BY KYLE VAN DEN HEUVEL
On April 2, Amazon announced that they would be releasing a device they called the “Amazon Fire TV.” This device has parallels to both the Roku and Apple TV lines of digital media players. The main purpose of these devices is to take content from online media providers, like YouTube and Netflix, and play them on your TV. The device is about the size of a CD case and runs a proprietary version of Android that Amazon uses on its Kindle Fire line of tablets. Content-wise, the Fire TV has access to all of the big online media providers such as YouTube, Hulu Plus and Netflix. This device also has access to all of Amazon’s movie and TV show library and if you have an Amazon Prime account, you can watch a good selection of it for free.
The Kindle Fire does have some neat little features that make the device stand out against its competitors. One of the main advantages is actually in its remote control. If you have ever used a Roku or Apple TV, you know that if you want to search for a specific show or movie, you would normally have to manually type out the title on an on-screen keyboard which can be tedious and frustrating. However, if you hold down one of the buttons on the remote, you can simply say what you are looking for and it will search by voice activation. This feature works surprisingly well, except for two things. One, you can only use this search for Amazon content and a few select apps. Two, it does not seem to work with names, so if you are looking for a particular actor or director, it might be difficult.
Another feature they are touting is its ability to play games. Since it runs on Android, the Fire TV can also play most Android games (if they have controller support and are on Amazon’s Marketplace). This means that most of these games were meant for phones and are a watered-down version of “Minecraft” or some of the older Sonic games. There isn’t much there that’s worthwhile, although Amazon did recently start up Amazon Game Studios which put out a game “Sev Zero” specifically for the Fire TV. Amazon also sells its own controller for the Fire TV, but it’s not that great.
The Fire TV’s strongest competition comes in the forms of Google’s Chromecast, the Roku 3 and the Apple TV. The Fire TV, Roku 3 and Apple TV all are priced at $99 while the Chromecast is available for $35. The Roku 3 offers the widest content variety, however, it is not as powerful as the Fire TV or Apple TV, so it will be a much slower experience. The Chromecast is interesting as it is a tiny stick that plugs into an HDMI slot, but it requires a smartphone in order to use it and only has a handful of channels available for it. I would say that the Fire TV and Apple TV are pretty much identical, and it all would come down to whether or not you like Amazon’s digital catalog versus iTunes. If you watch a lot of Amazon content and would like to watch Netflix, YouTube and Hulu on your TV then the Fire TV might be for you.