Amazon’s family of Fire TV media streamers are very popular and with good reason. They give you access to a huge variety of subscription streaming content from services like Netflix, Hulu, ESPN and Amazon’s own Prime Video. Plus, as of July 9, 2019, they now feature the official YouTube app once again — something that’s been missing from this platform for years.
Some Fire TV devices even give you the ability to interact with Alexa, making voice control over your TV as easy as asking for what you want to see. But there are now several kinds of Fire TV devices, each with different prices, designs, and features. Which one is right for you? The answer is right here. We’ll take an in-depth look at the three most popular models: The Fire TV Stick, Fire TV Stick 4K, and the Fire TV Cube, so you can get a feel for what each one offers. Let’s begin!
Amazon Fire TV Stick
At just $40 or less, the Fire TV Stick isn’t just the least expensive Fire TV device you can buy, it’s one of the least expensive media streamers, period. When we reviewed the first generation of this device way back in 2014, we found a lot to like. A blazing fast interface, tons of great content, and a wide selection of apps and games. The latest version of the Fire TV Stick now has an optional Ethernet adapter, but its 802.11ac Wi-Fi connection should be plenty fast for most users, especially as the device is limited to 1080p HD content. The included remote is now voice-enabled with Alexa built-in, and you can search for content from both Prime Video and Netflix.
There’s 8GB of onboard storage for downloaded apps and games, which is more than any other stick-based streamer. While you won’t get 4K streaming, you do get access to a massive library of Fire TV apps, which includes virtually all of the most popular subscription services like HBO, ESPN, CBS All Access, plus a ton of free options too, like YouTube, PlutoTV, Tubi, and more. There also two major browser apps: Amazon’s own Silk web browser, and a version of Firefox. This is a rarity in the streaming media device world, where you won’t find easy browser options on Apple TV, Roku, or even Google-controlled Android TV. The included remote not only has a dedicated button for summoning Alexa, but it can also control the volume of your TV, soundbar, or A/V receiver if you’ve got HDMI-CEC enabled. Or, simply connect a pair of Bluetooth headphones and listen in complete privacy.
The Fire TV Stick can also run games — a surprising number of them given these devices are not really targeted toward gamers — but you’ll have to buy a compatible game controller to get the most out of them. Many Bluetooth controllers, like the Sony DualShock 4, will work, but beware: Amazon’s own Fire TV game controller, mysteriously, does not. The Fire TV remote will also work for many of these games.
The biggest omission is high-end audio and video. The Fire TV Stick does not support 4K Ultra HD resolution or any kind of HDR, and its audio is limited to Dolby Digital — it does not support the Dolby Atmos object-based surround format. Does this matter? It very much depends on the A/V gear you plan to use with the Fire TV Stick. If your TV doesn’t do 4K, you won’t miss the extra resolution at all. Likewise, if your A/V receiver or soundbar isn’t Dolby Atmos compatible, or isn’t set up with Atmos-height speakers Dolby Digital will likely be just fine.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
Those high-end audio and video options that are missing from the Fire TV Stick are the whole reason Amazon created the Fire TV Stick 4K. The Fire TV Stick 4K does everything we described above, but if you own a 4K TV — especially if it is an HDR-capable model — that $10 buys you a lot of additional joy. We probably don’t need to tell you that 4K HDR content looks absolutely stunning, making all older movies and shows look dull and lifeless by comparison. And since streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix are quickly embracing 4K HDR, you owe it to yourself to get the Fire TV Stick 4K.
We’d also like to point out that the Fire TV Stick 4K is the only streaming media player we’ve found that supports every single flavor of HDR, including HDR10, HLG, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision. That’s nothing short of amazing given that devices that can cost up to four times the price of the Fire TV Stick 4K don’t offer this level of future-proofing.
Dolby Atmos support is also part of the package. Not all surround sound is created equal, and if you have a sound system that is Dolby Atmos capable, you need a media streamer that supports Dolby Atmos to take advantage of it. With an increasing amount of Atmos content showing up on Netflix and Prime Video, it’s the right time to own a device that can handle it.
Amazon Fire TV Cube
In some ways, the Fire TV Cube is so sophisticated and so different from the two Fire TV Stick models, it doesn’t really feel like it belongs to the same family of devices. Unlike the sticks, the Cube is designed to sit beside, or in front of your TV instead of hiding behind it. The reason is far more than cosmetic, though we’d argue its minimalist design is more attractive than many of the devices that end up tethered to our TVs. The placement matters because the Fire TV Cube isn’t just a media streamer for your TV — it can control your TV, and ultimately your smart home too.
The Cube is a full-fledged Amazon Echo device, with the ability to continuously listen for Alexa commands, and respond to them via the built-in speaker. Unlike other Alexa speakers, like the Echo or the Dot, the Fire TV Cube can actually control your other home theater products (even if they’re not physically connected) using Alexa voice commands. Thanks to the built-in IR blaster and IR extension cable, the Cube can issue commands to hundreds of different devices from cable boxes to Blu-ray players, all with the power of your voice.
The upside of this arrangement is that your entire home theater is now yours to control using only Alexa (if you wish — the Cube also comes with standard Fire TV voice-enabled remote). As the nerve center for every Alexa-compatible smart device in your home, you can sit on your couch and use your voice to master any number of gadgets, like security cameras and smart door locks. It prompted our reviewer to give the device a rare 5/5 rating and we also named it one of the best products of 2018. Its only downside is a lack of Dolby Vision support. That’s a more significant gap now than when we reviewed it in 2018, but it’s certainly not a deal-breaker if you value the Cube’s many other benefits.
Of course, all of this techno-magic doesn’t come cheap. The Fire TV Cube is a big jump over its stick-based family members at $120. But before you balk at that price, consider this: The Fire TV Cube does far more (for far less) than most other streaming devices, including the Apple TV, Roku Ultra, and Google Chromecast Ultra.
So which one should you get?
We think that for the $10 premium over the price of the Fire TV Stick, anyone with a 4K TV — or anyone who thinks they may buy a 4K TV in the next few years — should buy the Fire TV Stick 4K. Its combination of apps, games, streaming services both paid and free, plus an unequaled level of support for all of today’s top audio and video formats make it a stellar value. When you add Alexa’s ability to give you voice control over your content as well as your smart home, it’s hard to conceive of a reason Fire TV shoppers shouldn’t buy it.
However, if you’re certain that the 4K revolution holds no interest for you, and you’re looking for a cheap and easy way to access the best the streaming world has to offer, the $10 you save by buying the standard Fire TV stick could be used to help pay for an extra month of Netflix.
We love the Fire TV Cube, but we also acknowledge it isn’t for everyone. It’s expensive (relatively speaking) and doesn’t handle travel as well as the Sticks. But if you secretly harbor a desire to turn your home theater into your very own USS Enterprise bridge, complete with a computer that responds to voice commands, the Fire TV Cube is your passport to the captain’s chair.
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