A Review of the Amazon Fire 4K TV box
In a landscape of growing (albeit slowly) 4K ultra HD content options, streaming media and set-top boxes with support for ultra high definition resolution are popping up all over the place. In this new environment, Amazon, a consistent developer and supporter of the premium 4K UHD content landscape on the web quite naturally has also released their own, second-generation, streaming media box with built in 4K support.
The Amazon Fire TV box promises a whole host of features from access to a wide range of HD content, access to the still limited range of 4K UHD content and assorted gaming and web browsing options to boot. Delivered in the last few weeks in what seems to be a direct competitive move against Apple, which also released a new Apple TV platform but oddly without the inclusion of 4K.
The new Android-powered Amazon Fire TV box comes with a number of enhanced goodies over what its predecessor offered and in addition to a more powerful level of processing power, also comes with and assortment of new control, connectivity and content browsing features.
There’s plenty to like about the Fire TV from Amazon. At a most essential level as far as this website is concerned, how can we not love the media boxes newly developed support for 4K UHD video on a wide range of UHD TVs. On top of this, there’s also a much more powerful 64-bit CPU and GPU combination in place to handle all the 4K graphics and interactive platform features of the Fire TV. Furthermore, the Amazon Fire box comes with a host of highly intelligent voice control assistant features thanks to Amazon’s own Alexa voice assistant technology, which works through a microphone in the platform’s WiFi-enabled remote control.
Additionally, Amazon has made accessing 4K UHD content through their own native Prime Instant Video delivery and the Netflix online streaming content subscription service available to users of the new media box who own a 4K UHD TV that’s of the earlier generations to come out and does not have its own built-in HEVC encoding and decompression technology baked into it.
Finally, we also have to love the greatly expanded selection of top-notch applications available through the Fire TV’s Android operating system platform and the fun games which are also available for interested users –all playable with the Fire TV’s included controller.
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On the other hand, the Amazon Fire TV box is also far from perfect. For starters, it won’t work on all 4K UHD TVs due to compatibility issues and its general 4K UHD and HD content options heavily lean in favor of Amazon Prime subscribers (big surprise here!). This last criticism is important to bear in mind for those of you who aren’t already major users of Amazon Prime. If you prefer your content coming from a source like Netflix, the Fire TV box is, despite its outstanding streaming features, a machine that’s been built with a different kind of customer more in mind.
Additionally, remember that the Fire TV 4K isn’t a set-top box with preloaded 4K content or downloadable ultra HD entertainment. It streams its movies and other UHD programming to you, so if you happen to have an internet connection which can’t handle the requisite minimum of 20 Mbps, you’ll only get access to Full HD streams through this device which has been built with 4K videos so firmly in mind.
Max Supported resolution: 4K ultra HD at 3840 x 2160 pixels
Processor: quad-core 64-bit
Memory: 2 GB
Internal Storage: 8 GB
Remote Control Features: Fire TV stick with Voice control and remote app with voice support. Game controller included in Game Version of Fire TV
Gaming: high performance HD gaming
Connectivity: 1 x HDMI 1.4, 1 x USB 2.0, Dual-band 802.11A/B/G/N, Ethernet
Extended Storage: supports microSD up to 128 GB, card sold separately
Audio: Dolby Audio, 5.1 surround sound, 2ch stereo, and HDMI audio pass through up to 7.1
Software: Android, with App store, media streaming, internet video, internet radio and integrated Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime Instant Video
Dimensions (H x W x D): 0.7 x 4.5 x 4.5 inches
Weight: 0.6 lbs
The Amazon Fire TV 4K box has a relatively simple, straightforward design which consists of a single literal box that measures 0.6 by 4.5 by 4.5 inches with the Amazon logo engraved into its matte black top. The sides of this box are of a polished black and include connection ports for Power, HDMI, Ethernet, a microSD card and USB.
In addition to the box itself, there are two remote controllers included in the Gaming Edition version we’re reviewing here. The first of these is the actual Fire TV stick remote with buttons for the microphone, voice search, menu, home, back, rewind, play/pause and fast forward. There is also a ring button for navigation and a select button inside that ring. The second controller, which comes only with the Gaming Edition Fire TV box, is designed exclusively for gameplay and features a number of controls for playing high performance, serious interactive games on the TV you connect your Fire TV box to.
We also love the voice search button on the Fire TV stick remote, by pressing a button to activate the remote’s microphone, you can search for content, apps, games and perform basic navigation functions by speaking into the WiFi connected remote.
The first thing we’d like to mention about the new Fire TV is its main new feature and that is the 4K Ultra HD playback the box is capable of. Thanks to a revamped 64-bit quad-core processor and new graphics card, the Fire TV can not only handle the 4K video it streams to your UHD TV, it can also handle it quite quickly and with no glitching or slowdowns that we notice. Additionally, navigating around with the Fire’s remote control provides a smooth, responsive interaction even while content in UHD is running on the screen. We should also note that the remote comes with WiFi connectivity instead of Bluetooth for a stronger, longer range signal and better battery life.
4K content support comes in the form of built-in apps for Amazon Prime Instant Video, Amazon Video and Netflix ultra HD, in addition to whatever 4K content options your 4K TV itself has on offer. On the other hand, movies available through Amazon Prime in 4K have to be bought or rented and only Amazon’s own TV series subscriptions are available as part of the regular Prime Instant Video subscription. Furthermore, while YouTube is available on the Fire TV, 4K videos from the website can’t be viewed due to a lack of VP9 compression codec compatibility in the Fire TV.
Moving beyond the Boxes 4K TV features, the Fire TV comes with Dolby Audio Support, which definitely means richer sound via a connection to any Dolby compatible TV or AV receiver.
Next up, there is the Voice powered remote that comes with the Fire TV. Called the Fire TV Stick, it offers a new search platform that we truly think is excellent. This is called Alexa and in our view it works better than anything we’ve seen from Google or Microsoft at interpreting voice commands for the sake of searching for video content, finding apps, opening programs for weather, sports news and traffic information as well as a whole pile of other things. As far as we can tell, Alexa works nearly flawlessly, with clear interpretation of voice commands and a sound ability to understand essential commands given to it. The voice control aspect of the Fire TV even comes with a type of emergency voice command for technical support, which is then called by the Fire TV itself, allowing technicians to take control of the box and properly diagnose whatever problems you might be having.
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In addition to an awesome voice control feature in the form of Alexa, the Fire TV Gaming Edition also offers some very serious gameplay potential, which is accessible through the Fire TV Game Controller that’s included with this version of the box. It does cost a bit more to have this feature but the access to hours of extra high performance gaming entertainment it provides is definitely worth the price of you’re a games fan. Furthermore, the Games Controller also comes with the same Alexa voice search as the Fire TV remote and includes and audio jack for quiet gaming late at night. U.S customers can also access a special deal in which the Gaming Edition of the Fire TV also comes with a 32GB microSD card and two included games –Shovel Knight and Duck Tales.
As far as we can tell, Amazon itself is also working on developing access to a much broader range of high-end console games down the road but for the time being, the gameplay features of the Fire TV are nowhere near what you’d get with something like the Nvidia Shield or the PlayStation 4.
Finally, Amazon has also included a number of bonus features like screen sharing, display mirroring, Parental controls and Private Listening via a pair of Bluetooth compatible headphones with Dolby Audio virtual surround.
Connectivity is one of the weaker points of the Amazon Fire TV 4K Box and particularly because this is after all a 4K UHD streaming box which is supposed to have access to the latest and best in 4K UHD content from both Amazon Prime and Netflix.
Principally, the Fire TV comes with only one HDMI port, one USB port and one Ethernet port. While it’s Ethernet connection and powerful WiFi capacity are just fine, the HDMI port is only of the 1.4 variety and the USB port is a 2.0 version. In this, Amazon definitely could have done a much better job. USB 3.0 wouldn’t have been too much of a difficulty to install and the implementation of HDMI 1.4 is simply a travesty. Amazon claims that their box is compatible with 4K TVs with HDCP 2.2 and 4K content support at up to 60Hz but the HDMI 1.4 connection on the box itself only ranks high enough for 4K UHD content at 30 frames per second. This is also according to the “Output Resolution Supported” specs from Amazon.com itself. In other words, the Fire TV 4K box can’t handle Amazon’s own 4K content at its ideal refresh rate and certainly can’t also handle the latest HDR 4K content from Amazon, even if the TV you’ve connected the Amazon Fire box to is capable of HDR support.
In terms of overall performance, we’d definitely say that the Amazon Fire 4K TV box is a solid piece of technology. Its interface is very fast and easy to navigate and apps are also highly accessible. We love the voice search options provided by “Alexa” via the games controller and Fire TV stick remote control and we also like the strong set of menu options for parental controls and display mirroring that come with the Fire TV. On the other hand, we’re not as happy with the lack of access to Google Play and its much broader selection of online apps and we also don’t entirely like the heavy focus on Amazon Prime services over those of other available apps for 4K or HD and other types of content. However, this last gripe is hardly the result of a surprise considering who the Fire TV was made by.
We should also note that setting up the Fire TV 4K box is relatively easy and can be done by simply connecting the box to your TV via HDMI and plugging in its power, and then going through the easy to grasp step-by-step setup wizard that comes with the Fire TV Android-base software. Finally, we should note that the actual display interface of the Amazon Fire 4K TV box is purely 1080p HD, not 4K. 4K ultra HD resolution only arrives via streams of content at 3840 x 2160 pixels. However, the Full HD display interface scales wonderfully and crisply on any compatible 4K TV with a decent internal 4K upscaling engine.
The Amazon Fire TV box is remarkably cheap considering all that it offers. This is one of its biggest selling points and the “premium” Gaming Edition with an extra games controller and an included 32GB microSD memory pack retails on Amazon.com for just $139.99. Buyers who only want the base Fire TV 4K box with only its ordinary remote control can buy it for just $99.99.
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• Access to plenty of 4K content
• Easy to set up and use
• Excellent gaming, regular content and apps access
• Streams content very smoothly
• Powerful processing specs for smooth use
• Excellent price
• No HDMI 2.0 as far as we can tell
• Weak on game selection
• No access to full range of Google Play apps
• Heavily oriented toward Amazon Prime subscribers