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Fire TV review: Amazon's set-top box is cooking with gas

Susie Ochs | April 11, 2014
The Fire TV is in its way of planting a flag in your living room—along with as much Amazon-provided streaming content as possible.

Amazon won't be flying packages to your door with drones anytime soon, and its fancy new Amazon Dash gizmo for scanning barcodes all over your house (to more quickly reorder them on Amazon, naturally) is invite-only for now. But Amazon still wants to worm deeper into your life however it can, and the company's new set-top box, the Fire TV is in its way of planting a flag in your living room—along with as much Amazon-provided streaming content as possible.

Media streaming is a crowded space these days—you've got set-top boxes like the Apple TV and Roku competing with streaming sticks like the Chromecast and Plair, not to mention game consoles, networked DVRs, and smart TVs. At first the Fire TV might seem like a me-too product, but Amazon added enough horsepower and features to send it to the top of the pile.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy
Compared to my problems setting up the Roku Streaming Stick, the Fire TV was a snap. It doesn't include an HDMI cable (though AmazonBasics has them starting at just $5), but once that's taken care of, you just connect the box to your TV's HDMI port, plug it into AC power, and follow the prompts on the TV to complete the setup. It connected to my Wi-Fi network without a hitch, and there's also an Ethernet port if you prefer a wired connection. The optical audio port is a nice touch too, if you prefer to route the Fire TV's audio through a receiver that doesn't have HDMI or wireless surround headphones that accept optical input.

Amazon Fire TV back
AMAZON. Props to Amazon for the Ethernet and optical audio-out ports. 

And since Amazon is the only company that sells the Fire TV, it arrives preloaded with your Amazon account, which streamlines the setup. All the content I've bought on Amazon, along with my Watchlist, were waiting for me on the Home screen as soon as I was up and running. Then it was just a matter of adding extra apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle, YouTube, and Vevo, and logging into my accounts on each of those.

The need for speed
One of the biggest things Fire TV has going for it is its incredible speed. Amazon included a quad-core processor and 2GB of memory, where the Apple TV, Roku 3, and Chromecast each have 512MB. This gives it enough horsepower to handle games, but even if you never play a single one, just ripping through the menus and popping in and out of videos with virtually no loading times is impressive.

 

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