Amazon Fire TV Hands On

I’ve had my Fire TV (FTV) for about a week and it sits right next to a Roku 2 XS as I compare and contrast. We cut our ties with Comcast five years ago and are OTA first cable cutters — which is to say we have an antenna and most of our programming comes in via that antenna. We have had a lot of streamers and currently use six Rokus plus this Fire TV. None of these are Roku 3s because using WiFi for streaming audio+video+remote is a really bad idea — especially if you have a half dozen streamers.

The Fire TV streamer is the best streamer available at this time. It combines the most popular features of Apple TV, Roku, and Ouya in a sleek package which is much faster at the same price point. I think it is worth noting that Amazon warrants its streamer for a full year while the others only stand behind theirs for 90 days.

At launch, FTV had nearly 200 apps available including Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, Plex, and YouTube — the most streamed services. Within a few days, people were running XBMC on the Fire TV hardware.

The Fire TV is better hardware than Apple, Roku, or Ouya devices. A faster processor, more memory, usb, wired and wireless ethernet, and optical out all perched on a substantial heat sink ensures cool, smooth operation. During my week of comparison, the Fire TV has not yet hung or rebooted. During this same period, the Roku 2 XS sitting beside it has rebooted three times.

The USB port is a bit of a mystery. I am using it for a wired Xbox controller. Amazon claims it has no current use.

The more time I spend with this streamer, the more I appreciate the user interface. It’s elegant and well thought out. The left margin is a series of topics. As you scroll down the topics, the right side of the screen is filled with subtopics and items. These topics are ordered naturally and default to the logical destination. Press the Home button on your remote and you are taken to the main menu with the Home topic selected revealing your most recent apps and a lot of recommendations. Right click once to return to the last app used, twice to the one before that. Once you settle in with Fire TV what you do will be just a couple clicks away from your favorite apps.

There are a lot of apps for the Fire TV. Many are always free and quite a few were reduced for the launch. Apps purchased for my Kindle Fires are in my Fire TV library even if a different app is required for the FTV.

Fire TV has apps for the most popular services. The Netflix app supports profiles. The Plex app is being revised. It looks great but lacks some recent features like Play All. The YouTube app can be linked to a PC or tablet so that items selected on that device are played on the TV if the app is running. I like this a lot. There are not a lot of news apps, but I like Now This News. NTN plays news clips. On my Roku, there is a black loading screen between clips. On FTV, clips one after another. I guess this is the first application of Amazon’s smart buffering.

Conspicuously absent at launch: a web browser, an email client, social media apps, PlayOn.tv (which works in a browser on my Kindle Fires), Simple.TV DVR app, Tablo DVR app, and the top news and sports apps. I expect these to make their way to FTV as most are already on the Kindle Fire.

The Fire TV is a really decent casual game console. Fire TV launched with 136 games. Thirty of these are free. If you have already purchased an app for your android device, you get the Fire TV version for free.

There are familiar titles (Crazy Taxi, Deus Ex, Minecraft, Prince of Persia, Sonic, Rayman, and Tetris), original titles (Sev Zero), and 47 games that can be played with the included remote control.

I did not purchase a controller for Fire TV. I had hoped PS3 or Xbox controllers would work as I have these in my home. While I was unable to pair a PS3 remote with my Fire TV, I was able to plug in an Xbox USB controller. It was immediately recognized and it is a fine controller for the Fire TV. I will probably get at least one Amazon controller. At $40, it is not overprices and it includes media controls. The $40 price includes Sev Zero and $10 in coins. If you want Sev Zero and/or have your eye on some other paid apps, this will reduce your cost to $23 which is a very good price for a full fledged game controller. The controller takes AA batteries. So, $39.99 for a controller, Sev Zero, Crazy Taxi, and Air Fighters Pro seems like a pretty good deal to me.

Fire TV supports Parental Controls and Amazon’s Freetime will be on Fire TV next month. For $2.99/month, Freetime includes content from Nickelodeon, Sesame Street, PBS Kids, and more. Parents can create custom profiles for up to four kids, choosing the movies, TV shows, apps, and games they can access and limit/restrict certain types of content.

Another feature I haven’t really played with, but may be compelling for some, is a feature called Second Screen. This allows you to mirror a Fire HDX tablet to the TV. Second Screen allows a Fire HD or HDX to display additional information about media playing on the TV. Just pointing this out.

I give this streamer a big thumbs up. Fire TV is a terrific Netflix player that supports profiles. It supports other popular services and is totally integrated with Amazon Prime. FTV plays games with real controllers and plays your media using third party apps like Plex. It’s fun and safe for kids with integrated parental controls. Good job Amazon!

This review on Amazon