LAST UPDATED ON FEB. 2, 2018 at 3:13 P.M.
New Amazon Fire TV 4K: Is it worth it?
The two best feature on the new Amazon Fire TV 4K streamer come down to this: picture quality and hands-free voice search. The latter of the two is actually available on the 2nd generation Fire TV and Fire Stick, but I’ll get back to that.
The biggest change with the new Amazon Fire TV 4K streamer is the picture quality.
Amazon has been producing shows like Bosch and Transparent in 4K HDR that are available to anyone with a Prime membership. High Dynamic Range (HDR) is a more noticeable to most people because of the lush color range it brings to the screen.
There hasn’t been an Amazon Fire TV 4K streamer that supports HDR format until now. Adding HDR or High Dynamic Range is no small thing. HDR adds more vibrant color to your picture, and it’s getting more recognition as people buy more 4K televisions.
Amazon has decided to support the more widely used HDR10 instead of the competing format Dolby Vision.
You’ll need a television that supports 4K HDR to enjoy the better picture. The new Fire TV supports Dolby Atmos audio, an audio format designed to give movies a more three dimensional effect.
All of this might not matter if you don’t own a 4K TV. But this year, 4K televisions have significantly dropped in price. Device manufacturers are inching toward the expectation that 4K will become mainstream sooner rather than later.
Amazon Fire TV 2nd generation vs Fire TV 3rd generation
The new pendant-shaped Amazon Fire TV 4K streamer is a departure from the 2nd generation Fire TV box.
It’s a palm-sized device that plugs into your HDMI port on the back of your television. It hangs from the HDMI port. The design choice is a little bit odd. It doesn’t impact performance and the weight of the unit won’t hurt your HDMI port.
If you don’t plan on getting a 4K HDR TV anytime soon, the 2nd generation Fire TV is still a compelling streamer that has some features that the newer one lacks. The 2nd generation Fire TV box has a MicroSD card slot, which allows you to expand memory and download more apps and games. An Ethernet port also makes it easier to hardwire the streamer to your router, and get a better experience with streaming live TV over the Internet with services like PlayStation Vue and Sling TV.
The Amazon Fire Stick, which retails for about $40, is also still around. If you don’t need 4K streaming, the Amazon Fire Stick is still a great buy, especially for a second television in your home. I’ve ranked it as one of the best streaming sticks that you can buy right now.
Amazon Fire TV 4K setup
The HDMI port on one of my televisions is also on the left side of the set. If I wasn’t able to use the USB plugin to power the Fire TV, I would also need an extension cord for power. Amazon suggests that you can buy a HDMI extender if your port to connect the Fire TV isn’t as close as you need it to be.
How I tested Amazon Fire TV 4K dongle
I connected the Amazon Fire TV 4K dongle to three TVs in my home. My 4K HDR TV was located next to my WiFi router. The other two are 1080p located at opposite ends of my home far away from my WiFi router. I used both the electrical plug and USB port for powering the Fire TV. A number of live streaming platforms, including PlayStation Vue, fuboTV, Pluto TV and CBSN were used. I only streamed using WiFi (2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.) I bought this Fire TV with my own money for this review, and didn’t spring the extra $15 for the Ethernet adapter.
What apps can I control with Alexa on the new Amazon Fire TV 4K streamer?
If you’re looking to maximize hands-free voice search capabilities, Amazon Fire TV is what you want to buy over a Roku. You’ll need to also get an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, but the additional cost is pretty minimal if you value the voice-search function and ways to get information or control other devices in your home. The hands free voice features also work on a 2nd generation Fire TV and Fire Stick, so you don’t need to buy the new dongle-shaped Fire TV.
Amazon Fire TV devices run on a version of Android software, and it gives you a nice menu to search through your Amazon Video catalog along with suggestions from Netflix, Hulu and HBO. Just weeks after the new dongle-shaped Fire TV was released, Amazon added support to control a number of apps with using Alexa-voice control.
These apps include Bravo, CBS All Access, Hulu, NBC, Showtime, PlayStation Vue. So you can say something like, “Alexa, watch Mr. Robot on PlayStation Vue.” The PlayStation Vue app will come on and live stream that show.”
All of these apps listed above also have some universal commands, including Prime Video and Amazon Channels.
- “Alexa, pause.”
- “Alexa, fast-forward.”
- “Alexa, fast-forward 5 minutes.”
- “Alexa, rewind.”
- “Alexa, rewind 5 minutes.”
- “Alexa, play.”
- “Alexa, next episode.”
- “Alexa, last episode.”
- “Alexa, start over.”
- “Alexa, play from the beginning.”
The trick is getting used to the exact phrases to say. You can say something like, “Alexa, play Bosch” for an Amazon show, or “Launch Netflix” without any problems. But no matter what device we’re talking about, voice-search isn’t perfect.
You can’t suddenly pull up a weather forecast, or ask for the day’s news like you can on an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot.
Amazon generally has a good reputation for making significant upgrades through software updates. In the last year, the Fire TV got a much nicer and user friendly menu through an over-the-air update. I expect you’ll see future improvements with the latest Fire TV as well.
So far this year, Google Assistant on NVIDIA Shield TV is a little more dialed in with incorporating as many different sources as possible. Its inclusiveness came up with better results than the new Roku streaming players, which now have more voice commands.
Amazon plans on the Fire TV to be more than just a portal to streaming. The company already promotes its streaming devices as a hub to control smart home devices like Nest Thermostat with voice control. NVIDIA Shield TV recently updated its Google Assistant capabilities so that it works with more than 1,000 devices from a 150 different brands.
Amazon Fire TV 4K performance
Most new top-end streaming devices coming to market offer 4K and HDR support picture quality. This latest Fire TV will be a decent buy for most people who use Amazon Prime and want to enjoy 4K HDR content.
I expected a little bit more from a 3rd generation Amazon Fire TV device, especially one that replaced the Fire TV box with its expandable memory slot.
There isn’t much in the way of big innovations outside of hands free voice search, and 4K HDR streaming. If you don’t need these features and already enjoy the 2nd generation Fire TV box, then stick with what you have.
Netflix and Amazon Video had a crisp picture with no lag at all. 4K and HDR can produce some stunning television, and the Fire TV lived up to its bargain of delivering a beautiful picture.
And the hands free controls are really nice.
Amazon Fire TV 4K streamer with PlayStation Vue and live streaming
Live streaming television was another story. Platforms that stream live TV channels like AMC and A&E are far from perfect, but still serve as a great indicator for how a streaming device performs.
Live TV streaming platforms support up to 720p resolution. So there’s no real advantage for having a 4K HDR streaming device compared to the Fire TV 2nd generation.
I didn’t hit any stalling points or lag while using Pluto TV or PlayStation Vue. There were some occasional blips here and there that kept getting my attention. Essentially, they were distracting and reminding me that I was streaming. That doesn’t happen with my 2nd generation Fire TV box, which I connect though Ethernet.
So if you were set on buying a new Amazon Fire TV 4K streamer to watch 4K HDR shows, I recommend spending the extra $15 or so dollars to get an Ethernet connector. You can connect the Fire TV with the UGREEN USB Network Adapter. It’s sold separately for about $15 on Amazon. I suspect this will clear up the occasional blips.
What games are on Amazon Fire TV 4K streamer?
Gaming options on Amazon Fire TV really adds to its overall value. One of my favorites, Beach Buggy Racing performed well without any problems at all. Badlands, Pacman, Alto and Grand Theft Auto are all worth trying out, and I was happy to see you can still play them with third-party gamepads that often retail for $25 or less.
I paired a Matricom gamepad that I used with my 2nd generation Fire TV to test out the casual gaming options. Read my review of the best alternative gamepads for Amazon Fire TV to learn which ones are compatible.
New Amazon Fire TV 4K vs. Roku Streaming Stick+
The Roku Streaming Stick+ is a better buy for the same price as the new Amazon Fire TV 4K dongle, especially if you can live without hands free voice commands. In my review on the Streaming Stick+, I said that the WiFi antenna was a real innovation. The new line of Rokus also come with a much faster processor compared to last year’s models.
The new Amazon Fire TV 4K streamer has a more pleasant looking interface than Roku. In the last year, Amazon has made an effort toward having more inclusive search results. So you can see recommendations from Netflix, Crackle and Hulu alongside Amazon Prime movies and shows.
After spending many months testing various Roku models, I’ve come to appreciate Roku’s simple interface. And some of Roku’s more primitive looking apps are getting dramatic reboots for the better.
Roku OS8, a new software update, is bringing improvements with a trickle-down effect.
One of the best examples of this is the new PlayStation Vue app. The new PS Vue app is now better looking and has a more user friendly interface. It closely resembles the PlayStation Vue apps on Amazon Fire TV and Android TV devices.
Is the new Amazon Fire TV worth it?
If you’re looking for hands free voice commands and 4K streaming for Amazon and Netflix, the new Amazon Fire TV 4K streamer will be a good buy.
The Amazon Fire TV Streaming Stick with the Alexa Voice Remote is still a solid choice for its price as well. But make sure you’re buying the Amazon fire stick with Alexa voice remote. Amazon announced on Nov. 7 the release of the Amazon Fire TV Stick “Basic Edition,” which has no voice remote. It’s largely being offered to customers living outside the U.S. The guts of the two fire sticks are otherwise the same. Is the latest Fire TV the best cord cutting device that Amazon will release in the next 12 months? Probably not.
Elias Saba, an expert on Amazon Fire TV, reported back in September that Amazon is working on two new Fire TV models. One of them is the pendant-shaped Fire TV now on the market and the subject of this review.
A second device will be a cube-shaped box that will be Amazon’s new flagship model, according to Saba. He says the second device will have far-field microphones and may function much like an Echo Dot for hands-free voice control. The picture in Saba’s report shows a set-top box design. So I am assuming there could be an Ethernet port and SD card slot in this yet-to-be-released model.
It all sounds very promising. My bet is that you’ll have to wait until late 2018 to buy it.
What’s the best Amazon Fire TV model to buy?
The 2nd generation Fire TV box – which I’ve used for nearly two years — has some features I really like. Having a SD card slot for storing apps and games, and an Ethernet port are features that I prefer with a streaming device.
If I were going to buy the new Amazon Fire TV 4K dongle for streaming, I would also pick up an Ethernet adapter like the UGREEN USB Network Adapter. I generally recommend using an Ethernet connection with streaming. Because ideally, you want to forget that you’re streaming while watching TV, so you can just enjoy the show.
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