulu+ and Netflix seem to buffer a lot more than Amazon Prime Instant Video content. Now that could just be the fact that Comcast was having issues those days - as they seem to be having a lot of issues lately - but still important to point out. Starting up a video or TV show was really easy and fast. Almost instantly, I'd say.
I just can't say enough about Voice Control. It works so smooth, and it's just amazing at how good it is at deciphering what you've said. I don't use it often, as I don't really like talking to the remote, but it works flawlessly. Right now it will only find items in Amazon Prime Instant Video, and they say Hulu+, although I haven't gotten any results from Hulu+ or Netflix or any other service just yet.
This is what the Fire TV was made to do, for the most part. Was to stream video, whether it be movies, or TV Shows. And it does it quite well. Not that it's hard to do it anyways. But as I mentioned above, streaming video from Amazon Prime Instant Video is really easy and fast. It's almost instant from the time that you choose what you want to watch. It's definitely faster than choosing something on Netflix or Hulu+. Although the quality of the video from Amazon Prime Instant Video is much better than Netflix and Hulu+. I'm not sure if that's Amazon trying to push their video service or what's up with that.
The interface on the Fire TV does look a bit like Fire OS on the Kindle Fire tablets that Amazon sells. I might be in the minority here, but I actually liked the Fire OS, and I love the UI on the Fire TV. It's simple and easy to use. Which is what we need on TVs these days, especially with set-top boxes.
Gaming on the Fire TV
Now this is where the Fire TV gets interesting and starts earning its keep. Any set-top box can do streaming video, but not all of them can do gaming. The Fire TV does gaming and it does it well. Right now there are only a few games that work with the Fire TV and many more coming - heck Amazon just bought their own game studio earlier this year. I played both Riptide GP2, and Asphalt 8 on the Fire TV and it was amazing. Now Amazon didn't send me the game controller, so I couldn't test that out, but the good thing about the Fire TV is that it works with the MOGA Pro controllers and the Nyko Playpad controllers as well. So I used the MOGA Power Pro controller with the Fire TV, which was easy to setup, just like connecting it to any other Bluetooth device. It worked quite well. I had no issues setting it up or playing with it.
The graphics on the Fire TV are pretty amazing. I mean my TV isn't the newest thing in the world, but the games looked amazing on it. I definitely can't wait to see what else Amazon has in store for games on the Fire TV. I'm willing to bet they'll be amazing games. The only down side to gaming on the Fire TV, in my opinion at least, is the lack of Google Play Games integration. Which we should have all figured we wouldn't see that here.
The Fire TV is definitely a nice set-top box. And for only $99, it's right at the "impulse buy" mark for many people. Although with the Chromecast right there at $35, there's a pretty sizable gap there, around $60. The main things that are going to get me to buy the Fire TV is the fact that Amazon Prime Instant Video isn't available on Android - only Kindle Fire devices - which means no Chromecast support. As well as the gaming aspect. I don't play games enough to need or want to buy a Playstation 4, but being able to play a quick game of Asphalt 8 or Riptide GP2 on the Fire TV makes a huge difference to me.
In short, the Fire TV is a great product. Usually when we see first generation products they aren't the best. But the Fire TV is pretty darn good, and I'm definitely excited to see what Amazon does with it next year for version 2.