Amazon Fire TV has finally made it to this side of the Atlantic after launching in the US back in April. The digital media player has been released in the UK as a rival to existing offerings such as Now TV, Chromecast and Apple TV. The tiny little box is only 17.5 mm wide and the sleek black design means that it fits perfectly with your audio/visual goods and will sit neatly amongst them without being an eyesore.
Amazon Fire TV offers the ability to stream shows and movies as part of your Amazon Prime subscription, access a variety of apps including Netflix, Vevo, BBC iPlayers, 4OD and BBC News, stream music, access your Amazon Cloud Drive and play games.
From a technical perspective Amazon Fire TV is the most powerful digital media player of its kind currently on the market. It boasts 2GB of memory, 8GB of storage and a quad-core processor making it much more powerful than the single-core processors in Apple TV and Chromecast. Amazon Fire TV connects to your device via a HDMI cable and can output up to 1080p with Dolby Digital support up to 7.1. The box can connect wirelessly or via Ethernet to the Internet making it flexible for users.
The setup is really simple. You plug the Amazon Fire TV box in, connect it to a HDMI port then follow the on-screen instructions. This walks you through the setup, connecting to your Internet and logging you into your Amazon account (which you need to be able to use it). You are then shown a short instructional video that helps you find the ropes the first time you use it.
The look and feel of Amazon Fire TV is clean and intuitive. If you’ve use services such as Netflix then you’ll get to grips with this easily. On the left hand side there’s a top menu you can scroll through to filter via content type. In the middle section of the screen there are rows of titles/services highlighted by a category box and cover art that you can scroll though. It’s a simple way of finding the latest or most used content.
One of the core selling points of Amazon Fire TV is the Voice Search control which works surprisingly well. Unlike the voice recognition used in smartphones, which has improved drastically in a short space of time, Amazon Fire TV’s Voice Search has no problem understanding what you’re saying. The mic is located in the remote and to activate it you press the mic button and hold it whilst speaking. The recognition is impressively accurate and the results are brought up speedily onto your screen. The only disappointing thing is that the Voice Search only really works with the Amazon Prime and Amazon content and isn’t yet functional with the other apps and services on offer.
Something else that’s impressive is that the box is very responsive even when using the remote with no line of sight. We didn’t have any problems using the box even when it was tucked under our unit and the response times were impressively fast.
Other features of Amazon Fire TV include the ability to fling content from your tablet to your TV. There is also game support allowing you to play some games using your remote. If you want to seriously use it for gaming though you’ll need to buy the separate games controller for £34.99 as not all of the games are compatible with the remote that is packaged with the box.
If you’ve purchased any music from Amazon then that is automatically stored on your Cloud Drive, and doesn’t take up any of your 5GB free Cloud Storage that comes with Amazon Fire TV. The music streaming works well and it’s nice to have all of your music, either purchased digitally or via autorip if you bought the physical version.
There are a few issues with Amazon Fire TV though. One of the key features is the ability to take advantage of your Amazon Prime subscription through the box. Unfortunately there’s no way to filter your search to only display shows and movies that are included as part of your subscription. There’s nothing more disappointing than locating something you want to watch only to find out it’s not part of Prime and you have to either rent or purchase it. Once you’ve done a search the Amazon Prime titles are mixed in with the ones you have to buy and there’s a little Prime ribbon displayed to highlight the difference.
For the most part we got around this issue by simply manually browsing through the menus and navigation screens. This likely means we’ve missed some of the great titles on offer but at least we knew what we were looking at is things that we can watch instantly.
Overall Amazon Fire TV is an attractive little package. It’s still early days for the digital media player yet but we hope that over the coming weeks and months it expands to be a little more inclusive. We’re not sure Amazon will provide iTunes compatibility but it would be nice to be able to stream your media regardless of where it’s come from via Amazon Fire TV. Still as it stand it’s an attractive proposition and the tiny size makes it very portable.