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Review: Amazon Fire TV 4K HDR Makes Your TV Smarter
By Samuel Gibbs
Posted: December 17, 2017 8:14am PST

The Amazon Fire TV with 4K HDR is arguably the easiest and best way to play ultra HD content on your TV, condensing what was great about the previous generation into a smaller, cheaper package.

The new Fire TV is no longer a set-top box -- instead it's more like the cheaper Fire TV Stick, hanging off a built-in flexible HDMI cable. It means the new Fire TV can be inserted straight into the back of a TV, hidden from view, and likely powered straight from the TV's USB port.

The downside is that by shrinking the Fire TV down to an 87.1g dongle, Amazon has cut the built-in ethernet and microSD card sockets. The former is available as an optional extra through an adapter, but this Fire TV is clearly more about streaming and less about Android games than the previous generation, so expandable storage is less important.

Plug In, Switch On, Log In

Setup took about five minutes. It comes with a remote (complete with batteries), a USB power adapter and microUSB cable for powering the Fire TV. Some will need the power adapter, others will be able to power it straight from a USB port on their TV -- the USB ports on the Sony Bravia 55XE9005 were capable of powering it playing 4K HDR content.

Once connected the remote pairs up with the Fire TV at the touch of a button and all you have to do is follow the instructions to connect to wifi and the necessary Amazon account -- you don't have to subscribe to Amazon's Prime subscription service, but you can't use the Fire TV without a basic account.

You're then shown an introductory video that guides you through the basics of using the Fire TV and Alexa via the voice remote.

The interface of the Fire TV remains pretty much same as previous versions, despite running on a newer version of Amazon's Fire OS. It's focused around getting you to the content or content apps as fast as possible, and it works well.

There are plenty of options beyond Amazon's built-in video and music services. Netflix, all the UK terrestrial broadcaster streaming services, Spotify and others are free to download from the Amazon App Store.

Subscriptions to Discovery, Eurosport Player, ITV Hub+ and Hayu are also in the subscription Amazon Prime account, with free trials to see what's available. The only big one missing other than Apple's iTunes is Google Play Movies, but movies bought via Google are available through YouTube, which is viewable through a built-in browser but not an app as Amazon and Google are squabbling at the moment.

Services such as Netflix can suggest content directly within the home screen, making it easy to get straight back into what you were watching last night. Amazon's voice assistant Alexa is also integrated into the Fire TV. Hold the mic button on the remote, make your request and Alexa will respond via voice and on-screen cards similar to that available on the Echo Show.

Searching for content is as easy as asking for a show, movie, actor or genre. Alexa then shows the results with options to stream from a subscription you already have or buy it from Amazon's video library if you don't already own it.

4K HDR in All Its Glory

The previous version of the Fire TV could manage 4K content, but not the new high dynamic range content (HDR), which like HDR photography, is richer, with a wider color range. Paired with the right TV, such as the Sony Bravia 55XE9005 it looks absolutely stunning.

The new Fire TV supports HDR content from Amazon's Prime Video service as well as from Netflix's catalog, giving you access to two of the largest libraries of 4K HDR content available at the moment.

The catalog is growing too, with many new TV shows being available in 4K HDR, and almost all the Netflix and Amazon own-brand movies and TV shows available in the format.

The Fire TV also supports Dolby Atmos, for improved surround sound with compatible systems, but the catalog of content that supports Atmos is quite limited, as is device support.

Observations

• You can control the Fire TV with some TV remotes, although not all the functions work.

• Videos normally start at a higher quality sooner than the old Fire TV connected to the router via ethernet, but are more susceptible to quality dips mid stream.

• Some apps could hang or crash early on, but updates appear to have fixed any issues.

• The Amazon remote cannot do volume on your TV.

Verdict

The Fire TV with 4K and HDR is one of the best streaming devices around. It takes most of what was good from the last generation and squeezes it into a dongle that's cheaper and you can hide behind your TV.

What was taken away in that shrinking process hasn't hurt what most use it for: streaming content. But if you do not have an up to date router that supports the latest 802.11 ac wifi standard, the lack of ethernet might make streaming 4K more difficult.

With a Prime and Netflix subscription, the Fire TV gives users access to one of the largest collections of 4K HDR content available in a neat and tidy box. The Fire TV's 4K HDR content looks stunning when paired with the right TV, making even scenes featuring three old men driving around in Amazon's The Grand Tour look beautiful.

Given the mess that built-in smart TV software can be, the Fire TV is blessed relief.


© 2018 Guardian Web. Syndicated here under contract with YellowBrix, Inc. All rights reserved.
 

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