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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

First Impressions: Fire TV Stick

As mentioned in the PS4 review, one advantage of the PS4 is that you can use a PS Vita to stream a game while someone else uses the TV to watch live TV or do video streaming. Of course, any games running on the PS4 tend to use the entire CPU and GPU to do anything, so you can't actually stream video on a PS4 while the CPU is in use playing a game. The solution is a Fire TV stick, Chromecast, Roku Stick, or so-forth.

Of the 3, Chromecast requires a phone or tablet, and doesn't really support Amazon Instant Video. Roku is the most versatile, but the most expensive. The kicker for me was when Amazon offered the FireTV Stick at $19 for Prime customers. That got me to buy pre-order it.

Installing the device was a cinch. Plug in the HDMI extender, plug in the Stick, plug in the power supply that's a micro-USB port, and you're done! The device supports Amazon Music, TuneIn, Pandora, and Spotify, as well as playing back Photos and Videos from Amazon's cloud. This is a very nice setup, with the biggest disappointment being that there's no support for DLNA, which is what I actually use at home. There are various apps that claim to support DLNA, but what really happens is that they're really apps for throwing content over from the phone to the stick, rather than a full-on DLNA client, so this doesn't quite make up for the PS4 not being as powerful a media server as the PS3.

The UI is fast, and better yet, you can pair your phone via WiFi to the stick and not have to use the remote for text entry. Voice search even sort of mostly works. Playing an Amazon instant video is smooth and quick, though there's missing support for VUDU.

For me, the biggest problem is that there's no separate sound output, so you can't get surround sound if you the output from the TV downgrades surround to stereo, which is what most non-Sony TVs do.

All in all, the FireTV Stick is a better device than the Chromecast, but not nearly as good as the Roku Stick or standalone players. This is disappointing because from the specifications, the stick is a far more powerful device than any of the other sticks.

All in all, at $19 (cheaper than any of the other sticks by far), it's worth while to have as a backup for the scenario I mentioned in the first paragraph above. At full price, I'd give this a pass.

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