Amazon Fire TV (4K)
We are big fans of streamers. Whether it be Roku, Apple, or Amazon there is a streamer out there that makes watching movies as convenient as pressing a button on your remote. So when all three updated their offerings we knew we were going to be spending some time in front of the TV evaluating them. First up is the Amazon Fire TV in 4K (Buy Now $99).
The physical setup is simple, connect the device to your TV (or receiver) via HDMI, connect the Ethernet cable or use wifi, and the plug it into power. If you are a Prime member it is already configured to your account so you can start watching Prime content immediately. The Fire TV comes with a few programs already installed but if you want Netflix or Hulu you’ll need to install them. That takes a couple of minutes depending on your internet speed. You’ll also want to update the firmware on the device. The main reason is that you get Dolby Digital Plus instead of Stereo on Netflix! Also, an update for older Dolby Digital systems (not Dolby Digital Plus) will be distributed on November 30th.
We did run into a few issues that were not a fault of the Fire TV but issues that you may run into as well. The first time we connected the device to our receiver, a Denon, that did not support HDCP 2.2. Of course everything worked, we just couldn’t get an 4K content to display. A message on the video setup of the Fire TV told us that the port is connected but since it does not support HDCP 2.2 we would only be able to get 1080p.
We first verified that the TV supported HDCP 2.2. And it did on all HDMI inputs but only input five was HDMI 2.0. As it turned out, you can get 4K content over HDMI 1.4 as long as it supports HDCP 2.2! Next up was to upgrade the receiver. See what we do for you guys!! We ended up buying a Pioneer Elite VSX-90 7.2 ATMOS receiver. A review on that will be coming in a few weeks. We also verified that we were using high speed HDMI cables. For our test, they were Amazon Basic HDMI cables that cost about $10.
All the pieces were in place and we were ready for 4K! Unfortunately, there wasn’t any to be had. As it turns out only the first three HDMI ports on the VSX-90 are HDCP 2.2 compatible and it says that nowhere except in some tiny print in the manual. In fact the sticker on the front proudly proclaims 7 HDMI inputs and HDCP 2.2. Regardless, the Fire TV was moved to an input that supported HDCP 2.2 and the message saying that 4K was not possible went away.
One last note. Removing the battery cover on the remote is one of the most difficult things I have had to do for any device I have owned. Seriously?? What were they thinking. Fortunately there is a video that will help you with this task (https://youtu.be/cjyUo18DQdg)
For our testing we looked at three apps, Netflix, Amazon Prime Videos, and Slingbox. There are plenty of video apps but we figured that Netflix and Amazon have a decent amount of 4K content so it made the most sense.
The Slingbox app makes the Fire TV a killer product… well if you have a Slingbox anyway. You could take the Fire TV with you on vacation and have access to all your TV anywhere you go. Or you could setup a Slingbox someplace where you want access to local content and access on your TV at home. Regardless, this is a cool feature. Unfortunately it didn’t work. The Slingbox app kept trying to load and never really worked. We’ll try again later but right out of the shoot there were issues. In general, we found there to be some quirkiness with the player. Amazon may be one or two firmware updates away from a rock solid system.
Next up was Netflix and some 4K content. Amazon is touting something called ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction). Its supposed to start streaming instantly. Here is what we found. If you select a movie and take the time to read the description or just look at the album art for a few seconds, streaming will start right away. But if you randomly select something that you would typically watch and hit play immediately the show will buffer. So the advanced streaming prediction is more like rudimentary prediction. In reality waiting a few seconds for you selection to start is not a big thing. But what a cool acronym right?
We loaded “The Black List” since it was a 4K show. It started rather quickly and the receiver displayed DD+!! But to be honest, it didn’t sound much better than straight Dolby Digital. We are sure that is because the source material was probably not mastered for it. As far as the video goes, the picture looked very good. But is it better than 1080p? Some will be upset at us for saying this. But on a 70 inch screen sitting 12 feet away we couldn’t see any difference between the 4K and 1080p version of the identical show. And to be complete, we also watched the same material on the native Netflix app on the Vizio P-Series with the same results.
This is no surprise. There are many calculators out there that will tell you what resolution you can discern at what distance with normal (20/20) vision. For our readers/listeners outside the US, 20/20 vision means you can see what people with normal vision can at 20 feet. If your vision is 20/40, you see at 20 feet what people with normal vision see at 40 feet. The calculatorstell us that with a 70 inch screen you will need to be seated between 4.5 and 9 feet (137 – 274 cm) to see the difference between 1080p and 4K.
The picture still looked good. It was sharp, color was good, and it played without any issues. We will say that the quality is approaching Blu-ray and that is a good thing. Streaming high quality content for those of us that have high speed Internet is the dream right? But is it better than the older version of the Fire TV. Not really.
Amazon prime is similar to watching Netflix but without the same breadth and depth of content. There are Amazon originals like a cop drama called Bosch. It’s actually pretty good and that is a good reason to invest in this product. Amazon will only get better and deeper in the future. Plus there are so many benefits to being a Prime member.
Odds and Ends
We have seen so many of these boxes and no one of them is the be all end all. That is still the case with the 4K Fire TV. If you are a Roku or AppleTV customer should you switch? Certainly not. If you have a Roku, AppleTV or any other set top box and you are a Prime member should you get this box as well. Sure! Well if you have $99 just laying around. The Fire TV makes a good addition to your home theater without taking up much real estate. Just stack your other box on top of it and use it when you just can’t find something on your Roku or Apple TV.
Posted by The HT Guys, October 23, 2015 3:48 AM
About The HT GuysThe HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.
Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.
ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.
Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.