Technology review: Amazon Fire TV

The streaming media player is a great gift, says GP technology reviewer Dr Richard Harkness, and he recommends you treat yourself too.

There is a lot of tough competition for little boxes or sticks that make your TV smarter.

Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, to name but a few. Now Fire TV is here and I have to tell you, it wipes the floor with the competition.

Let's look at how it does this. The first thing Amazon has got right is to give this thing some decent hardware. Fire TV's rather unassuming looks pack great performance.

Quad core processor

The combination of a quad core processor, a good graphics chip and 2Gb of memory means that on paper, it should have no problem with anything you throw at it.

Amazon claims its quad core chip is three times more powerful than Apple TV, Roku and Chromecast, and has four times more memory than these devices.

Would you want your media player to be well connected? Everything is covered. Dual band, dual antenna WiFi means you should get a more reliable connection and therefore a better streaming experience.

A wired connection is always best for non-mobile devices (much more reliable and faster), so I have my Fire TV connected via its ethernet port. There is also a standard HDMI connection (make sure you have a spare cable - this is not in the box) and the option of optical audio out.

So if your home set-up supports it, you will soon be watching movies in 1080p with up to 7.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound.

Fire TV brings two new tricks to the table. Voice search allows you to search for movies, TV shows and games available from Amazon.

If, like me, you have tried voice commands before, you may have just given a little sigh. Trust me, this really works. Press the button on the included remote, speak the name of a TV show, movie, app or game and the results are almost instant.

Sadly, as yet, it will not work with other services, such as Netflix, and it is unclear at this stage if it ever will.

If you are not already an Amazon Prime subscriber, you will receive a month's free trial, so you can check this out risk-free while enjoying the other perks of the subscription.

The second, currently unique, feature of Fire TV is gaming. The recently announced Google Nexus Player will also do this when it comes out in the UK, but at the time of writing, this was not yet available here.

If you have bought games via the Amazon Appstore, compatible games will show up in your list. Fire TV has high-quality games such as Minecraft, Asphalt 8 and Riptide GP2. If you buy the separately sold game controller for £34.99, two free games are included. It is required to play most games, although some work with the included remote.

My experience of gaming so far has been very good. I enjoy playing a fast-paced game called Unpossible and found game play very smooth and fast. You are not going to trade in your PS4 or Xbox One for this, but it is a nice cheap way to get into gaming on your TV.

Compatible apps

Already, within weeks of launch, there is a growing list of apps that work with Fire TV. All of the usual favourites - Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Spotify - are there.

This, however, is the only place you will get Amazon Prime without messing around with streaming or AirPlay.

There are even apps to allow you to see your iPhone pictures and movies on Fire TV, but do not expect this to work as easily as Apple TV.

This all makes a great package on paper, but the shocks begin when you start using it. If you buy Fire TV via your Amazon account, it will arrive set up in your name and ready to go. Set-up is easy and there is a handy video to show you the key features.

There is one caveat here. If you have a poor broadband connection, performance may vary, as my experience is based on using a 23Mb/s connection. Generally speaking, you need a connection faster than 7-8Mb/s to watch HD content.

But having got that out of the way, Fire TV is seriously fast. It makes all the other plug-in boxes or sticks I've used look ancient. Menus whizz by with no delays or stutters. Voice commands work almost instantly.

Start watching a movie on Prime or Netflix and it is unlike anything I have come across before. It is instant. Choose your film, press play and you are watching it. No waiting for it to load, no buffering messages. This is very impressive.

Fire TV has set the standard to beat. It is a joy to use and there is something for everyone in the family. It will make a great gift, but I also recommend that you pick one up for yourself this Christmas.

  • Dr Harkness is a GP in Durham. Fire TV is available from Amazon at £79

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