An Apple TV has been part of my home theater since they where first released back in 2007. A few days ago when Amazon sent me an email saying an Amazon Fire was in route to my house I had my doubts about my ability to saying anything positive about what many have claimed to be an Apple TV Killer. Apple TV Killer it’s not but it’s certainly worth having as part of your home theater!
My Amazon Fire Unit arrived in a traditional Amazon Box with a nice big smiley face on it. Inside the traditional Smiley box was my brand new Amazon Fire TV, which Amazon has proudly stamped with “Certified Frustration-Free Packaging” stamp. This stamp was new to me, clearly we now have certifications for absolutely everything. I couldn’t help but get distracted by this, which with a bit of internet searching turns out to be something that Amazon simply made up on its own to show packaging that is easy for people to open. I’ll admit the packaging was in fact frustration-free, just as claimed. Nothing like meeting the high expectations of American Consumers. In side the frustration-free packaging you will find a shiny Amazon Fire TV, a power adapter, and Amazon Fire TV Remote, and a pair of Amazon branded AAA Batteries. All of this can be yours for the low price of $99!
As I unpacked the Amazon Fire TV, I was still not sold on the unit and headed out to the living room and unhooked my Apple TV. In my office I put everything side by side for a foot print comparison of the two units. The Amazon Fire TV may be thinner than the Apple TV but the footprint is a bit larger. The Apple Remote is hands down smaller than the Amazon Fire TV Remote, but the Apple TV remote does after all lack the Voice compatibility that Amazon is so heavily advertising.
Setup of the Amazon Fire TV, really couldn’t be easier. I had mine up and running in less than five minutes and most of that time was actually spent watching the welcome video that describes the basic use of the Amazon Fire TV. The setup process was where my opinions on the Amazon Fire TV started to shift towards the positive. After plugging in the unit, I was prompted to select a WiFi network to connect to, once connected to my home network a quick orientation video played and then I was up and running. What caught me off guard during the setup process is I was never prompted to enter my Amazon Account information. The unit was actually already paired to my Amazon Account when it came out of the box. When it comes to actually using the unit, if you don’t have an Amazon Prime account than the Amazon Fire TV is actually nothing more than a replacement for your local video store, which likely closed years ago.
If I didn’t have an Amazon Prime account than this review would be completely different and my shiny new Amazon Fire TV would be sitting out in the trash can by the curb. When you add an Amazon Prime Membership to the Amazon Fire TV you suddenly have a great addition to your Home Theater. An Amazon Prime Membership provides you with access more than 40,000 tv shows and movies through the Amazon Prime Instant Video Feature. You can take a look at the full video selection here. In addition to the massive movie library Amazon Prime also provides you with free two-day shipping on all your amazon purchases, and a massive kindle e-book library. An Amazon Prime account is going to run you $99 a year, so in my book the Amazon Fire TV doesn’t actually cost $99, it runs you $198 plus another $99 every year after your first year. That is still a pretty small price to pay for all the benefits that the $198 will bring to your home theater. If you’re questioning the benefits of an Amazon Prime account, today you’re in luck because I am going to set you up with a free 30 days to try it out for yourself, just click here.
So like any other device out there the Amazon Fire TV has some pro’s and con’s. I had expected it to be full of cons but a number of things the Amazon Fire TV does extremely well. The Amazon Fire TV does some things so well that will replace the Apple TV but while it does some things better than the Apple TV, it does have a few areas where it comes up short.
Amazon Fire TV Pros
- Easy To Use At the top of the pro’s list is how simple the Amazon Fire TV is to set up and actually use. This is a device I could easily send to anyone I know and it would not need me to make a visit to set it up.
- Voice Search The voice search feature works perfect! I used it multiple times in my testing and every time it was able to figure out what I was saying without a single mistake. Amazon has advertised this feature heavily and they certainly hit a home run with its functionality.
- Buffer Free Videos This is one spot I was absolutely amazed by the Amazon Fire TV. Being a long time Apple TV user I have grown accustomed to having to wait a few seconds and sometimes up to a minute for a movie to start after I hit play. With the Amazon Fire TV this is not the case, the unit is essentially buffer free, even for full length HD movies. When I found how quickly movies loaded I immediately put it to the test by fast forwarding to the half way point of the movie, again the load time was only about a second before the movie started back up again. This is fairly impressive when you stop to consider that all the content is being loaded from Amazon Servers hundreds of miles away and not from my media server in the next room.
- Amazon Instant Video Library The Amazon Instant Video library that comes with your Amazon Prime membership, provides you with access to over 40,000 movies and TV shows at no charge beyond that of your Amazon Prime Membership. We are not talking second-rate movies either, some of the top hits are available right away. The cost of your Amazon Prime membership is quickly covered by your access to new release films.
- Rental Pricing If the movie you’re looking for instant available to you via the Amazon Instant Video Library you can always rent it. Rental prices are on par with the Apple TV rental prices, but when you combine it with the zero buffering rates, renting through the Amazon Fire TV is clearly the route to go.
Amazon Fire TV Cons
- Lack of Network TV Viewing While the Amazon Fire TV may feature more Apps than the Apple TV, the Apps that it doesn’t have are a big draw back. Not on the availability list are Apps like HBO Go, NBC, ABC, CBS, and similar. With all the positives I was seeing with the Amazon Fire TV, and all the advertisements about HBO being including with Amazon Instant TV, I was starting to think it was finally going to be time to kill my DirecTV subscription, that was of course until I found out that the HBO Service was not actually full HBO service but a limited selection of shows.
- Lack of Media Server Support Unlike the Apple TV, the Amazon Fire TV lacks the ability to connect to an in home media server. This is a huge draw back for the unit and what keeps it from competing with the Apple TV or ever being an Apple TV Killer. All your content must be streamed from Amazon or a similar service, so sadly you are going to need another device to stream content from your at home media server.
- Voice Control While the Amazon Fire TV may have the ability to do voice searches it does not actually have voice control. The voice service is only useful for finding content which was a big disappointment. What good is voice recognition if you can’t use it to actually control the device.
So has the Amazon Fire TV earned itself a place in my home theater? Absolutely! It’s a nice unit with some great functionality but while it has found a place in my home theater it is not replacing anything already there. My primary use for it is going to be to serve as a method to gain access to the Amazon Instant Video collection, which includes some great films that my home media server lacks. The cost of my Amazon Prime Membership already paid for itself with the free two day shipping from Amazon. Now it has almost completely removed my need to ever pay for an over priced rental again. If you have considered getting an Amazon Fire TV, don’t wait any longer it’s well worth the cost just don’t forget you really need an Amazon Prime Membership to take full advantage of it. The real question in my mind now is will a new Apple TV at the upcoming Apple World Wide Developers Conference next week? MacRumors.com is saying it’s not in the stars.