The Amazon Fire TV Stick Review

Heat up your home theater with the Fire TV Stick

Amazon Fire TV Stick
Amazon Fire TV Stick.

Image courtesy of Amazon

 

Internet Streaming has definitely impacted the home theater experience, and there are a variety of products that provided an easy way to add that capability to a home theater setup, including Smart TVs, Streaming Blu-ray Disc players, and external Media Streamers.

Of course, not everyone owns a Smart TV or Smart Blu-ray Disc player. If you fall into that category, one product that might be a good choice to add internet streaming to your current TV and home theater might be the Amazon Fire TV Stick.

Inside the Amazon Fire TV Stick

Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote—Package
Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote—Package. Photo by Robert Silva 

The Fire TV Stick incorporates a Quad Core processor, supported by 1GB of RAM, which is designed to provide fast menu navigation and content access. 8 GB storage capacity is also provided for storing apps and related items.

The Fire TV Stick can output up to 1080p video resolution (content dependent) and is Dolby Digital, EX, Digital Plus audio compatible (content dependent).

For connectivity, the Fire TV Stick has built-in WiFi for convenient access to the internet (requires the presence of a wireless router) and plugs directly into a TV's HDMI input to view content (additional power required via micro-USB to USB or micro-USB to AC power adapter connection).

As shown in the above photo, the package contents include (from left to right):

  • micro-USB to USB cable
  • USB-to-AC power adapter
  • Quick Start Guide
  • The retail box
  • The Fire TV stick
  • HDMI extender
  • Alexa voice-enabled remote control and two AAA batteries to power the remote.

Connecting The Amazon Fire TV Stick To Your TV

Amazon Fire TV Stick - Connection Options
Amazon Fire TV Stick - Connection Options. Photos by Robert Silva

The Amazon Fire TV can be connected to any TV that has an available HDMI input. This can be done by plugging it directly into the HDMI port (as shown on the left image above), or by using the provided HDMI extender, which enables you to have the Fire TV Stick set away from the TV (as shown in the right image).

In addition, you also need to plug the Amazon Fire TV stick into either a USB or AC power source (an adapter cable is provided that allows either option).

Additional Connection Tips:

In addition to being able to connect the Fire TV stick directly to a TV, if you have a Home Theater Receiver that has HDMI inputs with video pass-through, you can plug it into the receiver instead. In this connection setup, the receiver will route the video signal to the TV, and the audio will remain with the receiver.

The advantage of this option is that your receiver can decode any compatible surround sound formats directly instead of having to route the audio back out from the TV to the home theater receiver.

The disadvantage is that you will have to run the home theater receiver when you want to watch content from your Amazon Fire TV Stick—but you get better sound.

Also, you can connect the Amazon Fire TV Stick directly to a video projector that has an available HDMI input, but if the projector does not have built-in speakers or audio loop-through connections, you will not hear any sound. If using a video projector, it is best to connect the Stick to a home theater receiver, as discussed above for the audio, and then connect the receiver's HDMI output to the projector to display the video.

Amazon Fire TV Stick Remote Control Options

Amazon Fire TV Stick Remote Control Options
Amazon Fire TV Stick Remote Control Options.

 Photo by Robert Silva

There are three ways you control the Fire TV Stick

Voice Remote

For the voice-enabled remote, you can opt to use the standard buttons or the voice option (powered by Amazon's Alexa Voice Assistant).

  • The voice remote has a built-in microphone and voice button at the very top center.
  • Just below the voice button on the remote shown in the above photo, is a large menu select button, surrounded by the menu navigation ring.
  • Moving down to the first row, just below the menu navigation ring, are the menu navigation back button, the home button, and the settings menu button.
  • The buttons, from left to right, on the second (bottom row) are the rewind, play/pause, and fast-forward controls that are used when playing audio or video content.

Mobile App

A second control option is to use the Fire TV control App (Example Shown: HTC One M8 Harman Kardon Edition Android Phone).

Most of the screen is taken up by the touch-and-swipe pad, which is used for menu and feature navigation.

Along the edges of the touch-and-swipe portion of the screen are icons for voice (microphone icon), the icon on the top left takes you back to the level from where you in the menu structure, the top right icon displays an onscreen keyboard, and the cons along the bottom take you back to the home menu and provide playback controls.

Echo-Type Devices

You can also control some functions of the Fire TV Stick using an Amazon Echo, such as the Dot shown, or similar Alexa-enabled device. Check out some additional tips provided by Amazon.

Note

It is best to use the packaged Voice Remote to perform the initial setup steps for the Fire TV Stick.

Amazon Fire TV Stick Setup

Amazon Fire TV Stick Settings Page
Amazon Fire TV Stick Settings Page.

When you turn the Fire TV Stick on, the official Fire TV logo appears on screen, with a "Next" prompt.

  • Connect the Fire TV Stick to your TV and power (turn the TV on) and WiFi network. The Stick will search all available networks—choose yours and enter your WiFi Network Key number.
  • The next prompt will take you to a standard product registration page. If you have an Amazon account, enter that information. If not, establish an account here.
  • Once you move past the registration page, you encounter a parental settings page, a quick downloads app page (you can select some initial apps to install), then a demo of the Fire TV Stick's basic features and operation.

The demo presentation is brief, easy to understand, and definitely worth watching if this is your first experience with a media streamer. After it is completed you are taken to the home menu.

Using The Amazon Fire TV Stick

Amazon Fire TV Home Page Example
Amazon Fire TV Home Page Example.

The onscreen menu is divided into categories, which you scroll through along the top of the screen.

Main Menu Categories

Search: Title and app search via on-screen keyboard or voice.

Home: Displays current information on what is trending in several viewing categories, as well as access to featured installed apps.

Your Videos:  Manage your Watchlist of Amazon TV shows and movies you want to buy or rent, but haven't purchased yet

Movies: Browse through movie titles from Amazon and other select apps.

TV Shows: Browse through TV show titles from Amazon and other select apps.

Apps: Allows access to all apps (Netflix, etc...) available for download that is not already pre-loaded. Most apps are free, but, depending on the service that individual apps offer, you may have to pay an additional subscription, or pay per view, fees.

Settings: Here is where you can manage your Fire TV Stick's settings beyond what was done in the initial quick setup procedure:

  • Notifications—View messages from Amazon regarding the status of your device, available updates, and completed downloads.
  • Network—Establish or change your network connection.
  • Display and Sound—Set the output resolution to match your TV and manage audio settings.
  • Controllers and Bluetooth Devices—Locate and pair remote controls and Bluetooth devices.
  • Applications—Manage app installation, deleting, and updates.
  • Alexa—Turn Alexa voice control on or off and view some tips on how to use it (sample commands).
  • Preferences—Set parental controls, location, time zone, and menu language.
  • Device—View device information, such as current firmware version.
  • Accessibility—Enable features such as Closed Captions, Subtitles, VoiceViewer Screen Reader, and Screen Magnifier
  • Help—Access to video tips and customer service info.
  • My Account—Manage your account information and status.

Movie and TV Content Access

Amazon Fire TV Stick Movies Page
Amazon Fire TV Stick Movies Page.

Online content access provided by the Fire TV stick is heavily weighted towards Amazon Instant or Prime Video. The top listings are featured titles and suggestions from that service. The same approach is used in the listing for the Fire TV's Movie and TV categories.

However, as you scroll down the home, movie, and TV pages, you will see additional suggestions from other select streaming services that have been pre-loaded. 

You can also add additional titles from those select services to your WatchList and Video Library. To add titles to your WatchList you can just select from suggested titles, or use search (either keyboard or voice), to find apps and content titles. The content title results are limited to select services, such as Amazon, Netflix, Crackle, Hulu, Starz, CBS All Access, HBOGO/NOW, Showtime and possibly a few others).

On the other hand, despite the above organizational and search limitations, there are hundreds of internet streaming channels to select and add via the Amazon App Store (Note: Vudu is not included on the official channel list and access to YouTube is done by selecting from either the Silk or Firefox web browsers when prompted).

In addition, the list also includes over 200 Fire TV compatible online games.

Additional Features Of The Amazon Fire TV Stick

Amazon Fire TV Stick - Miracast Screen Mirroring Examples
Amazon Fire TV Stick - Miracast Screen Mirroring Examples. Photos by Robert Silva

In addition to the ability to access hundreds of internet streaming channels, there are some other tricks that the Amazon Fire TV can do.

Screen Mirroring Using Miracast

When using a compatible smartphone or tablet, you can use the Amazon Fire TV as a conduit to share photo and video content on your TV—This is referred to as Miracast.

Shown in the above photo are two examples of the Miracast feature. On the left image is a "mirror" of a smartphone menu, and, on the right, are two photos that are being shared from the smartphone to the TV. The smartphone used was an HTC One M8 Harman Kardon Edition Android Phone.

Content Sharing Via DLNA and UPnP

Another method of accessing content is via DLNA and/or UPnP. This feature is accessible through a couple of apps that you can select, download, and add your Fire TV Apps library.

Using one of these apps, you will be able to use the Fire TV stick to access audio, video, and still image content that you have stored on PC, laptop, or media server that is connected to your home network (via your internet router). You then use the Fire TV's own remote, or a smartphone with the remote app installed, to access and control playback of the content.

Bluetooth

The Fire TV Sticks incorporates Bluetooth—However, there is a limitation. While the Bluetooth feature allows you to use many Bluetooth headphones/speakers, keyboards, mice, and game controllers, you cannot use it to transmit music files from your smartphone to the Fire TV stick.

On the other hand, Amazon provides an app called AllConnect that, when installed on both the Fire TV and a compatible Android smartphone, does enable audio streaming capability from the phone to the Fire TV through a home network, but also includes streaming of both video and photos as well.

Amazon Fire TV Stick Performance and Bottom Line

Amazon Fire TV Stick—Close-up View
Amazon Fire TV Stick—Close-up View. Photo by Robert Silva

If you already have a Smart TV with networking and online streaming capability, the Amazon Fire TV Stick may be a little overkill, especially if your TV already offers access to Amazon Instant Video.

On the other hand, if you have an older HDTV that has HDMI inputs, but does not provide Smart TV or internet streaming capability, the Amazon Fire TV is definitely a convenient solution—whether you are an Amazon Prime member or not.

Some of the content access and organization features are only usable for Amazon-originated and content for select providers, but the Fire TV stick provides access to hundreds of other popular and niche streaming services.

For audio, when connected through a home theater receiver, the stick provides access to several Dolby audio formats, including Dolby Digital EX and Dolby Digital Plus.

The video quality is very good, but a lot depends on your broadband speed and the actual quality of the content source (homemade YouTube videos vs the latest movie and TV releases). However, when those two factors are at their best, what you see on the screen looks pretty good.

The Fire TV stick can output up to 1080p resolution but can work with 720p TVs as well. On the other hand, just as most media streamers that claim 1080p capability, the picture quality is not as good as what you would see it on a 1080p Blu-ray Disc. The reason is simply the result of the compression algorithms on the content provider's end, coupled with your internet speed.

Note

You can also plug the Amazon Fire TV Stick into a 4K Ultra HD TV, but you will not be able to access to 4K streaming content. If you desire this capability, you can opt for the Amazon Fire TV Box (Buy From Amazon), or similar media streamer that provides the 4K streaming capability.

Getting back to a more positive side, there are things you can do very easily with the Amazon Fire TV stick.

One great feature is Voice Search. Instead of laboriously typing in search terms using the remote (or having to connect a large compatible external keyboard), you can just speak into your remote. Although you may have to repeat search terms more than once sometimes for Alexa to get it. If you an Echo-type device, you forgo the remote and use that option as well.

Another thing that can do is unplug Fire TV Stick from one TV and plug it into another TV without having to go through a new setup process. Also, you can take traveling with you. It will work in some hotels, schools, and public networks.

Tip

When unplugging the Fire TV stick, keep in mind that gets very warm if it has been operating for a long time. This is normal unless it is too hot to touch—if that occurs, or a temperature icon appears on your TV screen, contact Amazon customer service.

The Bottom Line

To take full advantage of all of the features offered by the Amazon Fire TV Stick, it does help to be an Amazon Prime Member, but even if you are not, there are still lots of apps and features you can use.

Taking all into consideration, the Amazon Fire TV stick is definitely a great entertainment value, and a great way to added internet streaming to the home theater experience—especially when you consider the less-than $40 price tag.

The Amazon Fire TV Stick earns 4.5 out of 5 Stars.

For more details and purchase information on the Fire TV Stick, check out Amazon's Official Fire TV Stick Product Page (price is only $39.99).

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer unless otherwise indicated. 

Disclosure: E-commerce link(s) included this article is independent of the editorial content and we may receive compensation in connection with your purchase of products via links on this page.