The Amazon Fire TV Stick Review

01
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Introduction To The Amazon Fire TV Stick

Amazon Fire TV Stick - Package Contents
Amazon Fire TV Stick - Package Contents. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

Internet Streaming has definitely impacted the home theater experience, and there are a variety of products that provided an easy way to add that capability to a home theater setup, including Smart TVs, Streaming Blu-ray Disc players, and external Media Streamers.

Of course, not everyone owns a Smart TV or Smart Blu-ray Disc player. If you fall into that category, one product that might be a good choice to add internet streaming to your current TV and home theater might be the Amazon Fire TV Stick.

First up, the Fire TV Stick incorporates a Dual Core processor, supported by 1GB of RAM, which is designed to provide fast menu navigation and content access. 8 GB storage capacity is also provided for storing apps and related items.

The Fire TV Stick can output up to 1080p video resolution (content dependent) and is Dolby Digital, EX, Digital Plus audio compatible (content dependent).

For connectivity, the Fire TV Stick has built-in Wifi for convenient access to the internet (requires the presence of a wireless router) and plugs directly into a TV's HDMI input to view content (additional power required via micro-USB to USB or micro-USB to AC power adapter connection).

As shown in the above photo, the package contents include (from left to right): micro-USB to USB cable, USB-to-AC power adapter, Quick Start Guide, the retail box, the Fire TV stick, HDMI cable coupler, remote control (in this case, the voice-enabled remote), and two AAA batteries to power the remote.

Now that you know the basics, continue with the rest of this review for more on how to connect, set up, and use the Amazon Fire Stick - along with some additional tips and perspective.

02
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Connecting The Amazon Fire TV Stick To Your TV

Amazon Fire TV Stick - Connection Options
Amazon Fire TV Stick - Connection Options. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

Before going through the Amazon Fire TV setup procedures, you need to connect it to your TV.

The Amazon Fire TV can be connected to any TV that has an available HDMI input. This can be done by plugging it directly into the HDMI port (as shown on the left image above), or by using the provided HDMI coupler and additional cable, which enables you to have the Fire TV Stick set away from the TV (as shown in the right image).

In addition, you also need to plug the Amazon Fire TV stick into either a USB or AC power source (an adapter cable is provided that allows either option).

Additional Connection Tips:

In addition to being able to connect the Fire TV stick directly to a TV, if you have a Home Theater Receiver that has HDMI inputs with video pass-through, you can plug it into the receiver instead. In this connection setup, the receiver will route the video signal to the TV, and the audio will remain with the receiver.

The advantage of this option is that your receiver can decode any compatible surround sound formats directly instead of having to route the audio back out from the TV to the home theater receiver.

The disadvantage, however, is that you will have to run the home theater receiver when you want to watch content from your Amazon Fire TV Stick - but getting better sound is always a good thing...

Also, you can connect the Amazon Fire TV Stick directly to a video projector that has an available HDMI input, but if the projector does not have built-in speakers or audio loop-through connections, you will not hear any sound.

If you desire to use the Amazon Fire TV stick with a video projector, your option would be to connect it to a home theater receiver, as discussed above) for the audio, and then connect the receiver's HDMI output to the projector to display the video images.

03
of 07

Amazon Fire TV Remote Control Options

Amazon Fire TV Stick - Voice-Enabled Remote Control And Android Phone With Remote App
Amazon Fire TV Stick - Voice-Enabled Remote Control And Android Phone With Remote App. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

To turn-on, set up, and control the Amazon Fire TV Stick, you have the option of using the provided remote control (for the purpose of this review I was provided the Voice-enabled Remote which is shown in the above photo on the left), or an Android or iOS Smartphone (Example Shown: HTC One M8 Harman Kardon Edition Android Phone).

For the voice-enabled remote, you can opt to use the standard buttons or the voice option (powered by Amazon's Alexa voice assistant).

The standard and voice remotes provided by Amazon are slightly different in size, but the button layout is the same, and the voice remote has a built-in microphone and voice button at the very top center.

Just below the voice button on the remote shown in the above photo, is a large menu select button, surrounded by the menu navigation ring.

Moving down to the first row, just below the menu navigation ring, are the menu navigation back button, the home button, and the settings menu button.

The buttons, from left to right, on the second (bottom row) are the rewind, play/pause, and fast-forward controls that are used when playing audio or video content.

Moving over to the Fire TV App on the smartphone, most of the screen is taken up by the touch-and-swipe pad, which is used for menu and feature navigation.

Along the edges of the touch-and-swipe portion the screen are icons for voice (microphone icon), the icon on the top left takes you back on level from where you in the menu structure, the top right icon displays an onscreen keyboard, and the three icons along the bottom take you back to the home menu.

04
of 07

Amazon Fire TV Stick Setup

Amazon Fire TV Stick - Setup Screens Montage
Amazon Fire TV Stick - Setup Screens Montage. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

Now that you have the scoop on the basic features, connection, and control functions of the Amazon Fire TV Stick, it is time to start using it.

The three images above show three portions of the setup process. When you first turn the Fire TV Stick on, the official Fire TV logo appears on screen, with a "Next" prompt (shown in the image on the top left).

The first thing you need to do is connect the Fire TV Stick to your Wifi network. This is an easy step as the Stick will search all available networks - choose yours and enter your Wifi Network Key number.

The next prompt will take you to a standard product registration page - However, in my case, at the request of Amazon, the unit I received was pre-registered in my name. As a result, the registration page asks me if I want to keep the current registration or change it.

Once you move past the registration page, you encounter an animated character that provides a demo of the Fire TV Stick's basic features and operation.

The demo presentation is brief, easy to understand, and definitely worth watching if this is your first experience with a media streamer. After it is completed you are taken to the home menu.

05
of 07

Using The Amazon Fire TV Stick

Amazon Fire TV Stick - Home Page
Amazon Fire TV Stick - Home Page. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

If you have used a media streamer before, such as a Roku Box, Smart TV, or Smart Blu-ray Disc player, the home screen (menu) will look somewhat familiar.

The menu is divided into categories, which you scroll through on the left of the screen - a portion of which is shown in the above photo.

Main Menu Categories

Search - Title and app search via on-screen keyboard or voice), Home, Prime Video, Movies (Amazon), TV (Amazon).

Watch List - Amazon TV shows and movies you want to buy or rent, but haven't purchased yet.

Video Library - Movies and TV shows purchased or currently renting from Amazon Instant video.

Free Time - Allows creation of up to 4 additional user profiles.

Games -  Access to Amazon's game title offerings.

Apps - Allows access to all apps (Netflix, etc...) available for download that are not already pre-loaded - most of the apps are free, but, depending on the service that individual apps offer, you may have to pay an additional subscription, or pay per view, fees.

Music - Access to the Amazon Music Streaming service.

Photos - Allows you access any photos that you have uploaded to your Amazon Cloud Drive account.

Settings - Here is where you can manage your Fire TV Stick's basic settings, such as Screen Savers, Device Mirroring (more on that later), Parental Controls, Controllers and Bluetooth Devices (locating and pairing), Applications (Manage application installation, deleting, and updates), System (Put the Amazon Fire TV to sleep - there is no off button), Restart, View Device info, Check for software updates, and Factory Reset), Help (access video tips and customer service info), My Account (manage your account information).

Note: With regards to the Sleep function, if you don't want to go the settings menu, you can simply hold down the Home Button on the remote control for a few seconds and short menu will appear that includes a Sleep icon - just click it and the Fire TV Stick "shuts-off" - to wake it back up, just press the Home button again.

Content Access

Online content access provided by the Fire TV stick is heavily weighted towards Amazon Instant Video. For example, some the features provided by Fire TV stick, such as the Watch List and Video Library are only usable with Amazon Instant Video content - You cannot include content titles from other services, such as Netflix, Crackle, HuluPlus, HBOGo, Showtime Anytime, etc... Also, when you go the Fire TV's Movie and Music categories, only content from Amazon is listed. In order to search and organize movies, TV, shows and music from others services, you can go to each app do it within each of those apps.

Also, when using search (either keyboard or voice), although you can use it to find apps when searching for content titles, the results are limited to select services, such as Amazon, Crackle, HuluPlus, Starz, ConTV, Vevo, and possibly a few others). Netflix and HBO results appear not to be included in the search, except for past seasons of original programming (Daredevil, Orange is the New Black, Game of Thrones) that are now available via Amazon.

On the other hand, despite the above organizational and search limitations, there are hundreds of internet streaming channels to select from (both pre-loaded and added the Amazon App Store). Some of the channels include: Crackle, HBONow, HuluPlus, iHeart Radio, Netflix, Pandora, Sling TV, YouTube - Here is a complete list (Note: Vudu is not included).

In addition, the list also includes over 200 Fire TV compatible online games.

06
of 07

Additional Features Of The Amazon Fire TV Stick

Amazon Fire TV Stick - Miracast Screen Mirroring Examples
Amazon Fire TV Stick - Miracast Screen Mirroring Examples. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

In addition to the ability to access hundreds of internet streaming channels, there are some other tricks that the Amazon Fire TV can do.

Screen Mirroring Using Miracast

For example, when using a compatible smartphone or tablet, you can use the Amazon Fire TV as a conduit to share photo and video content on your TV - This is referred to as Miracast.

Shown in the above photo are two examples of the Miracast feature. On the left image is a "mirror" of a smartphone menu, and, on the right, are two photos that are being shared from the smartphone to the TV. The smartphone used was an HTC One M8 Harman Kardon Edition Android Phone.

Content Sharing Via DLNA and UPnP

Another method of accessing content is via DLNA and/or UPnP. This feature is accessible through a couple of apps that you can select, download, and add your Fire TV Apps library.

Using one of these apps, you will be able to use the Fire TV stick to access audio, video, and still image content that you have stored on PC, laptop, or media server that is connected to your home network (via your internet router). You then use the Fire TV's own remote, or a smartphone with the remote app installed, to access and control playback of the content.

Bluetooth

Another wireless connection feature available on the Fire TV is Bluetooth - However, there is a limitation. While the Bluetooth feature allows you to use many Bluetooth headphones/speakers, keyboards, mice, and game controllers, you cannot use it to transmit music files from your smartphone to the Fire TV stick.

On the other hand, Amazon provides an app called AllConnect that, when installed on both the Fire TV and a compatible Android smartphone, does enable the same type of direct audio streaming capability from the phone to the Fire TV that a Bluetooth feature would provide, but also includes direct streaming of both video and photos as well.

07
of 07

Amazon Fire TV Stick Performance and Review Summary

Amazon Fire TV Stick - Close-up View
Amazon Fire TV Stick - Close-up View. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

If you already have a Smart TV with networking and online streaming capability, the Amazon Fire TV Stick may be a little overkill, especially if your TV already offers access to Amazon Instant Video.

On the other hand, if you have a an older HDTV that has HDMI inputs, but does not provide Smart TV or internet streaming capability, the Amazon Fire TV is definitely a convenient solution - whether you are an Amazon Prime member or not.

Of course, some of the content access and organization features are only usable for Amazon-originated content, but the Fire TV stick provides access to hundreds of other popular and niche streaming services.

As far as audio and video quality goes, when connected through a home theater receiver, I was able to access several Dolby audio formats, including Dolby Digital EX and Dolby Digital Plus.

As far as video quality goes, a lot depends on your broadband speed and the actual quality of the content source (homemade YouTube videos vs the latest movie and TV releases). However, when those two factors are at their best, what you see on the screen looks pretty good.

The Fire TV stick can output up to 1080p resolution, but can work with 720p TVs as well - no problem there. On other hand, just as most media streamers that claim 1080p capability, the picture quality is not as good as what you would seen on a 1080p Blu-ray Disc.

To put it another way, watching 1080p content via media streamer looks more like very good DVD quality as opposed to true Blu-ray Disc quality - and that is simply the result of the compression algorithms on the content provider's end, coupled with your internet speed.

NOTE: You can also plug the Amazon Fire TV Stick into a 4K Ultra HD TV, but you will not be able to access to 4K streaming content. If you desire this capability, you will have to have a compatible 4K Ultra HD TV, and also opt for the Amazon Fire TV Box (Buy From Amazon), or similar media streamer that provides 4K streaming capability.

Getting back to a more positive side, there are things you can do very easily with the Amazon Fire TV stick.

One great feature is Voice Search. Instead of laboriously typing in search terms using the remote (or having to connect a large compatible external keyboard), you can just speak into your remote. Although you may have to repeat search terms more than once sometimes for Alexa to get it - It worked better than I experience.

Another thing that can do is unplug it from one TV and plug it to another TV without having to go through a new setup process. Also, you can take traveling with you, for use in some hotels, schools, and public networks.

Tip: When unplugging the Fire TV stick, keep in mind that gets very warm if has been operating for along time - this is normal, unless it is to hot to touch - if that occurs - contact Amazon customer service.

Summing It All Up

To take full advantage of all of the features offered by the Amazon Fire TV Stick, it does help to be an Amazon Prime Member, but even if you are not - there are still lots of apps and features you can use.

Taking all info consideration, the Amazon Fire TV stick is definitely a great entertainment value, and a great way to added internet streaming to the home theater experience - especially when your consider the less-than $50 price tag.

The Amazon Fire TV Stick earns 4.5 out of 5 Stars.

For more details and purchase information on the Fire TV Stick, check out Amazon's Official Fire TV Stick Product Page (price is only $39.99 with standard remote and $49.99 with voice remote). .

NOTE: The user interface and features available on the Fire TV Stick are similar with what is available on Amazon's Fire TV Box, but there are a few notable differences. Refer to my Previous Report and the Amazon Fire TV Customer Service Page for a feature list comparison between the two products.

UPDATE 09/29/2016

Amazon Announces Next Generation Fire TV Stick for 2017 with all the most of the features of the model reviewed in the above article, but with the addition of a Quad Core processor, Faster Wifi support, and Alexa Voice Remote. However, 4K support is not provided - just as with the previous model, the new Fire TV Stick supports 1080p output resolution. You can still use this new Fire TV Stick with a 4K Ultra HD TV, but you will not have access to 4K streaming content - The TV will have to upscale the 1080p to 4K for screen display.

Suggested Price: $39.99 - Official Amazon Product and Order Page

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer, unless otherwise indicated. 

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