Amazon Fire TV 4K HDR 2017 Model Review: Powerful, Fast And Slightly Flawed
- Broad selection of important content
- Dolby Atmos audio support
- HDR10 support
- 4K at 60FPS
- Highly compact device
- Alexa voice assistant works well
- No Dolby Vision HDR support
- No volume button on the Alexa remote
- No Ethernet connectivity included with device
Amazon’s Fire TV 4K HDR 2017 edition is one excellent streaming media dongle without a doubt. However, it does come with a few minor flaws, especially in terms of broader content access and unless you’re a particularly dedicated fan of Amazon, it’s not the best option in existence right now. We like it, we recommend it easily for its price and there’s plenty that’s great about it (particularly it’s exceptionally fast interface handling) but if you want even better, either spend some more for Apple TV 4K or spend $99 cents less on the Roku Streaming Stick Plus 4K HDR device.
Amazon’s Fire TV 2017 edition has gotten a major resize and a huge beefing up from its rather mediocre predecessor (which was pretty much out of date right from its release date). Amusingly, the new streaming device has managed to dramatically shrink while at the same time becoming much more powerful in terms of core functionality for ultra HD content handling and media streaming support in this new but increasingly popular resolution. Unlike the older version of Amazon Fire TV, the new 2017 model finally supports HDR and finally also supports 4K video at a smooth and modern 60FPS. On the other hand, it offers none of the more expanded connectivity options of its predecessor. Though the question here is, does it even need them if what you want is just a great streaming platform for your TV.
As is typical of Amazon, the company is very generous in allowing users access to a broad range of content from competing third party providers right inside its own device. Thus, while Google’s Chromecast Ultra won’t let you get your hands on the Amazon Prime Instant Video App, the Amazon Fire TV has no problem giving you access to Google Play. We like this and it’s a nice show of openness which serves as one particularly symbolic customer-friendly point in the Fire TV’s favor.
Most notable of all about the new Fire TV 2017 edition is its dramatically different form factor. Gone is the largish set-top box of last year and here is the new (and apparently trending, considering competitor designs) plug-and-play hanging dongle. This means a loss of some connectivity options but the gain in compactness for a neater TV setup is a bonus in our view. Also, the Amazon Fire TV 2017 model is definitely priced competitively and for this we like it even more, despite some flaws that we’ll get to shortly.
4.7 – 4 Reviews
There are plenty of things to like about the Amazon Fire TV dongle. It’s a generally major improvement over its predecessor and it’s definitely a strong competitor to the Google Chromecast Ultra while also giving Roku’s otherwise generally superior but similarly designed Streaming Stick Plus 4K HDR device a run for its money in some aspects. If anything, the Amazon Fire TV platform is closest in terms of performance to the Apple TV 4K box but with a much lower price tag. Here are the things we most liked about it.
The Amazon Fire TV dongle’s design is, well, a dongle form. This might not be to the liking of some users who want a big meaty and connectivity-laden full blown set-top box next to their TV but for those of you who like compact but powerful external streaming devices which stay hidden easily, the new 2017 Fire TV is fantastic. We think Roku’s streaming Stick Plus is even more efficiently designed but the hanging body of the Fire TV 2017 model is certainly cool too in our view and because it hangs straight down instead of sticking out laterally, it’s also particularly easy to hide, especially on larger (45 inch+ 4K TVs).
Unlike the Fire TV stick that Amazon also sells (purely an HD 1080p model), the Fire TV dongle needs to hook up to an external power source, so this does mean an additional cable hanging from your TV. This unit connects via USB to the Fire TV dongle and then via adapter to an actual power cord. In this regard, Roku bests Amazon with its 4K HDR streaming stick, which can just draw current directly from the TV itself. Either way though, this is a pretty minor issue of the new Amazon device. Aside from its HDMI extension, the Amazon Fire TV device comes with no other connectivity ports or options besides its internal WiFi system.
Overall Device and Smart Platform Performance
Amazon Fire’s overall performance is nothing short of superb. The platform for the new dongle is extremely fast with no lag time that we could discern. This of course isn’t too surprising since the new dongle comes with a remarkably powerful 1.5GHz processor and a 2GB internal memory, both of which almost seem like overkill for such a tiny device. Basically, as long as your TV’s display is up to the task along with your internet connectivity speed range, the Fire TV 4K model will perform perfectly crisply at passing along the 4K ultra HD video content straight to your TV smoothly and without problems. The same will apply to HDR content from whichever sources offer it, which both Amazon Prime Instant Video and Netflix certainly do. In fact, the HDR and 4K @ 60FPS aspect of the new Fire TV device is without a doubt its biggest selling feature and the new model’s greatest change from that of its predecessor (aside from the majorly different, smaller design). The previous Amazon Fire 4K set-top box was versatile and loaded with connectivity options but it only offered HDMI for 4K video @ 30FPS and came with no HDR functionality.
Testing out a range of different 1080p, 4K UHD and 4K with HDR TV shows and movies from the different apps on the Amazon Fire 2017 model gave us pretty impressive results. For one thing, the highly new Fire TV dongle carries the latest HDR versions of all content apps which support these video formats and this is highly useful for owners of HDR 4K TVs which might have outdated versions of those same apps. Secondly, the content itself flowed smoothly and richly as desired for a 4K HDR TV. Non-HDR TVs get the same level of 4K flow functionality for UHD content but they of course won’t be able to display the HDR mastering of the content which affords this feature inside the Amazon Fire platform.
Speaking of the Amazon Fire smart platform itself, it’s wonderfully designed and fairly easy to use, with a neat, intuitive layout that lets you navigate content and favorite stuff easily. In this area Roku TV in Roku’s own 4K streamers is definitely bigger, more flexible and generally better with a much larger content app selection but Amazon Fire still offers plenty of content for the majority of users, many of whom will probably stick to Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video anyhow.
Full Blown 4K HDR Support AND Dolby Atmos
As we said above, unlike its predecessor, the Amazon Fire TV dongle is fully HDR-capable for content mastered in the HDR10 format (pretty much all existing streaming and 4K Blu-ray HDR content). For owners of high quality, premium 4K HDR TVs with full wide color gamut and high dynamic range contrast and brightness levels, this streaming platform will offer some truly stunning movie and TV show visuals. Original series from Netflix or Amazon Prime itself will look superb and any movies in ultra HD resolution with their own HDR formatting will also flow with their full visual power from the device to your HDR television at a smooth 60 frames per second maximum that the older Amazon Fire TV box lacked. These are both major benefits of this highly affordable streaming media box.
On the audio side of things the Fire TV is somewhat unique in that it supports Dolby Atmos sound pass-through for whichever content comes with this audio format integrated. The new and highly advanced 3D sound system does deliver a definitively high quality audio experience but be warned that unless you have a 4K TV and external sound system which are ready for Dolby Atmos audio, the Atmos feature of the Fire TV dongle won’t offer anything extra. However, for owners of 4K TVs with Dolby Atmos pass-through and a full-blown Dolby Atmos surround sound system, the Amazon Fire TV dongle is a unique and particularly attractive choice since even Apple TV 4K doesn’t offer Atmos sound.
Alexa Voice Control
Finally, the Amazon Fire TV dongle comes with Alexa voice control, as do many other Amazon devices. This little feature is definitely useless for users who want the easiest possible way of controlling their streaming media content offerings. Furthermore, not only is Alexa present in the Fire TV dongle, it has also been considerably improved from its older versions in this new device. Talking to the Alexa voice assistant is done with the remote control of the Fire TV dongle and the voice command feature is remarkably flexible. Amazon has made sure of this by not only designing it to be highly usable for manipulation of its Fire smart platform and content search as well as other things if you happen to have an Amazon Echo in your home too. Alexa isn’t without its flaws either. It sometimes misunderstands commands and returns mistaken results but for the most part this is rare as long as you speak clearly to the voice assistant.
Overall, the Amazon Fire 2017 edition is one superb streaming media device but it also has a few fairly minor flaws that some users might not like. We don’t consider any of these to be anywhere close to deal breakers but we’ll let you decide. Here’s what we found.
No Dolby Vision
First and foremost, there’s the lack of Dolby Vision. We can understand why many companies forego this high dynamic range standard in favor of HDR10 since the latter is open source and thus much cheaper to implement but since Amazon is a multibillion dollar company of gargantuan proportions, would it really kill them to give users this wonderful extra. Dolby Vision creates a distinctly superior HDR performance to HDR10 and even some of Amazon’s own 4K UHD content is mastered in the standard, so it’s a bit odd that the Fire TV dongle doesn’t support it. Most particularly, owners of 4K TVs which support Dolby Vision might want to go for the Apple TV 4K set-top box instead for this reason if no other.
Remote Control problems
The remote that comes with the Fire TV dongle is generally very good and easy to use. However it comes with one glaring defect. Namely, it lacks a volume control for some bizarre reason. This is a minor detail but it can be annoying and if you’re using the Fire TV dongle for movies and so forth, you should keep your regular remote handy for the volume aspect of your entertainment.
Lastly we mention what some users might find to be the biggest limitation of the Amazon fire TV. Quite simply, it just doesn’t offer enough new content options to really add much to most modern smart TV platforms. The Amazon dongle is great for owners of older 4K TVs with outdated smart platforms (who would however lose out on the devices HDR benefits if those TVs don’t support this feature in their displays), but overall, its selection of apps isn’t broad enough to be that much or at all better than what your average newer 4K TV offers. Unlike the Roku TV smart platform of Roku’s devices, which offers a huge and rather unique range of apps, Amazon Fire TV is really mostly about its Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video apps. On the other hand, the Amazon Fire TV dongle also offers YouTube in 4K UHD and through this you can indirectly access Google Play HDR and 4K UHD entertainment, which is a nice bonus.
4.7 – 4 Reviews
- Processor: AMlogic S905z/1.5 Ghz
- Supported Resolution: 2160p, 1080p, and 720p, up to 60 FPS
- HDR Support: HDR-10
- Memory: 2GB
- Storage: 8GB
- Audio: Dolby Atmos
- Supported Content Formats: Video: HDR-10. H.265, H.264, Audio: AAC-LC, AC3, eAC3 (Dolby Digital Plus), FLAC, MP3, PCM/Wave, Vorbis, Dolby Atmos (EC3_JOC), Photo: JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP
- Extra Features: Alexa Voice Assistant, Remote TV app
- Network: WiFi and Ethernet (requires adapter for Ethernet)
- Dimensions & weight: 6” x 2.6” x 0.6” (65.0 mm x 65.0 mm x 15.0 mm), 3.1 oz (87.1 g)
Unpacking & Setup
There really isn’t much in the way of setup to the Amazon Fire TV. Like the Roku Streaming Stick Plus and Google’s Chromecast, getting this little streaming beast up and running is almost literally like child’s play. The steps consist very basically of Connecting, signing in and relaxing into your favorite content right after that.
The Fire TV remote needs to have its batteries inserted to work. Once this is done, the Fire TV 4K dongle can be plugged into any one of your 4K HDR TV’s high speed HDMI ports (note: some HDMI ports on many 4K TVs don’t support full 60FPS 4K HDR pass-through, so check your specific model to see if all of its ports are of the HDMI 2.0 variety needed for [email protected] or if not, which ones offer this capacity.) Once plugged in, it also needs to be hooked up to its USB power adapter which will itself then be plugged into a nearby power socket. Having done these things, you just need to connect to your WiFi network, sign into your Amazon account and you’re good to go. Other accounts with other apps like Netflix will also need to be logged into as you start to use them.
We should also note that the Fire TV dongle does offer Ethernet connectivity for a much more stable internet connection but, unfortunately, unlike Google’s Chromecast Ultra, the device only gets this extra feature if you buy Ethernet connector separately for about $14.
Getting started with the Amazon Fire TV 4K HDR dongle is literally this simple.
In terms of connectivity, the Amazon Fire Dongle comes out of the box with nothing more than a single HDMI connector built into it at the end of a short cable and along the other side of its square shaped body from which the HDMI cable extends, it has a USB slot for its power adapter. The HDMI connector on the Amazon Fire is of the HDMI 2.0a variety, meaning that it supports full 4K UHD resolution at 60FPS with HDR10 capacity and also offers up HDCP 2.2 for content playback from all major sources of ultra HD entertainment. Inside the device there is also a wireless card for WiFi connectivity of the powerful 802.11ac dual-band MIMO type and Amazon also sells a separate “Amazon Ethernet Adapter” for if you want the Fire TV dongle to hook up to your home internet connection with more stability than is possible with WiFi sometimes. We should also note that the company itself recommends at least 15 to 20Mbps of internet connection speed for access to their 4K UHD content. Similar speeds apply for most sources of streamed ultra HD video from other apps as well.
Amazon Fire TV 2017 dongle Vs. Rival Streaming Platforms
Overall, the Amazon Fire TV dongle compares favorably to Google’s Chromecast Ultra in our opinion. It offers more content offerings and more importantly, delivers more of the kind of content you’d want if you own a 4K streaming media device and 4K TV. By this we especially refer to Amazon Prime Instant Video itself, which the Chromecast doesn’t currently offer. On the other hand, rival Roku’s Streaming Stick Plus is even better than Amazon Fire in terms of smart platform functionality, content access and usability in our view (though Alexa works much more smoothly than Roku’s own voice assistant feature. The other big factor in the room is the smart TV functionality of most newer 4K HDR TVs. The Amazon Fire doesn’t really offer much more than what your TV itself comes with in terms of apps and content access and for this reason it might not even be worthwhile for owners of newer 4K televisions with advanced smart platforms of their own. It does however offer Dolby Atmos support and this might make it worthwhile to users who have sound systems and TVs compatible with this advanced audio format.
The Amazon Fire TV 2017 edition is a great, high performing piece of streaming media technology. However, if you already own a very new 4K HDR TV, you probably don’t really need it. Also, if your 4K TV is capable of Dolby Vision HDR support, the Amazon Fire lacks that same crucial piece of technology for it to be worthwhile, despite its very reasonable $69.99 price tag. Dolby Vision 4K TV owners are better off with Apple TV 4K and its new 4K HDR content for iTunes 4K.
Amazon is currently selling its powerful little Fire TV 2017 dongle with 4K and HDR support for $69.99. You can buy it directly from them at the link below. The Fire TV do0ngle’s price might have gone down since the time of this writing, so be sure to check the link for the latest pricing information.
4.7 – 4 Reviews