Just the other day, Amazon announced their new digital streaming device for the living room, the Fire TV. Taking it’s name from the Kindle Fire, this new piece of hardware is designed for the home theater experience. It had been rumored that the company was looking to compete with android based technology such as the Ouya, but it seems as if nobody really expected this. With undeniably better parts under the hood and more features than some of their competitors, is the Fire TV a sure thing?
No, not really.
Here are just five reasons why the Amazon Fire TV might not be the best choice for you.
5. Amazon Made Spurious Claims About the Device
During the press conference, Amazon’s Peter Larsen made a lot of claims about what the Fire TV will and won’t do, and how it compares to the competition. Unfortunately, most of these claims were either false or misleading. One of the things Larsen touched on was three “pain points” of current devices: search, performance and closed ecosystems. By search, he was referring to the user’s inability to find what they want; by performance, he was most likely referring to speed and ease of use; by closed ecosystem, he was probably referring to the limited contracts and offerings of other streaming devices.
Of course, while discussing these points, he neglected to mention that Amazon’s own Instant Video service is anything but search friendly, it definitely doesn’t perform very well or quickly (even on systems beefier than the Fire TV), and it is a fairly closed ecosystem. In fact, the Amazon Fire TV has already been proven to be a somewhat closed ecosystem, as they have confirmed that they won’t be able to offer services such as HBO Go. To put it simply, Amazon has a lot to prove when it comes to ease of use, search functionality and a so-called “open ecosystem.”
4. It Probably Won’t Stream Video Any Faster Than The Competition
If you’re primarily looking for a digital streaming device, the Fire TV is going to be just as good as the competition. In other words, if you already have a Roku 3 or another similar device and you are happy with it, there isn’t much reason to “upgrade.” In terms of streaming media, most of the lag associated with the activity is caused by poor internet speed. Most Americans have between 2 and 15 MBPS internet speeds, which simply isn’t enough to produce a high quality video stream on any device. High quality streaming requires 25 MBPS or better internet speeds, which is something you will have to take up with your ISP, not with the company who makes your streaming device.
While it is true that the Amazon Fire TV has 2 GB of Ram and a Quad-Core processor (making it the most powerful machine on the market), when it comes to surfing between apps and loading said apps, it most likely won’t be much faster (if at all) than the Roku 3 – or even the Roku 1, for that matter. When it comes to laggy video streaming, the numbers you want to look at are your own internet speed and the quality of the device in regards to its WiFi and Ethernet capabilities – which Amazon confirms are pretty much the same across the board for the Fire TV, Roku 3 and Apple TV.
3. There Are Hidden Costs
Amazon is touting the Fire TV as being “Perfect with Prime,” but they are neglecting to mention that Prime will still cost another $99 – and that fee is a recurring cost every year. In addition to this, the Amazon Fire TV is also being touted as a great gaming device, with thousands of titles soon to be made available on the service for an average price of $1.85. This is most likely the real purpose for the beefy hardware, as you simply don’t need 2 GB of Ram and a Quad-Core processor for video streaming – instead, these features were most likely added in to take aim at the general gaming audience (and at Ouya‘s customer base).
Unfortunately, to take full advantage of the Fire TV’s gaming capabilities, you will need to buy a special controller for the device which costs $39.99. If you want to play games with more than one person, you will be paying $39.99 for each controller. In other words, if you want the full experience of the Amazon Fire TV, with Amazon Prime Instant Video and a Game Controller included, you will be paying $240. Doesn’t seem like such a hot deal anymore, does it? For that price, you could buy a gaming device that also offers digital streaming media – and is designed to play games. For $99 flat, you can buy an Ouya that comes with a controller and can be made to stream pretty much anything. There are other options out there and the Fire TV isn’t necessarily the best of them all.
2. Gaming Will Be Android Based, Most Likely Limited to Amazon Market
There are a lot of great games out there on the Android market – even some titles that were initially designed for a traditional console or PC – but most of them are designed to be played on a touch screen phone. While there will probably be ways to open the Fire TV up to the entire world of Android, chances are that they are going to immediately limit you to their own marketplace. I base this assumption on the fact that they have stated the device will use “Amazon Coins” to purchase games, a currency which can only be used in the Amazon Appstore.
This is another example of the “open ecosystem” claim being somewhat spurious, because you will most likely have to work outside of the boundaries that Amazon has designed for the system in order to truly see an ecosystem that is anywhere near “open,” and even then there are no guarantees that apps outside of Amazon’s interface will work well with the Fire TV. In other words, you won’t be able to play all of the games you might be interested in, and even if you could, they might not function well.
If you’re looking at the Amazon Fire TV to replace your Ouya or a similar device, think twice before you are fooled by the hardware. When they say that titles will cost an average of $1.85, they’re talking about those $1-2 simple Android games like Angry Birds; When they say thousands of games will be free, they’re talking about the same ad supported “free” games you have on your phone right now. Devices like the Roku 3 already play games like this, and the Ouya has been in this market for a year now. The only thing new here is the added cost of a $39.99 controller.
1. Amazon Has a History of Poor Digital Streaming Performance
If you’ve ever used Amazon’s Instant Video App on your PS3, PS4, Roku or other devices, then you know that it’s not exactly the easiest program to navigate. Their organization is ridiculous and designed to get you to pay for content. Almost no effort is put into clarifying what is and isn’t Prime eligible content, and they never – I repeat – never tell you when they are losing or gaining new content. If you put a title on your watch list (a poor excuse for a queue system) that is marked as being Prime eligible, Amazon will make no attempt to inform you of when that title will be removed from the Prime service and made a pay only title. The only visual cue you will have is a small strip across the top of the image which represents the title: if it says “Prime,” it is Prime eligible.
In addition to these glaring issues, Amazon’s organization of television shows is absolutely atrocious. They will put random episodes into “volumes” or “seasons” of the series, completely ignoring original air date or intended order of sequential episodes. In other words, if you’re planning on watching a show with a sequential story, you might have to look up the actual episode order online before clicking play on Amazon’s Instant Video app. To put it simply, they have a lot to prove when it comes to ease of use, navigation, organization of content and making clear whether that content is free for Prime subscribers or not. Hopefully they will design a new user interface for the Fire TV, but being that there has been no attempt to improve their current services on the Instant Video App, there is no sign that this is true.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you absolutely need this latest streaming machine just because it’s more powerful and has a few extra features you won’t find elsewhere at this price point. If you really want to just tell your TV what you want to watch and you don’t want to pay $500 for an Xbox One, perhaps this is the perfect choice for you; If you want to hook up your home theater via optical audio, the Fire TV has other similarly priced devices beat in that area as well.
There are definitely a few cases where the Amazon Fire TV is an undeniably better option than its competitors, but let’s not pretend that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Offering a marginally better experience to customers in a certain price range isn’t exactly the same thing as reinventing the wheel. I hope this list has given some potential customers something to think about before blindly buying into the hype. Thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below telling me how wrong I am.