All About the Amazon Fire TV Streaming Stick and the Amazon Fire TV Set-top Box
Once you’re ready to cut the cable cord, and you have a reliable high speed Internet service like FairlawnGig®, streaming your TV content is the way to go. You may also save money compared to Cable or Satellite TV channel bundles. You can stream TV content to any TV you own by adding an external streaming player that delivers the same programming once only available on cable or satellite over your Internet connection instead. If you have a Smart TV you don’t need a device, although you might want to consider adding one for better performance. FairlawnGig has put together an overview of two of Amazon’s products to help you decide which streaming device will work for your household. We also have an article on Roku® streaming products here.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
We’ll start with Amazon’s bargain device, the under $40 Amazon Fire TV Stick. Something that sets it apart is access to Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, allowing you to search by voice (a microphone is built into the remote). The stick is a small streaming device (3.4″ x 1.1″ x 0.5″) that you plug into the HDMI slot on the back of your TV. It comes with a remote, a micro USB cable, power adapter, HDMI cable, batteries for the remote and a quick-start guide.
Set-up is quick and easy: on the Stick’s side is a micro USB port for power. Newer TVs have a USB port on the back for power but they’ve included a power adaptor to plug into a power strip if needed. Then you’re all set to watch programs.
You can use Amazon’s included remote or get the app for your Android or iOS smart phone or tablet and use that to control your programs. It has an onscreen keyboard, that’s faster than using the remote to type, making it easy to enter logins for other apps. However, the keyboard is limited to apps which use Amazon’s own keyboard. The Stick has an upgraded quad-core processor that supports Bluetooth, so you can also put on a pair of headphones and use that to navigate.
You can get a free 30-day trial of Amazon Prime when you buy the Stick. See our overview of the Amazon Video Prime streaming service here to get an idea of their included channels. However, the Stick will work with most (though not all) streaming services like Sling TV, DirecTV Now, Hulu and Netflix.
Fire TV’s Interface
Amazon uses a modified version of the Android operating system, so it looks like an Android phone’s interface: large rows of icons show apps and content, arranged in categories, making it easy to navigate. You’ll add apps through a limited version of the Amazon app store, where you’ll find most major streaming services. Fire TV is missing some apps that are available on Roku like Vudu and Google Play. But Amazon has recently added services that include Spotify and PlayStationVue so watch for the addition of newly supported apps.
The Stick is designed to make it easy for Amazon Prime members, such as allowing you to access Amazon videos directly from the stick. You’ll pay extra for Amazon Music Unlimited, although you’ll find some free music included in the Prime membership.
Voice Search Using the Remote and Alexa
The Stick uses Amazon’s Alexa voice system. Hold down the microphone button on the remote to search by speaking to find movies, shows, and apps: a handy feature but not hands-free like the Amazon Echo products. But since the Stick is connected to your TV, it can give you visual information in response to your Alexa requests. This feature works on the 90 most popular Fire TV apps, including Netflix and Hulu. It recognizes what subscriptions you have, placing those results first so you can view programs on services you already pay for before watching on a service you don’t already have.
While search results are skewed toward programming available on Amazon, this is still a helpful feature that goes beyond TV content: get other information with the Stick’s Alexa: check weather, get sports scores, find Wikipedia information, order Domino’s pizza, or add items to your shopping list. You can also control smart home devices, such as thermostats and if you have a smart home lighting app, you can dim the lights when your movie starts.
Fire Stick Features
Streaming Apps: The Amazon Prime app is the only streaming service preloaded, but adding others is a breeze. Load apps using the remote or go to the Amazon App store. You don’t need to have an Amazon Prime membership if you use the Stick, but it is tailored to be the most responsive for Prime.
Games: a number are offered, but you’ll have to buy Amazon’s game controller to play.
- Easy set-up.
- Bargain Price: under $40.
- Fast loading.
- A lot of available content, even without buying a Prime membership.
- Simple remote, with a remote with access to voice search using Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant.
- X-ray feature: you can identify actors or songs in programs and find them on other movies or shows.
- Portability: move it from TV to TV in your home, or take it with you when you travel. It’s not tied to a particular TV, mobile device or your home address.
- Limited voice search: works with most streaming apps but not all.
- Limited to 1080p video; if you want 4K video, you’ll have to get the Amazon Fire TV streaming box.
- You can’t watch iTunes movies TV shows unless you know how to remove DRM protection, then convert the video files Amazon’s supported video format; not easy if you’re not tech-savvy.
- One-click ordering: you must turn this off through the parental control settings or your children will run up purchases quite easily.
- Unlike the Roku streaming boxes, only the Amazon app is pre-loaded. You’ll have to search and add the apps, which may not allow you to discover a streaming service you might not have heard about that was pre-loaded; locating and loading apps takes time.
- It’s tailored to work best for users who have Amazon Video Prime and is not as universal as other streaming devices.
- Only runs on WiFi, so if you’re running multiple devices in your home on WiFi, you may notice some slowdown in loading. If you prefer a wired connection to FairlawnGig’s Internet, then check out the Fire TV (below), which has an Ethernet port.
This set-top box ($90) has upgrades above those available on the Fire Stick, and depending on what features you value when streaming, this might be a better fit.
Image of the Amazon Fire TV courtesy of Amazon.
What’s Included with Amazon Fire TV
The box is a 4.6″ black square, 0.7″ tall. The power LED is hidden on the left side of the front panel. The back houses the power connector (for the included power adapter), an HDMI port, USB port, Ethernet port, and a microSD card slot. There are no buttons or switches, so once you plug it in, it’s ready to stream and works with the included remote.
Set-up is as easy as the Stick and includes the Fire TV box, voice-enabled remote, power adapter and batteries for the remote. You will to have a high-definition-capable TV-capable and a HDMI cable (not included). Amazon includes a video if you need help, but you should be able to get it running without any help in five minutes, and then you’ll be able to watch videos, play games and listen to music. The remote works the same as the Stick, which is outlined above.
The major differences from the Stick are:
- An Ethernet port, which allows it to run directly from the FairlawnGig ONT rather than the Stick, which can only stream using WiFi. If you value resolution above the Stick’s 1080p, then the Fire TV is for you.
- A digital output port.
- An expandable memory port for up to 200 GB of microSD storage.
- 4K Video.
Ultra HD on Fire TV
This streaming device supports Ultra HD (UHD) video content, but how well it works depends on a fast network connection to display 4K content, so plan on at least the FairlawnGig Premium plan but the Gigabit plan will get you the fastest loading and performance. FairlawnGig recommends using a direct Ethernet connection for the most consistent 4K streaming. Our installers can advise you on the best set-up for your household.
Note that Amazon’s interface is displayed in the lower-resolution 1080p. When you’re viewing programs in HD you won’t see a difference, but sometimes there’s a half-second pause when jumping from a 4K video stream to Amazon’s main menu while the Fire TV switches output resolutions.
Limitations: unlike the Stick, the Fire TV isn’t as portable as the Fire TV Stick. While you can still move it to other TVs, the plug-and-play capability belongs to the Stick.
The Positives: what’s better with this box than the Stick:
- Greater speed, so apps and programming load faster.
- High-definition picture: you’ll enjoy the 4K Ultra HD, the highest quality picture available. If video picture quality matters, then choose the box over the Stick. But if your TV doesn’t have 4K Ultra HD capability, note that Fire TV cannot deliver it.
- Gaming is more robust than the Stick, although gamers may prefer the portability of the Stick.
The minuses are the same as the above negatives section on the Stick. The most notable for both the Amazon Fire Stick and Fire TV is that both are programmed to work best with an Amazon Video Prime membership. If you have Prime or are considering it, they offer a 30-day free trial. But if you find you don’t want Prime, then you’ve bought a device that is not as universal for all the streaming services as one from Roku.