Amazon Fire TV (2015) review: The streamer your 4K TV has been waiting for
Amazon Fire TV: How it works and what you can watch
As with all its competitors, the Fire TV is dependent on an internet connection – it’s not like the media streamers of old that offered streaming principally over your local network and from local storage. In fact, the only time the Fire TV isn’t streaming from the internet is when its ASAP feature is at work – rather ingeniously, this uses predictive analytics to determine what you may want to watch next. For example, if you’re binge-watching a particular series, the Fire TV will download the next few episodes in the background, eliminating the threat of buffering.
If you’re hoping to play locally stored media, though, that’s a little trickier. As I’ve already mentioned, the USB port is as yet untapped – you can’t connect a local hard drive. And, as DLNA-networking isn’t on the cards, you’ll need to set up a Plex media server and use the Plex app if you want to stream from a NAS box or server.
However, most people won’t give a stuff about such limitations: they’ll be quite happy to have their entertainment streaming direct from Amazon. You can rent or buy TV and movies directly on the Fire or, if you pay for Amazon Prime, enjoy unlimited access to the extensive Amazon Prime Instant Video film and TV library.
There’s also support for Amazon Digital and Prime Music, which means purchased MP3s and digital copies of most CDs you’ve bought through Amazon are available alongside Prime Music’s growing library of streaming music. Meanwhile, the infinite cloud storage means you can quickly access stored photos for viewing on your TV. Bear in mind, though, that you only get a free, 30-day Prime trial in the box; thereafter, it costs £79 per year – the same as buying a new Fire TV annually.
The Fire TV isn’t limited to only Amazon video and music, though, with third-party streaming services available via apps. The list has expanded a little since the box was first launched, with ITV Hub and All 4 joining Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Twitch, My5, Sky News, YouTube, Spotify Connect and Vimeo (for all versions of the box, not just the new one). At the time of writing, there’s no sign of Now TV, though, and, if I were a betting man, I’d say it’s unlikely that Sky’s video-streaming service will ever come to the Fire TV.
But wait! The Fire TV does gaming, too! Don’t get too excited, though. The gaming catalogue on Fire TV remains underwhelming. There are some great titles, including Crossy Road, Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, plus stuff like indy hit Knock-knock, but there’s an awful lot of dross to wade through. A huge number of apps and games fall between the useless and ridiculous, including titles such as Kitten TV, Traktor TV and more aquarium simulations than you can shake a stick at.
Thankfully, the interface for navigating all this content – good and bad – is simple, user-friendly, and very responsive. A clearly laid-out tab-based menu runs down the left-hand side, and associated content is ranged in horizontal, scrolling carousels to the right. It’s slick, quick and minimal. Delve into each category and the content takes centre stage, huge squares of image underpinned with a quick text summary. It’s easy to get around, although on larger TVs it can feel like the screen space is rather underutilised. Having to scroll down to view the last couple of words of a programme summary isn’t the best example of sensible UI design.
Amazon Fire TV: Verdict
All in all, the Amazon Fire TV provides a refined, slick media-streaming experience. The presence of half-decent parental controls makes it a good choice for families, too, since you can restrict children from accessing apps, games, photos and music you feel may be unsuitable for them.
There are downsides: the fact that you need to buy a £40 peripheral to make the most of the limited selection of games grates, and it goes without saying that unless you’re one of those £79-per-year Amazon Prime customers, then the Fire TV is somewhat limited. Be in no doubt, the Fire TV is about making it easy to spend money on your Amazon account, buying movies and series with an all-too-easy click of the remote.
It all boils down to three simple questions: are you an Amazon Prime subscriber, do you want 4K video streaming, and are the gaming features important to you? If the answer to these is yes, yes and no, and you don’t have any compatibility issues (check the reviews on Amazon’s website to see what I’m talking about) then the Fire TV will make you very happy indeed. But if you’re hoping for the ultimate do-it-all TV streaming and gaming device, then I’m afraid to say this isn’t it – that’s something still no-one has managed to get right.
- See also: What’s the best TV streamer in the UK?
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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