Picking a streaming device is now almost as complicated as picking a cable package used to be. Here’s what you need to know.
If you wanted to watch TV, you used to have only two options, cable or the channels you could pick up with an antenna. In the last decade, however, Netflix has helped ignite a streaming arms race of sorts, empowering viewers to cut the cord and stream their content online. At first, these services were only available on your computer or by streaming through a game console. But now there’s a range of options when it comes to streaming, and you might be surprised to learn the Amazon is leading the charge. Here’s everything you need to know about Amazon Fire TV and the Amazon Firestick.
What is Amazon Fire TV?
Amazon’s Fire TV brand, launched in 2014 with the Fire TV, is a series of digital media players that allow you to stream video content to your television via your internet connection. Imagine a DVD player you never had to load and that regularly updates with new content.
Fire currently comes in two different models, but have a couple of key things in common. Each device can access over 15,000 apps and games, including Netflix, Amazon Prime (obviously), Hulu, HBO Now, YouTube, WatchESPN, and more.
Looking to cut the chord but still watch traditional TV? Fire TV supports live sports and TV programming through DirecTV NOW. In fact, you get a free month-long trial of DirecTV NOW with your purchase, and it includes channels like AMC, HGTV, and Fox among a host of others. Ultimately, services like DirecTV NOW and HBO Go require a monthly subscription fee, but the ability to choose what services you pay for instead of being forced into bundles by your cable company is invaluable.
How does Amazon Fire TV work?
Amazon Fire TV requires an internet connection, which you connect to via Wi-Fi or, in the case of the Amazon Fire TV, an Ethernet cable. The device connects to your TV through its HDMI ports. Once activated, it will walk you through the setup process, logging into your pre-existing services and connecting to your Amazon account.
Any digital video or music you’ve purchased through Amazon will automatically be available to use when you’ve logged on. Also, photos you’ve uploaded to your Amazon Cloud Drive will be available for viewing.
Every Amazon Fire TV comes with a Bluetooth remote, so you’ll always be able to control your TV even if you’re not in the line of sight. Fire TV’s remote has Alexa Voice built in, meaning you can launch content simply by saying “Play Game of Thrones” or “Launch Hulu.” Amazon brags that Alexa will even order you a pizza if you ask.
For Luddites who struggle to navigate menus, the Alexa remote is something of a godsend. You just have to press the microphone button and start talking. If you insist on using the remote, you’ll be happy to find it’s simple and clutter free, with clear buttons that make navigating through menus easy.
Each model can log into hotel Wi-FI connections, even if they require you to sign into a unique website. For travelers who want a portable solution to keep up with their favorite shows, it’s valuable feature.
If you get bored with the standard apps available in the Fire app store, you can even download the infamous Kodi media player. It takes a little bit of work, but it’s possible to download Kodi on Amazon Fire.
- What is Kodi, and is it legal?
- How to install Kodi on Amazon Fire
- The simple way to setup Kodi on your Android TV
- How to use Kodi on Roku without jailbreaking your device
What is the Amazon Firestick?
The Fire TV Stick is Amazon’s basic model, serving up 1080p HD streaming in a tiny HDMI stick about the size of your standard USB flash drive. Costing just $39.99 and coming with Alexa Voice remote, the Firestick is a remarkable bargain. You get access to all of the same apps and channels as the Stick’s more expensive cousin, Fire TV. But there are a few downsides.
First off, if you have a 4K television set, you’ll still only be able to stream 1080p content. Secondly, the Fire Stick only has 8 GB of internal storage and 1 GB of memory. That will limit how much downloadable content and apps you can store on the device without streaming, and it hampers your ability to play some of the more graphically intense games offered in the app store.
And finally, to play games, you’ll need a controller, as the standard remote is not compatible with most titles. Amazon offers its own Bluetooth controller, and the device is compatible with most major third-party Bluetooth game controllers, including the PS4’s DualShock 4 if you already have one of those.
What is the Amazon Fire TV?
If you need to have the highest quality picture and sound for your daily viewing, the Fire TV is your best option. The basics are still the same, including access to all of the same apps and channels found on the Stick. But you also get some extra features for your $89.99.
Fire TV comes with the ability to output 4K video, 2 GB of memory, 8 GB of internal, and a microSD slot to store your videos, apps, and games. Also, Fire TV has an Ethernet port that allows you connect it directly to your modem and a USB port to connect an external storage device for streaming your existing music and video content off of a hard drive.
The extra 2 GB of memory comes in handy when you want to play the more advanced games offered in Amazon’s app store. Titles like Shovel Knight and Ducktails HD have made the journey from consoles, along with Lego Star Wars, Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead, and racing games like Drift Mania. Fire TV doesn’t come close to rivaling the power of the Xbox One or PS4. However, it’s also several hundred dollars less expensive. Once again, you will need a separate Bluetooth controller to play games.
- What is Roku and how does it work?
- Chromecast vs Roku vs Amazon Fire: What’s best for you?
- How to make the most of your Netflix subscription
How Amazon Fire TV stacks up against the competition?
We have an in-depth breakdown of what separates each of the three major streaming devices—Roku, Amazon Fire, and Chromecast—available here, but here’s a quick breakdown of the differences between them.
At $40, Amazon Fire TV Stick is slightly less expensive than Roku’s $49.99 Streaming Stick, and it comes with an Alexa voice remote. Roku currently offers more streaming channels than Amazon, 30,000 to Amazon’s 15,000, but how much mileage you will get out of those channels depends. A large chunk of them are simply dumping grounds for garbage content and channels you’d never watch. If you only need the major streaming services and want the voice remote, Amazon Fire TV Stick is hard to beat. If you want 4K streaming, Roku Premiere is far less expensive than Amazon Fire TV, at $49.99, but you don’t get the voice remote or the ability to play games.
At $35, Chromecast is the cheapest streaming option on the market, but it lacks important features like a remote. For just $5 more, you can get the Amazon Fire TV Stick and a voice remote. Oddly, Chromecast’s 4K option is still more expensive than Amazon’s, and it still doesn’t come with a remote. Unless you’re a Google diehard, there’s not a reason to buy a Chromecast.
Amazon Fire vs. Apple TV
Apple TV’s cheapest model will set you back $149, and it doesn’t even offer you the ability to play video in 4K. Unless you’ve already invested lots of money into your iTunes movie collection and simply must have an app that can stream it, Apple TV is simply too expensive to compete with Amazon Fire TV or Roku’s collection.
Need something to watch? Here are the best Amazon originals, the best documentaries on Amazon Prime, what’s new on Amazon, the best movies you can watch in stunning 4K Ultra HD, and the sexiest movies you can stream right now.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.