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Amazon Fire TV: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Amazon Fire TV: What Is It and How Does It Work?

  • 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 has three plug-in stick models—Stick Lite, Stick, and Stick 4K— as well as a Fire TV Cube, which is sort of a combination of a Fire TV and Amazon Echo device.
  • 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 November 2020. 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 four models available: the Fire TV Stick Lite, Fire TV Stick, Fire TV Stick 4K, and Fire TV Cube.

NOTE: You can also buy Toshiba and Insignia TVs that have the Fire TV’s capabilities built into them.

Here are the main differences between the Fire TV models.

  • The Fire TV Stick and Stick Lite were updated/created in 2020. The Stick 4K is from 2018 and the Cube is from 2019.
  • The Fire TV Stick 4K and the Fire TV Cube both support 4K Ultra HD and HDR video. All models support 1080p HD. (Learn more about 4K and HDR video in this T4L post.)
  • All models support Dolby Atmos audio but the Lite stick does it through HDMI pass-through. I’ll be honest and say I don’t re”ally understand what this means (I’m *not even close to being* and audiophile), but I found this GadgetGuy article that seems to do a good job of explaining it.
  • The three 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 Stick, Stick 4K, 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 includes a microphone so you can control it just with your voice, like a cross between a Fire TV and an Echo. Amazon also has a bundle available with the Fire TV Cube and a Ring Doorbell.
  • The Cube also has a built-in Ethernet port for a stronger Internet connection. An Ethernet adapter is available for the stick models.

Compare the full tech specs of each model at Amazon. >>

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.

See all Fire TV apps at Amazon. >>

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 and as of November 2020, NBC’s Peacock is not available, but apparently they are in negotiations and in the meantime you can sideload the app following the instructions in this TechHive article.

IMPORTANT: Buying an Amazon Fire TV does not give you access to the content you can watch on it, just like buying a TV does not give you access to cable TV shows. You need to have accounts with each streaming service that provides the content (some free, some paid) and/or subscribe to a cable/satellite package that gives you permission to access shows from specific networks through the Fire TV.

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.

Play Games
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 compatible controllers for use with games that require one.

Get Information
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 have the same capabilities.

Learn more about Alexa on the Amazon Fire TV. >>

If you don’t have the Fire TV Cube, you can pair your Fire TV box or stick with a compatible Amazon Alexa device for hands-free voice commands.

Learn more about how to use an Alexa device to control a Fire TV on the Amazon website. >>

Watch and Record Live TV with the Fire TV Recast and Antenna

There are services that stream live TV from various networks, but if you don’t want to add another monthly fee to your entertainment budget, you can use the Fire TV to watch and record live TV in conjunction with the Fire TV Recast and an HD antenna. (You can also use these with an Amazon Echo Show.)

Read the Fire TV Recast FAQ on the Amazon website. >>

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 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.

Get full specs for the Fire TV Stick, Fire TV Stick 4K, and Fire TV Cube and read customer reviews at Amazon. >>

Ready to buy?

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:

  1. 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.).
  2. Connect the Fire TV to the Internet. The Fire TV has an on-screen wizard to walk you through the steps to get connected.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 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!

You may also be interested in:

Streaming Media Player Comparison Chart

Elizabeth Kricfalusi

View Comments

  • I bought a subscription to Amazon Prime, only to learn that my televisions are "too old" to support the Amazon Prime app for streaming. (These televisions are but five years old--and were costly....) My question is: Will I be able to stream from Amazon Prime by using either the Amazon Fire TV or the Amazon Fire TV Stick, or will I have the same problem of "televisions being too old." I need to know this before I consider buying. Thank you.

    • Hi David.

      If your TV has HDMI ports, then you can use an Amazon Fire TV (box or stick) directly.

      If it only has RCA ports (red/white/yellow), then you have two options:

      - Use a Fire TV or Fire TV Stick with an HDMI to RCA adapter like this one:

      - Get a Roku 1 streaming player, which has RCA ports built into it. You can learn more in this post about the different Roku models:

      Roku: What Is It and How Do You Use It?

      I think the quality will be better with the Roku than using a Fire TV with a converter.

      - Elizabeth

  • Hello Elizabeth,
    I have a Kindle Fire and am just looking into this, since our cab;e bill is through the roof. My first question is, Do we need a Kindle for each TV we want to watch on? Second, is there a way for each TV to be watching something different? Third, generally speaking, do these fire stix work on regular old tube TVs or do we need to go on out and buy all new flat screen tv sets? that's all for now-
    thanks in advance

    • Hi Justine.

      First I want to make sure we're talking about the same thing. A Kindle Fire is a tablet that you can use with a Fire TV or Fire TV stick, but it is not, by itself, a streaming media player.

      You can find the answer to your first two questions here:

      Do You Need a Roku/ Fire TV/ Apple TV/ Chromecast for Each TV?

      You can use a Fire TV Stick on an older TV as long as it has ports for composite cables (red/white/yellow connectors) but you would also need to get an HDMI to RCA converter because the stick has to plug into an HDMI port. Here's an example of a converter:

      However, you may get a better quality if you purchase a Roku 1 streaming player, which has RCA ports built into it. You can learn more about the Roku here:

      Roku: What Is It and How Do You Use It?

      I hope that helps!

      - Elizabeth

  • I've been wanting to get rid of my directv subscription, it's just getting too expensive. Will the Fire TV stick with the Sling TV option be a good alternative? Are there monthly charges if I do this?

    • Hi Jen.

      You can learn a lot more about whether you can do this by checking out my Cutting the Cable Cord section.

      Note that Sling TV does require a monthly subscription fee. The Amazon Fire TV stick does not, but other content providers that you may want to use do.

      - Elizabeth

  • I need to use a extension cord with the power plug because my outlet is further away this ok do I need a power strip or just a standard extension cord, also how do you open remote mine will not slide open. thank you,kathy

    • Hi Kathy.

      I would always recommend a power strip, although I can't swear it's technically necessary. As for how to open the remote, there's a video on this page that shows how to do it. It's in the section titled, "Connect the Fire TV to the Internet".

      - Elizabeth

  • I went to amazon put a bunch of apps to my fire stick an when I go to my fire tv it says I need to go an enter a fucking code to open a account I'm not computer smart could someone please make a step by step for computer dummys please!!!!!!!!!!

    • Hi Bruce.

      Unfortunately, each content provider has its own process so it's difficult to come up with a step-by-step for each one. But most apps I've used, if they require you to enter a code somewhere, it gives you the URL for the website page where you need to enter it. If you tell me a specific app that is not providing that information, I can take a look and see if I can figure out what's happening.

      - Elizabeth

  • We just connected ourfirestck and everything works but sound -- the. Welcome video and all else has no sound.

    • Hi Christine.

      A few things to check (sorry if they fall into the "are you sure it's pluggedin" category but we always need to rule out the obvious):

      - Make sure you haven't accidentally turned the TV volume down to 0. This is different from Muting it because there wouldn't be any icon showing up on the screen to alert you.

      - Check to see if there's something plugged into the headphones jack (or other Audio Out port) on the TV. If there is, the sound wouldn't come out of the TV.

      Of course, if either of those are the case, you wouldn't have sound when you switch back to the regular TV input, so that's a good way to test out if the issue is with the TV or the device.

      - Go into the Fire TV Stick's settings to the Audio section and try the different settings to see if that makes a difference. Maybe it's set to something your TV doesn't support.

      - Plug the stick into a different HDMI port on the TV if you have one.

      I also found this thread where people are discussing the problem and some people said just unplugging stick and/or the TV itself solved the problem:

      If none of those work, do you have another TV you can plug the stick into? You wouldn't need to set it up again; just plug it in and go to that TV's input.

      If you still can't get it to work, it sounds like the device might be defective. Your best bet would be to contact Amazon support to confirm this and arrange for a replacement unit.

      I hope you can get this resolved quickly!

      - Elizabeth

  • Hi,
    We just received our Amazon Fire Stick. Everything is set up and ready to go. When we are at the main screen, and try to click on Netflix it is asking for payment. I already have a Netflix account. Can you please let me know how to go to the log in screen for Netflix and just log into my account? Thank you

    • Hi Missy.

      I'm not sure what's happening, but I received a similar question from another reader. I'll see what I can find out but hopefully it's a temporary glitch that will get worked out quickly.

      - Elizabeth

  • I'm trying to open Netflix on my newly installed firestick and it says that I do not have a valid payment billing address set up in my Amazon account. Am I going to be charged for Netflix to be installed on my fire stick ? I already have Netflix on another TV.

    • Hi Jill.

      I'm not sure what's happening, but I just got a similar question from another reader. I'll see what I can find out but hopefully it's a temporary glitch that will get worked out quickly.

      - Elizabeth

  • Thank you for a great description of features and function. My older model HDTV does not have built in wifi, so I have been struggling to figure out how to connect it to the outside world. Now i know. Very helpful article for an apparent luddite.

    • I'm glad you found it helpful, Sid. Thanks for taking the time to leave your comment! - Elizabeth

  • I am a news junky and watch NBC, CBS, ABC, etc. each day. Does Amazon Fire TV (or Hulu Plus or somebody -- puleeezzz) give me those?

    • Hi Laura.

      Hulu does provide some of that content, although it's not live. Also, some of those networks have their own apps (e.g. NBC News) that provides clips from their various shows, but again they're not live.

      Generally speaking you don't use streaming media services to access news shows. Your better bet is to get an antenna that gives you access to public broadcast channels (but not cable news channels). Here's more information:

      Watching Live Broadcast TV with an Antenna

      - Elizabeth

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