Amazon Fire TV review

It's quick, it's new, it's 4K – but is it any good?

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The Amazon Fire TV is arguably the best-value 4K Ultra HD media streamer available on the market right now. I say 'arguably' only because of the utter bias towards Amazon content in the Fire TV's OS.

With the box itself costing £80 you really need to add on the £80 a year cost of an Amazon Prime subscription, as without it the device really does feel rather hobbled.

Granted, Amazon Prime is a pretty good-value bundle, and not just for the video content; you also get a load of freely-accessible music and plenty of picture storage, as well as a host of Amazon shopping goodness. But you have little option other than to sign up if you want to get the most out of the Fire TV.

Amazon Fire TV

We liked

The performance of the speedy new box is seriously impressive. For the most part 4K playback is smooth and reliable, with only rare instances of it being less than lovely in its super-resolution.

The interface is very responsive too, with voice search being almost instantly accessible.

The fact that both Amazon Video and Netflix are on offer also means it's got the greatest scope for 4K content on the market; Android TV has to side-load Amazon if it wants to play ball with Prime.

We disliked

The total dominance of Amazon services makes an Amazon Prime account a virtual necessity if you want to get the most out of the Fire TV.

You could say the same about Android TV, with its recommendations carousel only dealing in Google services, but with the Fire TV Amazon it's not just a bias – it feels like the be-all and end-all of searched-for content.

You do have access to Netflix and iPlayer, and a host of other service providers, but their icon-only existence on the home screen makes them feel as much of an afterthought as the other video services on the NOW TV box.

I'm also not 100% sold on the 30Hz limitations of the Fire TV's Ultra HD connection. Right now it's not a huge issue, with most video running at 24fps, but there are times, when running on a 4K TV, when it feels like it's running the hardware at the ragged edge.

Verdict

The new Amazon Fire TV is a pretty impressive little device. For your money you get an Ultra HD media player which also makes a decent fist of some light gaming.

4K playback is generally smooth, and the Amazon connection gives you access to the motherlode of paid-for UHD movie content.

If you've picked up a cheap, dumb 4K TV (although one that has the necessary HDCP 2.2 compatibility for DRM'd content) then the new Fire TV is a decent choice for getting some UHD Netflix or Amazon Prime viewing on your screen.

However, if you're already sitting on some Ultra HD smarts within your 4K TV, the Fire TV isn't really going to add anything else to the picture.

And where the Nvidia SHIELD has the potential to grow and change, with the power to cope with future advances, the Fire TV feels like it's already running at the limits of its hardware. That 30Hz limit isn't an issue right now, but you'll be looking for an upgrade not far down the line.

Essentially, then, the new Amazon Fire TV is fine, and for the Amazon faithful it offers easier access than the abortive web interface – but if you're just after a media streamer it's only okay.

If that's damning with faint praise, so be it.