- The Amazon Fire TV is a streaming media player, which means it lets you watch videos, listen to music, play games, and use other types of apps from the Internet on your TV.
- The Fire TV comes in three models: The Fire TV Stick, which supports 1080p video and and Dolby Audio; the Fire TV Stick 4K, which supports 4K and HDR video and includes an enhanced remote; and the Fire TV Cube, a sort-of combination Fire TV/Echo device that lets you operate it completely by voice.
- To set up any of the models, simply plug it into an HDMI port on your TV and use the included remote to follow the on-screen instructions to connect to the Internet and select the apps you want.
NOTE: The information below relates to the Fire TV models available in the U.S. as of October 2018. Models available in other locations may differ in version, price, features, and supported content providers.
What is the Amazon Fire TV?
The Amazon Fire TV is the family name for the company’s line of streaming media players that take content from the Internet (videos, music, games, etc.) and display it on your TV. There are currently three models available: the Fire TV Stick, Fire TV Stick 4K, and Fire TV Cube.
Here are the main differences between the three Fire TV models.
- The Fire TV Stick 4K and the Fire TV Cube both support 4K Ultra HD and HDR video and Dolby Atmos audio. All models support 1080p HD resolution and Dolby Audio. (Learn more about 4K and HDR video in this T4L post.)
- The two Fire TV Stick models plug directly into an HDMI port on your TV and the power comes from a USB cable that you can plug into a USB port on your TV or into the wall with the included adapter. The Fire TV Cube connects to your TV with a separate HDMI cable (sold separately)>
- All the devices come with an Alexa-enabled remote, but the 4K Stick and Cube remotes also let you control certain functions (e.g. on/ off, volume) for your TV or other devices (receiver, soundbar, etc.)
- The Fire TV Cube also includes a microphone so you can control it just with your voice, like a cross between a Fire TV and an Echo.
What can you do with a Fire TV?
The Fire TV has thousands of apps that let you watch streaming videos, listen to music, play games, and more on your TV.
Watch Streaming Videos
Not surprisingly, the Fire TV is very tightly integrated with Amazon’s own streaming video service. But there are tons of other content providers that you can watch through it including most of the most popular ones: Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO/NOW, Sling TV, Playstation VUE, ESPN, Disney, PBS, and History. It does not have apps for Apple iTunes or Google Play videos.
UPDATE: Due to an ongoing feud between Amazon and Google, the latter company removed YouTube from the Fire TV in January 2018. I had hoped they’d be able to resolve their differences, but unfortunately they have not. In the meantime if you have an Amazon Fire tablet or compatible Android mobile device and any previous version of the Fire TV Stick or the second generation Fire TV box, you can use display mirroring to watch YouTube videos on your TV. Alternatively, you can use the Silk or Firefox browser apps and go to the youtube.com website.
For example, if you pay for HBO through your cable provider, then you can use the HBO GO app to stream their shows for free by using your cable company login. If you do not have cable or your package doesn’t include HBO, you can purchase the standalone HBO NOW service and use that app to watch their shows. When you see an app listed as “free” on the Fire TV interface or the Amazon website, it just means there’s no cost to install the app itself on your player. It has nothing to do with whether the content accessed by the app costs money or not.
Listen to Streaming Audio
The Fire TV supports lots of music and audio apps as well, including their own Amazon Music and Audible services, as well as Pandora, Spotify, iHeart Radio, and Sirius XM, among others.
There are free and paid games available for both devices, including highly popular ones like Crossy Road, Candy Crush Saga, and Minecraft. You can also purchase a separate gaming controller for use with games that require one.
Mirror a Mobile Device’s Screen
NOTE: This feature is only available on previous versions of the Fire TV Stick and the second generation the Fire TV box. The third-generation Fire TV and the current Fire TV Stick, Stick 4K, and Cube do not support display mirroring.
If you have a compatible Amazon Fire tablet or Android mobile device, you can duplicate your screen on your TV. This has a couple of benefits:
- Any streaming media you can access via your compatible device you can now watch on your TV—for example, you can watch shows from broadcast and cable networks this way if there’s no Fire TV app but the network streams them on their websites or through their own mobile apps.
- You can also see any non-streaming content from your tablet or phone on your TV. Maybe you want to access your email on a big screen or browse a certain website or scroll through your Instagram feed or play Pokémon GO—anything you’re doing on the device will display on your TV.
All models of the Fire TV come with Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated, artificial intelligence software. In addition to letting you search for content to play on your Fire TV, Alexa can also give you news headlines, weather reports, sports scores, etc. as well as answer a variety of questions. Note that different devices may not all the same capabilities.
If you don’t have the Fire TV Cube, you can pair your Fire TV box or stick with any Amazon Echo device for hands-free voice commands. At the time of writing this, Amazon sells a discounted bundle that includes the Fire TV Stick and the Echo Dot.
My two cents
I’ve had several of the earlier generations of the Fire TV box and stick models and have found all of them very reliable and easy to use. I haven’t tried the current Stick, Stick 4K, or Fire TV Cube. The previous generation of the Cube didn’t receive very good reviews, but Amazon has a history of releasing first generations of their devices with lots of problems that are then fixed in the second generation, and it seems like that may be the case again here based on the current reviews.
I think if you’ve never used a streaming media player before, the Fire TV Sticks are great ones to start with as you get A LOT OF value for your money. The Cube is for people who want to have a single device to control their player, TV, and other compatible devices by voice.
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Getting started with the Amazon Fire TV
The process for setting up the Fire TV models is basically the same as it is for any streaming media player:
- Connect the Fire TV to your TV and plug it in. Switch your TV’s input to the one your device is plugged into (HDMI 1, 2 etc.).
- Connect the Fire TV to the Internet. The Fire TV has an on-screen wizard to walk you through the steps to get connected.
- Download and install the apps you want to use. The Amazon Video and Music services come pre-installed on your system including any watchlists and playlists you’ve set up so you can just use your remote or Alexa to navigate through them. Other popular apps may also be pre-installed but for any that aren’t, you can get them from the on-screen interface or the Amazon website.
- Sign in to the content providers you have accounts with. Depending on the streaming service, you may sign in using the Fire TV remote with an on-screen keyboard or by entering a code they provide into a web page they provide.
Note: If you’re using the microphone button on your remote to use Alexa voice commands, have to hold the button until it makes a noise and then KEEP HOLDING IT while you say what you’re looking for or when asking a question.
Congratulations. You’re now ready to enjoy your Fire TV!
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Frequently Asked Questions about Streaming Media
The links below will take you to the Streaming Media FAQ page that has answers to questions relevant to streaming players and content in general.