When it first launched in 2014, Fire TV wasn't a smart TV platform. It was a singular device that was meant to take on the Apple TV and Roku. However, it has since morphed from a single product to a family of devices.
The entire platform is aimed at making it as easy as possible to consume as much content as possible, especially content from Amazon dot com - from paid movies to rentals to Amazon Prime Video. But it's well fed beyond the company's own services.
Read this: How to control your TV with Alexa
Fire TV devices are absurdly simple to set up, and its software is some of the most polished in the streaming game. Plus, there's Alexa, who gets significant usage on all of the devices.
But that's only a quick rundown of what you need to know about Fire TV. Read on for a comprehensive journey through the entire platform.
Amazon Fire TV: What is it?
Essentially a range of Amazon streaming sticks and boxes, Fire TV is a line of devices aimed at making your TV smart. That means accessing streaming services and music content as well as apps and games on your TV.
But the success of Fire TV has meant that it's become a fully-fledged streaming platform, and is now arriving baked into TVs and more, much like how Android sometimes is. Want a soundbar with Fire TV built in? Amazon's got you covered.
And it's not just about watching your favourite shows - Alexa is also being baked in to Fire TV devices. This started with the Fire TV which took advantage of the Alexa voice remote, but the more recent Fire TV Cube actually functions as a smart speaker in its own right.
Amazon Fire TV: The devices
Now that you know the ins and outs of the Fire TV platform, which device is the best for you? There are a few options - let's run 'em down.
Buy now: Amazon | $49.99
The newest version of the Fire TV stick is also its best. 4K support is the obvious upgrade here, but there's also support for Dolby Vision - making it the first Fire TV device to support the format, which is heralded by home entertainment geeks.
There is also HDR10+ support and Dolby Atmos for room-shaking sound. All of that works well thanks to its quad-core processor, which brings zippier performance. That also helps Alexa support quite a bit, but it's still not quite as good as it is on the Fire TV Cube.
The best upgrade may be the new Alexa remote, which - finally! - includes volume control buttons. There's also a new Wi-Fi antenna that makes sure everything streams a little better, so you've got a great, compelling and affordable package.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
Buy now: Amazon | $39.99
This is the affordable option. You're not going to get a lot of the high-end features here, so say goodbye to Dolby Atmos, 4K, and HDR. You will, on the other hand, still have the Alexa Voice Remote and 8 GB of storage for apps. It's also running on a 1.3 Ghz quad-core processor.
Buy now: Amazon | $99
The Fire TV Cube essentially combines an Echo Dot and its far-field voice control with a Fire TV - then sprinkles a whole lot of more smarts on top of that. The Fire TV Cube wants to be the hub for all your living room devices, which means you can use it to switch inputs. and even control playback
Should your TV and cable box play nice, you can give commands like, "Alexa, play CNN on cable" . Even better, we've found the ability to turn our TV on or off to be wonderfully handy.
As for the spec support, you have the same HDR 10, 4K and Dolby Atmos support of the mainline Fire TV, but you also get 16 GB of storage. You will, however, need to buy an HDMI cable.
Toshiba Fire TV Edition
Buy now: Amazon | From $180
Amazon and Toshiba have been teaming up for a range of smart TVs that came running on the Fire TV software. There are different versions and price points to choose from, the latest bringing Dolby Vision to the mix. Also new for 2019 is Alexa living in the remote, like you'll find on other Fire TV devices.
Prices start at $180 and move up depending on size and features - with Dolby Vision and 4K costing more, natch. Starting in October you'll be able to order the latest version, too, which will be available in 65-inch sizing for the first time.
Buy now: Amazon | From $229.99
Fire TV Recast is Amazon's recent DVR box, letting you watch over-the-air TV at home or on the go with your smartphone. While we've seen companies like Plex and TiVo try to do similar, Amazon's box offers the most polished experience right now.
You simply connect Recast to your Wi-Fi, put the antenna in place, have it scan for available channels in your area and then get watching. The Fire TV Recast is capable of streaming to two devices at once, but you'll need some other Fire TV device to make use of it - unless you just plan on streaming to an Echo Show.
New Fire TV devices incoming
At IFA 2019, Amazon announced a bunch of new Fire TV devices on the way, while also expanding some of the range to the European market (finally). Here's what's incoming...
Fire TV Cube 2019
Buy now: Amazon | $119.99
Amazon used IFA 2019 to announce that it's releasing an updated version of the Fire TV Cube on 10 October this year.
The new version of the TV Cube will keep everything the same design-wise, and in fact in terms of streaming, too. The biggest change is in speed, with the promise of a zippier UI and Alexa's new trick of processing certain requests offline (therefore not having to boomerang queries to the cloud). The mics have been improved too, says Amazon, so Alexa should be better able to hear you over speech.
The new version will be the first to launch in Europe, and will be available for the same launch price as the previous iteration, $119.99. If you're thinking of picking up a Fire TV Cube, you may just want to wait.
Incoming: Nebula Soundbar - Fire TV Edition
Buy now: Amazon | $229.99
Amazon announced an entirely new type of Fire TV device at IFA 2019 - a soundbar with the software built in. The Nebula Soundbar - Fire TV Edition is made in partnership with Anker, and packs the streaming software into an unlikely location, the soundbar itself.
It'll ship with an Alexa voice remote, just like others in the Fire TV family, and be able to pick up some Alexa commands itself using near-field microphones. It'll also be addable to multiroom audio setups in the Alexa app.
The Nebula Soundbar will launch 21 November, costing $229.99.
Incoming: European Fire TV smart TVs
Outside of the US, though, Amazon also used IFA to announce that it's starting some partnerships with European TV manufacturers and distributors to bring smart Fire TVs to customers. In the UK, it's making a range of TVs with JVC, to be sold through Curry's PC World, which will launch soon. In Germany and Austria, meanwhile, new Grundig TVs will be available with Fire TV software built in. We'll be going hands on to test some of these as soon as we can.
Amazon Fire TV: Setting it up
To set things up on your Fire TV device, you need to do two things: Connect it to the TV and connect it to power. Surprisingly, that's slightly more complicated than it should be.
The Fire TV streaming sticks simply plug into the HDMI ports on the back of your TV, and will then come with a power cable you can connect from the stick to your outlet. Other Fire TV streaming boxes, like the Fire TV with 4K UHD, are essentially an HDMI dongle. They hang from the back of your TV.
Then there's the Fire TV Cube, which doesn't come with the necessary HDMI cable. Yep, you'll have to go and buy your own cable to plug it in (unless you already have a plethora of them sitting around). Other than that, it's a breeze to set up.
Once you do that, the Fire TV device will walk you through connecting to Wi-Fi and signing in to your Amazon account. Then you'll be able to download whatever apps and games you'd like.
If you do plan to play games, you might want to invest in the Amazon Fire TV game controller, which will make it much easier to play games than with the Fire TV remote.
Naturally, Alexa plays a starring role on Amazon's Fire TV platform, and Amazon's devices even come with the Alexa Voice Remote, which has a dedicated button to start Alexa up.
That is, unless you have the Fire TV Cube, which builds its mic into the box. Like with the Echo devices, you can simply say "Alexa" to get the assistant listening. You can also link your existing Echo device to your Fire TV.
To do that, open up the Alexa companion app.
1. Go to the menu and select Music, Video & Books.
2. Select Fire TV.
3. Follow the instructions.
4. Click Link Devices.
What exactly can you do with Alexa on Fire TV though?
Alexa is your entertainment assistant on Fire TV. That means you can do things like open apps such as Netflix or search for movies based on genre or actor. Or you could ask it to search within an app, like, "Alexa, search for Ladybird on Netflix."
If you have a Fire TV-equipped TV set or the Fire TV Cube, you also get the added benefit of asking Alexa to turn your TV on or off, change the volume or change the input on the TV. If your cable service plays nice, you can also command what you watch on your cable or satellite box.
If you've got a Fire TV Recast, which lets you add in local broadcast channels to your Fire TV device, you can also use Alexa to record shows, control live TV and play back your recordings.
Naturally, you can also do everything else Alexa can do on other devices. That includes ordering popcorn, checking the weather, and asking for random facts or what have you.
Best Alexa Fire TV commands
"Alexa, watch Fire TV."
"Alexa, search for Ladybird on Prime Video."
"Alexa, what's the weather today?"
"Alexa, turn off the TV."
"Alexa, turn up the volume."
"Alexa, switch to input two."
"Alexa, show me movies with Tom Cruise."
"Alexa, show me comedies."
"Alexa, rewind 30 seconds."
"Alexa, fast forward 30 seconds."
"Alexa, go home."
"Alexa, play Fox Sports on cable."
Amazon Fire TV: Compatible services
Fire OS is Amazon's customized version of Android. While it allows Amazon to craft its own unique experience on its tablets and TV devices, it more importantly lets Amazon build out its very own app store.
In the case of Fire OS, that app store is used to deliver video apps and games. All the big names are here, from Netflix to Hulu to HBO to PlayStation Vue. After a long, annoying hiatus, even YouTube has finally returned - hallelujah. The spat between Google and Amazon on that front appears to be on hold, for time being.
For now: How to use YouTube on Fire TV
If there's one big service that's notably absent, it's iTunes, which has a vast library of 4K Dolby Vision and Atmos-supported content. The best part? Apple upgrades you to 4K, Vision and Atmos for free. However, with Apple now killing iTunes anyway, it's announced it will bring its revamped Apple TV app to Fire TV later this year, letting users buy and rent TV shows and movies from Apple.
Vudu is another big video store that doesn't have a presence on Fire TV. This is a shame as Vudu has support for HDR 10 and Dolby Atmos, which would give Fire TV a good amount of 4K entertainment with Atmos support. While Vudu isn't available on Apple TV either, it is available on Roku. In fact, Roku has an advantage on Fire TV in that it's a universal platform that doesn't have a dog in the streaming fight, as Google, Apple and Amazon do. It can simply open up and let anyone in its app store - as it does.
Another neat feature of Fire OS is search. When you search for a movie, it'll show you all the available services that are showing it. If a movie is available for rental on Amazon or free on Netflix, it'll always default to the free option first. Handy.
The biggest new service to Fire TV is local broadcast channels. When you buy the $229.99 Fire TV Recast (don't forget to buy an HD antenna tuner too) you can add in broadcast channels to your Fire TV. This lets you watch live TV from ABC, FOX, CBS, NBC, The CW and local public access channels right on your streaming stick in a new DVR menu.
That DVR menu will also pull in your channel guide from PlayStation Vue, if you're a PlayStation Vue subscriber. The Recast allows you to record either 75 or 150 hours worth of TV shows and movies from those local broadcast channels (depending on whether you get the 500GB or 1TB Recast). You can access those recordings on your Echo Show, iPhone, Android phone, Fire TV device or Fire Tablet.
Additionally, Amazon is partnering up with several TV manufacturers to build Fire TV right into TV sets. This is something Roku has done successfully with TCL on the Roku TV line, but Amazon is opting for a more blanket approach, starting with Toshiba, and with JVC in the UK.
Fire TV: 4K, HDR and Dolby Atmos
Sure, smarts are important in the world of streaming boxes, but what's also important is the geeky audio visual stuff. You know, the stuff that impacts how you actually watch and hear all those entertainment options.
4K support means outputting resolution of up to 2160p, though the Fire TV will also output at both 1080p and 720p should you not have a 4K TV yet. It also supports 4K at up to 60 frames per second, allowing for some super smooth viewing as the faster the frame rate, the smoother the image you're seeing. One caveat here: Most movies and TV shows are shot at 24 frames per second. Still, this is good for the odd YouTube video or GoPro footage should you want to watch it.
It's very important to know that only the Fire TV, Fire TV Cube and Fire TV Stick 4K support 4K. The Fire TV Stick does not support 4K, instead offering a max of 1080p.
HDR stands for high-dynamic range. It's a feature of modern TVs that pumps up the color to make what you're looking at more vivid and bright. Once you see it in action, it's difficult to go back to non-HDR content.
Unfortunately, there are two competing standards in the world of HDR. Dolby's Vision and HDR 10. HDR 10 is a free universal standard, so practically everyone support it, but the problem is that it's inferior to Dolby Vision.
Dolby Vision uses dynamic HDR, customizes the colors and temperature of the picture based on the scene. HDR 10, on the other hand, keeps the same colors and temperature throughout your TV show or movie. There is also HDR 10 Plus, which fixes HDR 10's static HDR, but it's a piece of Samsung tech that will have a hard time becoming as prevalent as HDR 10 or Vision.
Thus far, the only Fire TV device that supports Dolby Vision is the Fire TV Stick 4K. It also supports HDR 10 and HDR 10+, so you'll have all your HDR standards covered. As for Dolby Atmos, an audio format that can deliver pin-sharp sound around you, some Fire TV devices support it - but, Fire OS doesn't yet provide much content that actually supports Dolby Atmos (not even on Amazon Prime).
Amazon's Fire TVs don't yet offer universal support for some of the most beloved standards in the world of A/V heads, but that seems to be changing with newer models, like the Fire Stick 4K. The biggest competition here is the Apple TV 4K, but Amazon is catching up nicely.