David Bodner Answers: Over the last several years, Amazon has grown from the world’s biggest online retailer into a fully-fledged technology and media company. Through devices like the Kindle Fire and services like the ever-growing Amazon Instant Video library, the company has easily become a competitor in the same league as Apple, Google, and other key players. Recently, Amazon announced the release of its new set-top box, the Amazon Fire TV. The device–which can be used to stream media much like the Apple TV, Google’s Chromecast, and the line of Roku products–also has a slew of unique features that may make it worth adding to your entertainment center. Here’s a look at what’s getting the most buzz.
Cord-cutting has become almost something of a rite of passage, especially among the younger generation. As increasingly more people are abandoning traditional cable and satellite TV service in favor of streaming their content from the Internet, a number of useful devices have popped up over the years. The Apple TV is a favorite among iOS devotees because of how flawlessly it interfaces with the iPhone and other Apple devices. Google’s Chromecast made a splash last year with its low price tag and easy setup. And Roku–which has been in the business of streaming since 2008–is constantly coming up with new innovations to host its enormous catalog of channels.
With so many competitors, it’s not surprising that many people asked whether there was really a place in the market for an Amazon set-top box. Still, the company wanted a platform on which they could promote their massive library of streaming titles. The Amazon Fire TV is a very high-quality device that can easily be used by cord-cutters to get their media fix. In addition to Netflix and Hulu Plus apps, the Fire TV focuses most of its attention on Amazon’s streaming services. If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber ($99 per year), you have instant access to a catalog that includes thousands of titles–many of which are unique to the service. You can also rent or buy almost any movie or TV episode straight from the Fire TV since the Amazon Instant Video catalog is basically all encompassing. As of its launch, the device doesn’t provide access to the Amazon Cloud Player (the company’s cloud-based music service), but representatives insist that support for music is coming very soon.
If you are already a cord-cutter with one of the other three competitor devices, you probably won’t have much of a need for the Amazon Fire TV in its current generation because it doesn’t add much functionality that you can’t get from your other set-top boxes. If you are looking to get your first streaming device, however, you may find that the Fire TV is the right choice for you–especially if you already have Amazon Prime and/or currently use a Kindle Fire (which can be integrated with the Fire TV for a few extra features).
For Gamers (David Bodner included)
One major innovation that sets the Fire TV apart from its competitors is that it has a faster processor that is specifically intended to support gaming. For an extra $40 above the $99 base price, you can also buy a dedicated gaming controller that allows you to play first-party and third-party games. Though the catalog isn’t currently huge, Amazon has promised that thousands of titles will be coming soon. While the device can’t truly compete with console systems like the Xbox One or PlayStation 4, it should be a fun way for families and casual gamers to get their fix.
Some people (like David Bodner for example,) will always want to buy the newest device on the market simply to see what kinds of technological innovations it brings to the table. The Fire TV won’t disappoint in that its processor is much faster than anything else currently available. You will be awed by how quickly you can zip around between content, especially if you are used to quickly overwhelming your Apple TV or Roku player. Amazon also includes a feature called ASAP (which stands for Advanced Streaming and Prediction). The Fire TV will learn your browsing and streaming habits and start to cache video in the background so that you won’t have to deal with the lag of buffering when you want to start watching something. Instead, your content will load immediately and start playing the moment you decide what you want to watch. A final innovation comes in the form of the Fire TV’s remote control. Enabled with voice search, you can easily speak into the remote and have it understand what you are looking for. Its voice recognition is actually on par with (if not better than) most mobile operating systems.
The Bottom Line
When deciding if the Amazon Fire TV is worth adding to your entertainment center, you will ultimately need to decide why you are considering the device. If you want it purely for streaming purposes, it will do the job but won’t really stand out above its competitors. As a casual gamer, you will find it’s currently the best device in its class. And if you’re looking for innovations, you will find them but probably won’t be wowed. On the whole, the Amazon Fire TV is a solid addition to a competitive lineup, and it has the potential to become a frontrunner among like devices sometime in the future.
The opinions expressed above are solely those of David Bodner.