Amazon made a big splash with the recent release of their new Fire TV set top box. Positioned to directly compete against the Apple TV (both priced at $99US), it’s a pretty beefy little box for all your media viewing at home. They also sell a separate game controller and touted a number of games available for the device.
What’s in the box
Inside, you’ll find the main unit, which is heavier than you’d expect due to the large heatsink inside instead of a fan, the power adapter, the remote, batteries for the remote and a small setup guide. The rear of the main unit has power, HDMI, optical audio, ethernet and an as yet, unused USB port.
Set up is easy and just requires the connection of the power cable and an HDMI cable (not included) to your HDTV.
Then I was prompted to choose a wireless network and once connected, there was a software update.
In the settings menu, you can pair the game controller with the device. I was happy to see that the Fire TV supports any bluetooth controller as I was able to pair one of my OUYA controllers with it and perfectly play a few of the games I downloaded. Even the touchpad mouse on the Ouya controller worked on the Fire TV.
Like the Apple TV, which is centered around iTunes rentals and purchases, the Fire TV is really meant to use Amazon’s Prime streaming service for movies and TV shows. Fortunately, if you don’t have Prime (or live in Canada), there are plenty of other options to choose from.
There is a huge list of additional ‘apps’ you can install from the Amazon store for everything from Netflix, Crackle, various radio/music services and multitudes of network & sports specific channel apps. Not all of them work outside of the USA but I was able to find a lot of great content that didn’t seem to care that I was in Canada. You could always add a dedicated VPN if you wanted to access the US content for a small monthly fee. It would require dedicating a router to that service as there is no easy way to change those settings within the Fire TV’s settings…but that could change as more people get their hands on the Fire TV and find workarounds.
Once you arrive on the home screen, you’re presented with a left navigation menu of media choices that include Prime Movies and TV, a watchlist, your video library, apps, games and photos. The remote has a microphone and ‘voice search’ that lets you search Prime for a title…it doesn’t seem to work with any other apps as of yet.
You can access photos stored on Amazon’s Cloud Drive service (on your smartphone) in the Photos section.
I was able to sideload XBMC onto the Fire TV very easily (literally only three commands entered from a terminal window on my Mac) making this even more compelling. Hacked AppleTVs with XBMC go for hundreds of dollars on ebay and craigslist and this is much easier to install and can do more out of the box for the same money.
The Fire TV is currently only available from Amazon.com directly and only ships within the United States. No word on when it will be available in Canada but there isn’t much that doesn’t just work in Canada already.
Right now, it’s a pretty slick way to get a lot of different media content onto your tv as well as all the bells and whistles XBMC brings to the table, on the fastest Android based set-top on the market. Throw in the ability to play many games with a proper gamepad (Amazon’s or a third party bluetooth one), and it seems like a winner to me.