As Amazon touts its latest Fire TV, let’s glance at the larger market. Streaming dongles and set-top devices are in an interesting place right now: Chromecast, Apple TV, Fire TV and similar products are competing over market space with smart TVs, smart receivers, consoles, and computer setups. They all offer similar capabilities for streaming content, and until demand starts to fade it’s a race to see who can offer the best content for the most reasonable price.
For a while Chromecast was a popular frontrunner, but Amazon isn’t content to let that go unchallenged. Enter the new Fire TV, a very different model from older Fire devices, designed specifically for an ultra-HD, stream-happy world. Also, it looks weird.
The new Fire TV is technically a dongle, designed to plug into an available HDMI (not USB) port on your TV. However, the device itself is a large square hanging off a rubber strap, as if Amazon is trying to physically combine a dongle with a set-top box. Apparently it’s supposed to dangle off your TV, which seems like an awkward arrangement at best and an easy way to ruin the device at worst.
Fortunately, other specs are more impressive. Amazon has equipped the new Fire TV with a 1.5GHz processor that provides 4K resolution support and is compatible with Dolby Atmos. Combined, that’s some impressive performance across a range of apps including Dish, Netflix, Prime Video, HBO, and any other services you are willing to pay for.
And we especially like the HD Antenna package, at a mere $5 more, which makes an excellent kit for cutting your cable and saving on bills while still picking up free stations. Compare satellite services like DirectTV vs. Dish and local cable costs to see if saving money this way is worthwhile.
The new Fire TV also includes Amazon-specific capabilities. Alexa software comes with the remote so you can use Alexa voice commands to change channels, search for shows, pause or resume, and so on.
Out of all the voice assistants Alexa is particularly well suited for the living room and smart home (she can also order pizza, play music, etc.), so it’s good Amazon is capitalizing on this. The Fire TV can also link with a nearby Echo for more widespread voice commands.
Of course, there’s a price to all this, and it’s not just the $70 price tag. Amazon is counting on people who have already invested in Amazon technologies: this Fire TV only really shines when if you are already comfortable using Alexa, and if you are already paying for Amazon Prime, and if you don’t have any set-top boxes to steal away your attention.