Hosting and streaming media in my house has become quite the pastime for me, especially in the last few years. I’ve played with numerous devices from dedicated media players to streaming devices and hybrids. I’ve found that all of those do the tasks I’m looking to accomplish, just not well. Eventually, I picked up Amazon’s first generation of the Fire TV to test it out. I wanted to know if it could meet my needs for streaming and media consumption. While it was a slick-looking box, it wasn’t able to play files on my network natively through its streaming capabilities, but that’s where Plex and Kodi came in to fill that void.
For a while, things were good, until Amazon announced that there was a new version of their Fire TV coming out and apparently it was then where they decided to focus less on the older device and more with the new. That was my cue that I had to get onboard with the second coming of the Amazon Fire TV.
Name: Amazon Fire TV Second Generation
Release Date: November 2015
I’ve been walking that fine line between being someone who subscribes to cable TV and a cord cutter for quite some time. During my course of playing with and implementing dozens of configurations and setups, I’ve been able to test a few different devices. From the Roku to the WD Live TV and several others. Though oddly enough I’ve enjoyed the Amazon Fire TV, mainly due to how fast the platform has been maturing. The icing on the cake was being able to access to Amazon’s video content via Instant Video for free, as long as you’re a member of Amazon Prime.
Since I’m a gamer and an aspiring Twitch streamer, one of my biggest reasons to upgrade to the second generation Amazon Fire TV was for the updated Twitch app. You see, on the original Amazon Fire TV, the Twitch app doesn’t let you log in to your account to see your favorite streams, nor does it let you search for games or personalities . For a service that is completely dependent on searching for new streams to watch, that didn’t fly in my book. Adding to that is I can’t understand why Amazon, the company that owns Twitch, would even allow that to happen.
When it comes to the performance compared to the original, I definitely see a difference here. Amazon claims that there is a 75% increase in performance between the two, though there’s no accurate way to test this, so we’ll have to take their word for it. Not only does it power on faster, I’m able to see a difference on how long it takes for applications to load. Videos loaded faster and I didn’t run into as many issues when streaming content on the original Fire TV. Though to be fair, ever since Amazon rolled out that most recent update, the original Fire TV is playing videos like a beast as well. When it comes to the audio department, it also able to support Dolby Digital audio.
I’ve also played a few games on it; Sonic the Hedgehog, Crossy Road, Minecraft, Duck Tales: Remastered, Pac-Man 256, and Shovel Knight (while ran great). Sure, they aren’t AAA games or the latest Call of Duty, but they ran nicely. Trust me, I am under no pretenses that the Fire TV can compete or replace a full-fledged gaming console. Yet at the same time, it’s nice to sit down in the living room or wherever your Fire TV is, watch a movie and then quickly switch over to a game. And while it isn’t a Xbox 360, mind you, it still has a decent line-up of games to play. Though I am still interested in what Amazon has planned for Double Helix, the original developer behind the rebooted Killer Instinct on the Xbox One. Amazon purchased the company back in 2014 and we haven’t heard anything about them since. I haven’t tested the Amazon Fire TV Game Controller; however, as a standard wired Xbox 360 controller manages to get the job done. An added bonus is you’ll always have a portal gaming platform to take with you on trips.
My family and I also got a kick out of using Alexa. Originally introduced with Amazon’s Echo, Alexa is a virtual assistant voice system. It’s capable of doing a number of things such as locating a video, opening an application, playing music, setting alarms, to-do lists and so much more. I kid you not that I must have spent 30 minutes trying to stump it, asking it random questions, yet it fired off answers like a champ. Though it couldn’t tell me which Optimus Prime voice actor was best, which saddened me. We all know that Peter Cullen is the best in that role. However, unlike the Alexa that is featured with the Amazon Echo, in order to make it work with the Fire TV, you must hold down the voice button on the remove, where on the Echo, Alexa is on-demand. The Alexa that comes with the Fire TV isn’t as robust as what you’ll get on the Amazon Echo, however, as such some features such a sports scores or current news are disabled. Given what it is, though, it’s still a really cool feature to have, especially when you don’t know what to watch. Just ask Alexa!
I would like to point out that using Alexa isn’t perfect. There have been times where I’ve asked for something, like playing a song. And instead of using something like Plex that has access to that song, it instead looks to Tunein and plays just a sample. Other times it will find the title of something that has part of what you looked for, like for when I looked for the TV show, Friends. Instead, I ended up with a handful of videos, all expect the one I was looking for. It works but it’s not perfect.
But is it worth upgrading to?
While the 2nd generation Amazon Fire TV is better in many ways when it’s compared to the original version, there are still areas where the original bests it. You see, for some unknown reason, Amazon felt it would be a good idea to remove the Toslink / Optical Audio output on the new Amazon Fire TV. For many that aren’t a big deal, however, there are those who have put a good amount of money into their setup and still using Toslink / Optical Audio outputs. Meaning that they refuse to use HDMI for digital audio, which many have, then the new Fire TV won’t fit into their setup.
Another nice reason to upgrade is that it does support 4K TV’s; however, I wasn’t able to test that as I don’t own a 4K TV. I did test it on a 1440p / 2K monitor, but that isn’t an equal comparison. And while 4K support is nice as it future proofs your setup, not everyone has one or will be upgrading to one anytime soon. 4K is a nice feature, but at the moment, it’s just that, a nice to have and not a must have.
But that’s pretty much it. If I had reviewed this device when it was released, then I would have mentioned the issues with the buggy software, laggy response time when using Alexa, as well as issues with 3rd party remote controls like the Logitech Harmony (which I happen to love). However, Amazon has corrected all of those issues in several software updates, so there’s very little to not like about the second generation Fire TV.
So this is the big question. If you already have the original Amazon Fire TV, is it worth your cash to you upgrade? My answer to you is, it really depends on your setup and future plans. If you already have a Fire TV and don’t play on upgrading to a 4K TV later on down the road or don’t use the Twitch application, then my answer is no. Despite being a little older, the original Amazon Fire TV is still more than capable of keeping up with the second generation version or even the AppleTV. All of the apps still run on it (for now) and with both Plex and Kodi (after you sideload) it being available, the original still is a prime streaming / media consumption device. I still have my original device which is now taking the place of an aged WD Western Live TV, in my living room. My family still uses it to watch a video on Amazon Instant Video, Plex, Netflix, Hulu and many of the other services available. In addition to that, it is also compatible with the recent price reduced PlayStation Vue, which is a really nice alternative to those looking to finally dropping the cable subscription services. I’ve actually been testing this, so expect a review in the coming weeks.
If you do plan on upgrading to a 4K TV or if you are a gamer and you like the fact that the second generation Fire TV does include a search function for Twitch, then you may want to upgrade. But those aren’t the only reasons to upgrade; as it also sports a micro-SDcard slot that supports up to a 128GB microSD card, which gives the device a much-needed boost in the storage department. The newer model also sports a faster processor which is needed for those who do have a 4K TV and lastly it does support the H.265 codec, which is helpful for those who stream 10-bit HEVC videos using Plex or Kodi. For the uninitiated, that’s normally associated with Blu-rays and UHD Blu-rays.
On the network side of things, I really thought that having the 802.11 A and b specs were wasted, as most if not all people have upgraded to at least 802.11 G/N or moved onto 802.11 AC. At the same time, I would have loved to see a 10/100/1000 ethernet connection instead of the 10/100 ethernet connection. It isn’t a deal breaker by any mean, though it’s just one of those “why didn’t you do that” thoughts.
Finally, we have the interface. I was hoping that after their first go that they would refine it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though it is a bit clunky. There isn’t any way to customize it, save or place apps in any particular order and a chance mistake hitting the home button on the remote, puts you back to the interface. Ir’s also not very friendly when it comes to installing applications via sideloading like you would with Kodi. As much as I’m not a fan of the Apple TV, I feel that Apple nailed their interface with their channel-centric look. Something I think that the Amazon Fire TV would have benefited from. Thankfully, there are applications like Firestarter that allow you to replace it and customize more to your liking.
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Decent, but is it worth it if you own the original?
The 2nd generation of the Amazon Fire TV, despite my praise of the device, is in an interesting position. On one hand you have the original Fire TV which by all means is still a viable solution, one that many people who own one don't really need to upgrade to the newer edition. At the same time, the only real thing that the 2nd generation Amazon Fire TV has going for it is better hardware and the Twitch app, if that really matters to you. It, however, doesn't do anything more than the original Amazon Fire TV, Roku or even the Apple TV.
So at the end of the day, the decision is truly going to be which determining factor will push it into your favor. Which at the end of the day may come down to price. At the time of this review, the 2nd generation model costs $99, while the original model, however, can be found cheaper on Ebay for much cheaper. However if access to 4K content, expandable storage up to 128GB, access to a faster processor and access to Amazon's video library peeks your interest, then I definitely recommend this.
For everyone else, the Roku and Apple TV are also viable solutions.
- Access to 4K content
- Faster processor
- Upgraded storage up to 128GB
- The interface is still lacking
- Losing the Toslink / Optical output was a bad move