"While hardcore gamers aren't likely to be the system’s early adopters, it’s surprising how well the Amazon Fire TV works as a gaming device."
As with the Kindle Fire HDX, the Amazon Fire TV comes with the user’s account synced up and ready to go. Connecting the Fire TV is a breeze. It comes packaged with a power adapter, remote and batteries. An HDMI cable is needed for the TV connection and if you’re more interested in gaming, an Xbox 360-inspired wireless gamepad can be purchased separately. While most of the casual games can be played with the included remote, the gamepad is imperative for proper FPS gaming. Once the Network WEP is entered, the Fire TV is ready for streaming apps and playing games.
"There’s no aggravating lag between clicks and loading apps like Netflix and Hulu takes mere seconds…yes, it’s that fast."
There’s a brief introductory animation explaining Fire TV’s features and serving as a basic tutorial. While on-screen tutorials have a tendency to be drawn out and derivative, the Fire TV’s intro is brief, charming and surprisingly useful. Once familiar with the remote functionality, you’re greeted to a cleanly designed main menu. Accessibility is the motto here and it’s clear that the developers’ design emphasizes user-friendliness over ad-cluster (cough…Xbox ONE…cough). Navigating between movies, TV, games, apps and photos is effortless and most importantly fast. There’s no aggravating lag between clicks and loading apps like Netflix and Hulu takes mere seconds…yes, it’s that fast.
One of Fire TV’s most impressive features is the voice search. Unlike the gimmicky Xbox ONE Kinect or PS Move, this is a peripheral that actually functions as advertised and significantly enhances usability. Simply holding the mic button and speaking the name of a show, actor or genre instantly brings up a list of available options. Best of all, it adapts to the user’s voice over time, so the more it’s used the better it recognizes spoken words. To test its functionality, I found myself crouching behind a couch, murmuring phrases (sometimes even gibberish) just to see how well it pieces words together. Aside from a few foreign names and titles, it works stupendously well. Amazon’s voice recognition technology is truly remarkable and I imagine it only gets better the more it’s used each day.
"Textures are sharp, the framerate is exceptionally smooth and the gamepad response time is spot on. There are minor hiccups during larger explosions, but it’s no worse than what we’ve already seen on last gen consoles."
As a big gamer and someone who’s been let down by Ouya not too long ago, my first series of tests consisted of rigorous gaming. The Amazon Fire TV comes with a free copy of Sev Zero, Amazon’s first premiere title. It’s a tower defense game similar to Sanctum and while it’s not particularly innovative, it’s a neat tech demonstration of what this little device is truly capable of. Visually, Sev Zero can easily pass for an Xbox 360 or PS3 title. Equipped with a quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM and a dedicated graphics card, the Fire TV is impressively powerful. Textures are sharp, the framerate is exceptionally smooth and the gamepad response time is spot on. There are minor hiccups during larger explosions, but it’s no worse than what we’ve already seen on last gen consoles. It’s important to keep in mind that all of this is running on a tiny square box that can fit in the palm of your hand. It’s truly remarkable. Other tested titles include Asphalt 8: Airborne, Deus EX: The Fall, The Walking Dead and Dead Trigger 2. Aside from a couple fps dips in Asphalt 8, every game performed exceptionally well, particularly the graphically impressive Dead Trigger 2. Those who decide to purchase the gamepad, you’ll be happy to know that its ergonomic design is as comfortable as the Xbox 360 controller. The analog sticks are meticulous and the buttons have a nice clickiness to them. The shoulder buttons work well too, but they feel somewhat rigid. This may not be an issue most people since mobile games don’t require precise pressure sensitivity, but it feels a bit off.
This also brings me to Fire TV’s biggest downfall: storage space. With only 8GB of available space, it’s easy to run out after downloading only three, slightly bigger, games. If Amazon plans on expanding its gaming library and appealing to gamers, this will be (and already is) a major problem. While it doesn't take too long to re-download and re-install most titles, being unable to have more than a handful of installed games is a tremendous letdown. On the other hand, most users are likely to buy the Fire TV for its streaming capabilities, but it wouldn’t hurt to release an external storage device for those who like their mobile gaming on the big screen.
"TV shows and movies load instantaneously and the buffering takes no more than a few seconds before the image quality adjusts to Super HD."
For years now, I’ve used the PS3 (and more recently the PS4) for my streaming services. However, after using the Amazon Fire TV I can’t imagine going back to anything else. Netflix in particular, which is notorious for its horrid buffering if you’re a Verizon user, runs perfectly. TV shows and movies load instantaneously and the buffering takes no more than a few seconds before the image quality adjusts to Super HD. Prime users will appreciate even quicker load-times since all available films and TV shows are on the main menu. Music lovers can also access their favorite apps like Pandora, iHeart Radio, Tunein and Vevo via the main menu and the Fire TV’s 5.1 surround sound ensures you can enjoy superb audio quality with the proper speaker set-up. If that’s not enough, the Fire TV is integrated with Amazon Cloud Drive, allowing easy viewing of personal videos and photos on the big screen. It’s even possible to use your own images to create slide shows for the custom screensaver on Fire TV. For those who’ve already invested in Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX, you can now use the Second Screen function to fling Amazon TV shows and movies from the tablet to the Fire TV. While watching content on the big screen, you can use the tablet’s customized X-Ray display to view actor info and other additional material. It’s exciting being able to find out what song is playing while watching films, or what the characters’ back-stories are.
Amazon’s Fire TV is a remarkable piece of technology. It’s small, affordable, incredibly powerful and easy to use. It’s the best streaming device on the market right now and its only downside is the absurdly small storage space. Even if you’re gamer who considers mobile gaming too casual, the Fire TV’s capabilities may change your mind…I know they changed mine. This is what the Ouya should have been. This is what many companies tried to do but failed until now. Amazon’s Fire TV is a must for tech/gadget enthusiasts and casual gamers alike. It’s the only streaming device you’ll ever need and Amazon’s recent acquisition of Double Helix means hardcore gamers have a lot to look forward to as well.
Reviewed by: Tin Salamunic