EDITOR’S NOTE: This review was published on August 6, 2016, and has been updated. The Amazon Fire TV models covered in this review are no longer being sold new by Amazon. PlayStation Vue is also no longer in service.
REVIEW: Amazon Fire TV best device for streaming PlayStation Vue
An Amazon Fire TV is what you want to buy if you’re looking to replace your cable subscription. That’s especially true if you’re considering using PlayStation Vue as an alternative to traditional cable.
After six months of use, the second-generation Amazon Fire TV has proven to be a solid device well worth its money. There are a lot of media streamers for watching Netflix and Hulu. But if you’re like us, you’re looking to invest in a fast, forward-looking device.
What do we mean by forward looking? Ideally, you want a media streamer that will last you as long as possible.
Amazon upgraded the Fire TV’s processor in the past year for 4K ultra-high resolution, but it unfortunately lacks the ability to stream HDR content. While 4K technology for TVs and monitors still have a long way to go, Amazon has poised the Fire TV to compete in the market for the long haul.
Amazon Fire TV is also a forward-looking device thanks to its memory expansion. The memory card slot supports up to 128GB of storage for games and apps.
Over-the-air software updates recently brought a new user interface that incorporates search results from Netflix, HBO, Crackle and other content partners into the main menu. The new menu also offers trailers for movies and shows.
Voice-search capabilities have also expanded. Now owners of an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot can link to a Fire TV device for hands free voice-control. Amazon has simple instructions on how to link Echo and Fire TV devices.
Amazon Fire TV or Roku for live streaming?
If you’re considering a live TV subscription like PlayStation Vue or DirecTV Now, buying an Amazon Fire TV box makes a lot of sense. Using a Fire TV mainly as a hub for watching PlayStation Vue is an often overlooked feature for this device.
When the latest Fire TV device was released in 2015, the live TV streaming market was in its infancy. A lot has changed since then that put the two in better synch with one another. It’s kind of like when the chocolate fell into the peanut butter.
Fire TV is the fastest device for live streaming TV services like PlayStation Vue. There are two main reasons why. The processor in the 2nd generation Fire TV was made for supporting 4K resolution. So the design of the Fire TV is geared for delivering a faster, high-resolution experience compared to its predecessor. It’s 75 percent faster than the first generation of Fire TV.
And, while the Wi-Fi performance is impressive, having an Ethernet connection is crucial for a near flawless live TV feed over the web.
The PlayStation Vue app for Fire TV has been around longer and runs smoother than Roku’s version. Being able to search for on-demand content on PlayStation Vue – we’re talking about thousands of movies of shows – is possible on the Fire TV, but not on the Roku.
Amazon Fire TV grid apps list
You’re not an Amazon Prime subscriber? That’s fine. The Fire TV also has a grid-shaped app launcher that only displays the apps you use. When you turn on your Fire TV, simply scroll over to the Apps section on the menu. This replaced another grid menu that arrived in July 2016 through an over-the-air software update. Kodi and all other side loaded apps are included the apps menu. Amazon is also offering a forked Kodi alternative called MRMC for local media streaming if you want to tap into your movie collection that’s ripped to a PC or hard drive. Speaking of apps, Plex also works great for streaming local media. And, there are plenty of other apps for live news.
Fire TV voice commands for HBO Go, Netflix
Netflix and HBO Go recently became the latest additions to the Fire TV’s voice-control capabilities. HBO Now is also expected to be added soon. The Alexa voice-search technology comes from the Amazon Echo, and has gradually been integrated into the Fire TV. Over 75 apps and channels have been integrated into the universal voice search feature. So if a TV show or movie is available on multiple apps, Fire TV will show all the places its available.
Voice search was primarily geared for searching through the Amazon Prime catalog of movies and music when Fire TV first came on the market. Now Amazon seems geared to being as inclusive as possible to drive off competition from Roku and the growing market of media streamers.
Amazon Video users can now jump forward or go back in a video any amount of time with voice commands. You can say “skip ahead two minutes” or “rewind 30 seconds” and bam! You’re there. Ready for the next episode? Just say “next.”
Fire TV sports updates
Tell your Fire TV “give me my sports update” and the latest scores and game information will appear. Users just have to go to their settings to select their teams. You can also set this up with the Alexa app, a web browser, a Fire tablet, iOS or Android device.
Fire TV accessories for audio & keyboard capabilities
For private listening, there are various Bluetooth capable products you can buy like the Jaybird X2 Premium Bluetooth headphones. If you want a keyboard to type in passwords, the Logitech K400 is compatible with the Fire TV and many Internet-connected TVs. Amazon has simple instructions to hook up any compatible Bluetooth device. If you want to add to the memory, Amazon has a recommended list of SanDisk microSD cards, but others are also compatible.
Gaming on Fire TV
There’s a variety of casual gaming options on the Fire TV. Old school arcade games like Pac-Man and Tetris run alongside newer games like Badland and Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. These don’t stand up to the quality and graphics of console games, but can be handy when you want a quick video game fix. It’s definitely an upgrade from using your phone. If you didn’t buy a Fire TV gaming edition, you can easily pick up a Fire TV game controller or less expensive third-party controller.
What does Amazon Prime get you?
Believe it or not, there are plenty of people who shell out $99 a year to subscribe to Amazon Prime, but never use it to watch programs or listen to music. If this is you and you’re reading this, you may be throwing away money. How? Amazon Prime subscribers can watch thousands of movies and television shows at no additional cost. So if you’re finally getting around to watching HBO shows like The Wire or Boardwalk Empire, signing up for HBO Now would be kind of silly. Same thing is true if you were about to run down to Redbox and grab a movie. It’s better to check Amazon Prime first.
If you’re in cord cutting mode, you can also check out Amazon Channels. It offers Prime members subscriptions to individual premium channels that were once only available to cable subscribers. Let’s say you wanted HBO, Starz, Showtime or Cinemax. Amazon Channels offers a free trial for any of those channels.
There are also lesser known streaming platforms like Sundance Now for independent films. Shudder is a platform for all things horror.
Amazon Music Unlimited is no Spotify, but it does have over a million songs, oodles of playlists and a 30-day free trial. You also get access to 800,000 free ebooks.
Is Amazon Fire TV better than Roku?
The Amazon Fire TV is the best device for streaming live TV streaming services. For anyone who has an Amazon Prime subscription and watches TV, this device is also a no brainer. If you’re looking for a media streaming device mainly for PlayStation Vue or DirecTV Now to stream live channels, Amazon Fire TV is by far the best choice. The PS Vue app on Amazon Fire TV simply works better and faster.
Roku launched its own PS Vue app in June, and while it’s largely been a welcome addition, the menus aren’t nearly as nice. The expandable memory and gaming options on an Amazon Fire TV also gives a little bit more flexibility than with other comparable media streamers.
UPDATE: Amazon has released a newer, faster version of the Fire TV that’s optimized for 4K HDR streaming. This version has a faster processor, improved voice-search capabilities and streams up to 60 frames per second. Read the full review on the new pendant-shaped Fire TV, or keep reading below. You can still buy a certified refurbished model of the 2nd generation Fire TV.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble