Over the Thanksgiving break, Amazon was pushing, among other things, a deep discount on their Fire TV, a little tiny box that allows you to play all kinds of streaming stuff on your TV. Truth be told, there are already three things sitting in our living room that could play stuff, including the TV, the Xbox 360 and the Bluray player, but what caught my eye was that this little guy also did Amazon Music, where I keep everything I own backed up and ready to play in other ways. If that weren't enough, they also knocked the price down to $69. They do make the cheaper "stick," but I wanted the additional connectivity options and I was intrigued by the voice search. Sold.
The unit itself isn't much bigger than a large cell phone, perhaps a deck and a half of cards. (Do kids know what playing cards are?) It's impossibly small. I'm using just the HDMI output connected to a receiver which switches between the various devices and outputs them to the TV. The remote is a tiny and simple thing, though presumably because of the voice search, does not work with my Logitech Harmony remote.
Again, that it works with Amazon Music was the first win. In fact, it ships already knowing about my account when I plug it in (just as the Kindles and tablets do). In my case it needed to do an update for the music, but once there, my entire collection, 6,801 songs, was there and ready to play. Back in the day we used an old Apple TV (the original) or iTunes via a laptop to play music, which was suboptimal at best. Now it's all there. In fact, I don't think we really need iTunes for anything anymore, which is awesome because it's a steaming pile of crap. Xbox Music is bad too, if for different reasons. Oh, did I mention that it has artist photos and lyrics for songs it knows? That's a nice touch.
Watching Amazon video and movies is a really pleasant experience, because it starts up impossibly fast. I don't know what their secret sauce is there, but if you choose a movie, it starts playing instantly. It seems to hold the quality level more consistently than Netflix, too, because it doesn't drop to blocky video noise at all.
The other video apps generally perform better than their Xbox counterparts, namely Netflix and Hulu. The user experience is otherwise about the same, but they're a lot more responsive, to say nothing of the fact that they require no boot up time (a problem solved by Xbox One, from what I understand). The real surprise for me though is the Vimeo app, because I have a whole mess of video I've uploaded there. It looks fantastic on my TV, which surprises me even though I took great care to upload minimally compressed stuff. It's fun to watch "old" video of Simon as a baby.
The box will also do photos, but I haven't uploaded any photos to the service, outside of one album's worth just so the screensaver has something to do.
The voice search works incredibly well. It has hit stuff in my music collection, and movies, most every time I've tried it.
Overall, it's a neat little device, and I have to admit that the robustness of the movie delivery from Amazon is such that I suspect it will get me renting more from them. I think that's largely the point with all of Amazon's devices. I was indifferent about their tablets, and their phone is a joke, but I think this is a fantastic gadget. It has a lot of value, even for the relatively small amount of video we watch.