As you may have heard, Amazon released the Fire TV this week, it’s own competitor to the Apple TV and other living room devices like the Roku. Because I’m a fan of all-things tech and love pretty much any excuse to check out a new gadget, I ordered one on the day of release.
It arrived yesterday. Over the last 24 hours I’ve had a chance to play with it a little bit and thought I would report my initial reactions.
The Fire TV ships in Amazon’s “Frustration Free” packaging, which is always a plus with me. I love how easy it is to get the box open, find all the pieces and start to get the device set up. The Fire TV box contains the device itself (a small, black box), a small power adaptor, a remote control with batteries and an instruction booklet.
It does not come with an HDMI cable, or any other way to connect the Fire TV to your TV. But that shouldn’t come as any surprise. Fortunately, I have a healthy supply of cables at home, so this was no problem at all. But don’t forget to buy one if you don’t have one already.
Physical setup was a breeze. Simply connect the power adaptor to the device and a power outlet, the HDMI cable to your TV and the device powers up and gets going. As you might expect, the first thing the device wants is an Internet connection. I decided to connect the Fire TV to my wireless network, mostly because I wanted to see how it handled streaming 1080p content that way.
Navigating through the device’s menu for connection to my wireless network was very easy using the included remote. The Fire TV found my network immediately and once I entered the password using the remote and onscreen keyboard, it connected the first time and I was online. So far, so good.
Next came something I was not surprised about: the Fire TV needed a software update. As there was no way around it, I let the device update. It took about ten minutes with downloading and installing. And no, I did not unplug my device during the update as I was warned not to. But really, who would?
Once the update was finished I was taken to the next step: an intro video. In this video, an animated character takes you through some of the features of the Fire TV. As I’m somewhat tech savvy, I felt this was a good time to make coffee and come back when it was done. If you’re less savvy, you will probably learn something by watching it.
Once the video was done and I had a new cup of steaming goodness, I was greeted with the Fire TV’s home screen. From there, navigation is very easy and the device responds to the remote very quickly. Menus scroll with nary a hiccup and text is easy to read.
The device feels fast and responsive, more so than the Apple TV, which seems to lag a bit. I’m sure that has a lot to do with the Fire TV’s quad-core processor compared to the Apple TV’s single core. But still, I like it.
Another nice thing about the Fire TV: there’s no need to enter your Amazon account info. Much like the Kindle, if you purchase a Fire TV, the device is already registered to your account to allow you to enjoy Prime content immediately.
And as I was already registered, I jumped in and started streaming some 1080p content. Finding something to watch is very easy, especially when you use the remote’s voice command search feature. I simply held the button down on the remote and said what I was looking for (in this case Battlestar Galactica) and several choices immediately appeared on screen.
Granted, the search results were only from Amazon Prime, which is kinda disappointing. It would be great if the search worked with Netflix, Hulu and all the rest of the apps. Not yet though. Perhaps in a future update.
I decided to watch the first episode of the BSG mini-series so I clicked on it to start playing. And here’s the really nice part: it started playing immediately. There was no lag, no buffering, nothing. It just played. Like I said, really nice.
Granted, I have a rather fast Internet connection, so that’s a factor. However, the Apple TV uses the same connection, is also connected wirelessly to the same network, and always has a lag before content loads and begins to play. Sometimes as much as 30 seconds, or more. Advantage Fire TV.
I also streamed a Prime movie and it was the same result. It loaded immediately and began to play. Plus, the quality remained consistent throughout both programs, which isn’t always the case on the Apple TV, where you can sometimes see the quality degrade mid-program … especially with Netflix.
I did not play any games yet nor did I watch an entire program using the Netflix app on the Fire TV. However, when I did use Netflix, the results were pretty much the same. Very little lag and no change of quality mid-program. Whatever Amazon is doing with it’s ASAP technology to reduce buffering and eliminate lag, it’s working. Good for them.
I should mention the various content choices. The Fire TV has Prime, of course, as well as things like Netflix, Hulu, Showtime Anytime, Flixter, Vevo, Vimeo, ESPN, YouTube and more. Sadly, it does not have HBO Go. That’s one advantage the Apple TV has, at least for me as an HBO subscriber. For others, it might not make a difference.
So far, on it’s own, the Fire TV is an excellent device. From build quality through initial setup, to menu navigation through content streaming, the device performed flawlessly. Is it perfect? No. It does have room for improvement.
Still, with all of its strengths, it kinda made the Apple TV look a little bad. Although, if you’re as heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem as I am, the Fire TV may not be the device for you as there’s no way to connect it to your iTunes account.
After I’ve played with the Fire TV a bit more, I’ll report back. Meantime, Amazon seems to be here to stay.
Now, it’s your move Apple.