It’s been a very long time since I watched any kind of TV that wasn’t streamed, and whether we like it or not it’s looking like the internet is the future of TV. Just one of the many devices that wants to corner this market is the Amazon Fire TV, coming in at £79.99.
The newest edition of Amazon Fire TV wants to be your go-to streaming device, and it’s bringing 4K support to the table to try and sweeten the deal. 4K playback is by far the biggest feature of the new Fire TV, and it’s largely thanks to its support for High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC). HEVC is basically an incredibly efficient way to compress and store video, reducing the amount of storage required, and the amount of bandwith required to stream video.
This means that although HEVC brings 4K support to the Amazon Fire, if you don’t have a 4K TV you’ll at least see more high-definition streams become available. There’ll also be an improvement in speed when you’re streaming HD video, even on slower broadband connections. This is just as well, since the actual amount of 4K titles available on Amazon is pretty small, and isn’t likely to increase quickly.
From what I’ve been able to see on my own TV, which isn’t 4K, the Fire TV offers a very smooth viewing experience, with minimal buffering, helped by improved Wi-Fi support, and excellent image quality.
Other than this and an upgraded processor and GPU, which Amazon promise make it much faster, the Fire TV appears to be largely the same both inside and out. You have 8GB of storage, with 6GB free for your apps and downloads, and room to expand up to 128 GB with the microSD card slot at the back. Alongside this microSD card slot there’s also a USB port which I’m yet to find a use for since the Fire TV doesn’t support external hard drives, but I like that it’s there anyway. Just in case of a USB emergency. They happen.
I do like the Fire TV’s remote – it’s small and simple to use, and because it uses Bluetooth, your Fire TV doesn’t have to be out in the open for it to interact. That said, don’t count on the batteries that come with it because mine have stopped working after a couple of weeks. Another neat feature of the remote is the voice recognition. Pressing a button at the top will start up the microphone in the top of the remote allowing you to do voice searches for titles. To the system’s credit, it’s really fast and it hasn’t struggled at all with my Glaswegian accent, which is incredibly refreshing.
Not only is the remote simple to use, the Fire TV’s interface is similarly easy. The menu runs down the left hand side of the screen, and the tabs are straightforward. Scrolling down to a tab opens up the related content in a horizontal arrangement to the right allowing you to scroll through. It’s not too busy since images of content take centre stage, with a quick summary underneath.
Another neat feature is ‘ASAP’ which uses predictive analytics to try and guess what you might decide to watch next. If, like me, you have a tendency to binge, Fire TV will find it easy to jump ahead and download the next few episodes in the series and make sure you suffer no buffer. This is, however, a massive problem if you have a data cap on your internet so beware.
What you will notice is that the Amazon Fire TV’s layout is largely geared towards Amazon Prime subscribers and making their viewing experience easier. The main menu, whilst easy to work, definitely favours the Amazon way of life, showing Prime Video, Movies, TV, Music, Photos and Genre which takes a while to scroll through before you get to the apps section. If you don’t have Amazon Prime, the apps section is where you’ll want to be. It has ITV Player, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Twitch, Demand 5, Sky News, YouTube, Spotify Connect and Vimeo so far. This isn’t surprising at all, it makes sense for Amazon to prioritise their Prime subscribers, it just means that if you don’t have Prime, you could be left feeling a bit cold.
The Fire TV also does games! The gaming catalogue isn’t exactly impressive, though. Some of the best titles include Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Crossy Road, but there’s a lot more pointless titles than there are good ones. The fact that Amazon think this selection is enough to justify selling a Fire TV games controller separately at £40 is a little bit laughable, but maybe when the content expands it’ll be worth it (although if you already have a Bluetooth console controller we’re willing to bet there’s a way to connect it).
Overall, the Amazon Fire TV is an undeniably good device, providing smooth streaming, an easy to use interface, good image quality, even without 4K, and a nifty remote whose voice search I very much enjoy using.
That said, I wouldn’t say you should run out and buy it. I’d ask some questions first: Do you give a toss about having 4K content? Do you have Amazon Prime? Is it essential that you have access to average games? And finally, do you get a weird joy from using voice search? If you’ve answered yes to at least two of these then I’d say the new Amazon Fire TV will bring you much happiness and is worth your £79.99.
The Amazon Fire TV 4K is available from October 29th, but you can pre-order now.
Main Image via Amazon