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 device 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.
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 play 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, 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, just like you'd find Android TV, for example.
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 four options - let's run 'em down.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
$39.99 | Amazon
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.
Amazon Fire TV
$69.99 | Amazon
The Fire TV just got updated with some 4K Ultra High Definition love. You're getting support for that, HDR 10 and Dolby Atmos.
Otherwise, you get the same Alexa Voice Remote and 8 GB of storage that the Fire TV Stick has. Both devices also have 802.11ac dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi.
$119 | Amazon
The Fire TV Cube is the new flagship of the Fire TV family. It basically combines an Echo Dot and it's far field voice control with a Fire TV and 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
From $329 | Amazon
Amazon has collaborated with TV manufacturers before, but the Toshiba Fire TV is the first in a new line of devices. This 4K TV comes with HDR support, and of course Fire OS is built right into the TV - so you won't need a box.
You can connect it to your existing Echo devices, too, so that you can tell Alexa to turn your TV on or off. It doesn't use the Alexa Voice Remote, but instead has an Alexa button on Toshiba's own remote.
It also comes in three sizes: 43, 50 and 55 inches.
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 like 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.
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.
Well, actually, we take that back. Not all the big names are here.
Google's YouTube and YouTube TV are missing in action on Fire TV. Google and Amazon aren't getting along, and unfortunately that means that two of the most popular video platforms in the world are unavailable on Fire TV. You can't catch up with all your YouTube subscriptions, and if you've cut the cable cord with YouTube TV you're also out of luck. If YouTube is a big part of your streaming diet, Roku or Apple are your options.
However, there is a less-than-pleasant workaround on Fire TV. Amazon bundles Fire TV devices with its Silk web browser, which technically means you can access a web version of YouTube (YouTube TV requires Chrome).
It's not ideal, but if Alexa is your big draw for Fire TV it's a (hopefully temporary) sacrifice you'll have to make. The other big service missing is 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. Unfortunately, that content is locked away in Apple's walled garden.
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 its 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.
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.
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 and Fire TV Cube 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 HDR 10 Plus, which fixes HDR 10's static HDR, but it's a piece of Samsung tech that probably won't be as prevalent as HDR 10 or Dolby Vision.
If you're looking for the best possible content, you should know that Dolby Vision isn't supported on Fire TV devices just yet. There is HDR 10 support, however, so you'll be good there. As for Dolby Atmos, an audio format that can deliver pin point 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).
Compare that to the Apple TV, which plans to offer Atmos support for all content on iTunes, and the Fire TV platform starts to look a little less tempting for the A/V crowd.