Hands on with Amazon’s Set-Top Killer, the Fire TV
On Wednesday morning, Amazon unveiled Fire TV, a set-top box for streaming movies, television shows, photos, games, and music straight to your TV. The box itself is a svelte little black device that is, as Amazon bragged at its press conference, the height of a mere dime. It’s light, portable, and easy to tuck away out of sight.
The Fire TV, its included remote, and the optional gaming remote. (Getty Images)
Once you’ve set up Fire TV, it immediately brings you to a main menu plastered with new movie and television releases, games, and music-streaming apps. One nice difference from other popular set-top boxes, like the Roku: Rather than base this home screen on separate channels (of which this device supports 36), Amazon has chosen to make the content itself front and center. So instead of first choosing the Netflix app to open, say, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you can go straight to the title and then pick the service from which you’d like to stream the movie.
After you’ve selected a title, it’ll automatically display the provider options for streaming. If you subscribe to Netflix but not Amazon Prime, Fire TV will automatically populate the option to stream a movie or a TV show for the lowest possible price under the title in question. Considering that there are entire websites dedicated to determining this sort of thing for people, it’s refreshing to see Amazon actually acknowledge that its competitors exist.
This is Amazon’s box, though. During setup, you’re given a free month of Amazon Prime. Once those 30 days are up, you can choose to keep the service for $99 a year or discontinue it and rely on other subscriptions. You know what the people at Amazon hope you’ll do. And there are still a few key channels missing, most notably HBO GO.
Some of the main apps that Fire TV supports. Note the absence of HBO and Spotify.
Find it fast
Searching for content in Fire TV is a breeze, thanks to the light little remote that comes with the box. You can even talk to it: The Fire TV’s most exciting feature is its voice-enabled search, which is surprisingly responsive. I was able to hold down the microphone button, say “House of Cards,” and have the title pop up within seconds (for which we can also thank the Fire TV’s quad-core processor and 2 GB of RAM). I even asked a few of my co-workers to yell in the background — because whose living room is ever completely silent? — and it was still able to recognize what I was asking for through the noise.