Having been introduced to streaming TV first through the Microsoft XBox and the Nintendo WII, it was a natural progression to pickup a Roku to experience a fully functioning and dedicated streaming TV box. So when Amazon announced their Fire TV device, my thoughts turned towards possibly untethering from our cable company and going completely internet.
The specs on the Fire TV definitely supported this new direction for our family’s TV entertainment. The Fire TV boasts fast and fluid video thanks to a quad-core processor, a dedicated Adreno 320 graphics engine, 2GB of memory, voice search, instant start video and up to 1080p HD with dolby digital plus up to 7.1 through HDMI or optical out. This little box sounded like a dream!
Such a project and decision really requires input from everyone in your house. What TV shows does everyone watch and are they available online or not. We quickly determined that while we could make the break from our $100 a month cable bill, it was going to require some additional setup and flexibility.
1. We needed to make sure that our Wi-Fi signal was powerful enough throughout the house, so we purchased a Netgear dual band Wi-Fi range extender. This was perfect for our second floor viewing which provided a strong signal as if the router was right next to our video streaming devices.
2. While the prospects of dropping our cable company was exciting, the one major hurdle was the news, local programming and sports. So in stepped our solution in the form of an HD antenna for each T.V. We never knew how many free HD channels there were, almost 35 for our local area and now we are seriously thinking on installing a roof antenna to pickup even more channels across the region.
3. And finally the last hurdle to overcome was certain programs that family members watch and could not part with. So we decided to have a monthly budget available to purchase season passes, rentals and movies. We set a monthly limit of $50 and so far we have come in way below this number mainly because season passes last 4-5 months. Plus our TV viewing goes up and down depending on the time of the year, so our expectation was that we may not even need to make any purchases in some months.
Having worked out all of these pieces prior to the arrival of the Fire TV, we anticipated our new setup until the day when the Fire TV finally arrived. Once hooked up we were pleased to learn that Amazon had already setup all of our account information. Within 5 minutes we had the Fire TV playing a few shows and checking out the app store with the many free games available.
The Fire controller fits like a glove and is very easy to use. Overall the controller and Fire TV itself are made of high-quality materials. We highly suggest that you pick up the Fire TV game controller, which is needed to play some of the online games, but also because it serves as an alternative TV controller which some might prefer over the smaller controller. Be sure to check out Serv Zero, the first game to be specifically developed for the Fire TV, which can be found in the app store for free. This console game is well worth the cost of the game controller and it even works simultaneously with the Kindle Fire version for multi-player cooperation!
While the Amazon Fire TV boasts some impressive technologies compared to Apple TV, Roku or Google Chromecast, it does have a few draw backs. For one, the menu system is not as easy as some of the other devices on the market. It took a few days to get use to how to navigate the menu. Second, it seemed that all of the shows and movies were grouped into one location, so it was hard to determine which shows were free (included with your prime membership) or that you had to pay for. For those that do not know, an Amazon Prime members gives you access to thousands of shows all for a yearly subscription which works out to about $8-$9 a month (If you are a frequent customer on the Amazon website, you get free 2-day shipping on all of your orders). And finally the voice search does not work across all of your video apps like Netflix. There is limited support for hulu which was a big plus for us.
Still, Amazon Fire TV is new and we do expect that a lot of these issues should be fixed over the next 6 months as Amazon hears feedback from their customers. This would include opening up the voice search to all video apps and perhaps coming up with an easier navigation system.
In the end, we were able to drop our cable provider and save $100 a month. Fire TV made it easy with lightening fast videos and a lot of additional features such as Apps, Games and more. Purchasing this device as our main entertainment system resulted in our Roku and Nintendo Wii-U to be used in other rooms in the house. And for our kitchen we have a Google Chromecast for on the fly viewing in the family meeting area.
While this solution worked for us, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Untethering from the Cable company will require several hours of planning and work to accomplish your setup. It will also require a little technology savvy, so if you are not the best at configuring electronics and working with home networks, you might want to hire a local company. Or if you have a friend and family member that is good at networks and technology, invite them over for dinner to discuss how to best implement your multimedia network.
All in all we will give the Amazon Fire TV a 4 star rating. If it were not for the menu system and voice search working globally it would be a 5 star review, but again we expect Amazon to keep working on this product with future updates planned to address these short comings.