Amazon Fire TV (2015) review: The streamer your 4K TV has been waiting for
It’s been six months since I last watched proper, old-school TV. No, not Bergerac. I’m talking about TV signals that fly across the airwaves and through a television aerial. The last time I viewed a live broadcast, there wasn’t a TV aerial in sight: I was stood by the side of a road, the Tour of Britain peloton surging through the Strand, live race coverage simultaneously fed onto the screen of my iPhone 6 Plus. Like it or not, it’s increasingly clear that the future of entertainment is the internet, and the future of TV is 4K – and the Amazon Fire TV is now ready to ride the crest of both those waves.
Amazon Fire TV: 4K in the UK
The big news here is support for 4K playback, and this is thanks to the Fire TV’s newfound support for High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC). As the name suggests, HEVC (also known as H.265 or MPEG-H Part 2) is a highly efficient way of compressing and storing video. It’s so efficient, in fact, that it halves the amount of storage required compared with the current standard for HD video compression – H.264.
The key part of this, however, is less bandwidth is required to smoothly stream that video content (regardless of whether it’s 720p, 1080p or 4K programming), or that video can be of a higher quality for any given download size, as long as it’s encoded using the new compression algorithm.
This is very much A Good Thing, and Amazon states that the arrival of HEVC will allow it to deliver “more 1080p high-definition streams from Amazon Video than ever before” over the coming months. Of course, this won’t change the scarcity of true 4K content. Amazon touts hundreds of 4K titles among a catalogue of many thousands. But the reduced bandwidth required should have the added benefit of allowing even slower broadband connections to stream Full HD and/or Ultra HD titles.
It will take some time for HEVC to roll out across the Amazon library, but my subjective experience so far is that content looks very, very nice, even just in 1080p. Watching the recent Amazon series Hand of God, which was shot in 4K, the image quality viewed on my 90in projection screen wasn’t too far off what I’d expect from a Blu-ray disc.
Lots of fine detail, little in the way of compression artefacts, and rich, vibrant colours. There was precious little waiting around for programmes to buffer. I was able to simply hit play, dim the lights, and instantly enjoy the show. As streaming experiences go, this is exactly how it should be.
Amazon Fire TV 4K specifications
|Video outputs||HDMI to 4k (30fps)|
|Networking||802.11ac Wi-Fi, 10/100 Ethernet, Bluetooth|
|App support||Amazon App Store|
|Dimensions||115 x 115 x 17.5mm|
|Audio formats||AAC, AC-3, E-AC-3, HE-A, PCM, MP3|
|Video formats||HEVC, H.263, H.264, MPEG4-SP, VC1|
|Price including VAT||79|
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