Amazon Fire TV 3 Review
Angling and dangling for your hard-earned
What is the Amazon Fire TV 3?The third generation of the Amazon Fire TV arrives in a market just given a bit of a shake-up by the recently released Apple TV 4K, a new, remote-only, model of the NVIDIA SHIELD TV and a couple of new Roku streaming devices. In the case of the ATV 4K and SHIELD TV, at least, it does so at less than half their asking prices while seemingly offering broadly the same features and apps. In point of fact, the Amazon Fire TV 3 is ticketed at £69.99, making it the least expensive Fire TV box to date, and quite probably a sure-fire hit for Amazon going in to the 2017 festive season, and beyond. It was thought that Amazon would announce another Fire TV device at the same time as the AFTV 3, with built-in speakers for hands-free Alexa voice assistant interaction but, at the time of writing, the Amazon Fire TV ‘Cube’ has yet to be introduced.
The new Fire TV is the first Amazon device to offer both Ultra HD support together with HDR (High Dynamic Rage) video, although unlike the Apple TV 4K, there is only HDR10 compatibility so there’s no Dolby Vision capability which is slightly odd given that Amazon Video does have DV titles in its library; there is support for Dolby Atmos immersive audio, however, via streaming services at least. The Fire TV 3 also heralds another first in that it launches with Fire OS 6, which is supposed to have feature parity with Android 7 Nougat, while the older Fire TV devices might well be ‘stuck’ on Fire OS 5 as Amazon is undecided if they will be updated.
SpecificationThe Fire TV 3 is equipped with an AMLogic S905Z processor with a Mali-450 MP3 GPU, there’s 2GB of RAM and 8GB of on-board storage, although with resources reserved for the operating system, there is only 5.34GB usable out of the box.
Design & ConnectionsAmazon describes the Fire TV 3 as sporting a ‘pendant’ design, which is accurate given that it hangs down from the HDMI port on your display via the built-in 10cm long cable but it is just a fancy way to describe a little black box that has been angled and dangled. When we say little, it really is very small with its dimensions of 65x65x20mm (WxDxH) and a weight of just 85g. These dimensions make the Fire TV 3 very portable and, we assume, it will eventually take the place of the Fire TV Stick in Amazon’s line-up as we don’t really see the need for them to co-exist. The pendant idea is a little strange, in all honesty, unless there were design issues with cooling the processors when put in to a stick form. We do worry that the built-in cable will eventually fall victim to gravity and there doesn’t seem to be any way to easily replace it, should it become unattached or loose. Other than the HDMI 2.0a cable, the only other physical connection is the mini USB port which is used for the included power supply. Amazon is to release an AFTV 3 compatible Ethernet adapter but, for the moment, network connectivity is provided by built-in 2.4 and 5Ghz 2x2 MIMO Wi-Fi. There’s also built-in Bluetooth 4.1 for connecting peripherals, such as speakers, games controllers and keyboards – it’s also what’s used to communicate between the Fire TV and the supplied remote.We’ve always liked the clean and simple design of the Fire TV remote controls and this latest iteration has done little to change that. It is 1-2 cm longer than the original and features rubberised - rather than hard plastic buttons - but the layout is identical in having the navigational and enter buttons towards the top, just below the microphone/Alexa activator. Below the direction buttons are three more for Reverse (back), Home and Menu, while the bottom row features the playback and transport controls. While we prefer the slightly larger proportions of the third gen remote – it’s slightly more difficult to lose down the back of the sofa – the build quality of the original seems slightly superior and its softer back casing is definitely more tactile.
User Interface & MenusThe Fire TV 3 retains the same UI as the rest of the family, despite the presence of Fire OS 6 but that’s no bad thing in our estimation. There are submenus running across the top of the screen for ‘Home’, ‘Your Videos’, ‘Movies’, ‘TV Shows’, ‘Apps’ and ‘Settings’ with tiles cascading down the screen underneath those. The Home screen features a row of your recently used apps right at the top and then another with all your apps and games below that; for those who are interested, side-loaded apps do show up here. The rest of the Home page is then dominated with various Amazon video content but there’s also recommendations from Netflix and various featured apps and games interspliced with that. The Your Videos page is very much like the Home Page except for the absence of Apps and Games and is even more heavily slanted towards Amazon video. You can probably guess what the TV and Movies pages are like but, just in case you can’t, they too bear more than a striking resemblance to the others we have described, only with more detailed options for content discovery. One handy little navigational tip is to hold down the Home button on the remote for a couple of seconds which will allow you to take shortcuts to the Settings, Apps page and the Sleep mode. It’s also possible to move and remove tiles in most situations by pressing the Menu button when they are highlighted.
The Fire TV 3 Settings Menu is easy enough to follow and is split in to eleven sections but some don’t really warrant any page space as they’re so self-explanatory, we’re looking at you ‘Notifications’, ‘Network’, ‘Controllers & Bluetooth Devices’. Display and Sounds are certainly worth further investigation, however, where you get choices of video output resolutions of 720p, 1080p and 2160p (Ultra HD) at either 50 or 60Hz. It remains a real shame that Amazon refuses to include a 24/23.976Hz mode as these would suit the vast majority of content from the likes of Netflix and even Amazon’s own service better. We can fully understand the reasons why the default is 60Hz, as it keeps the interface flowing smoothly and we know that most people don’t really care if what they are watching isn’t fully optimised but at least give the videophile the option, somewhere.
In previous devices we have been able to access a ‘secret’ 24Hz mode by pressing the remote buttons in a certain way but that doesn’t appear to work on Fire OS 6 and the TV HZ app - does what it says on the tin – is ineffective in this case also. The AMLogic S905 does a pretty good job of ‘smoothing’ content to a 60/59.94Hz refresh but we can’t pretend we’re not disappointed about the lack of a 24Hz mode. There are further video options in being able to set Colour bit depth - 8, 10 or 12 and Colour Space (misspelled Color) Format - RGB and YCbCr. The fire TV seems to fall back to 8-bit RGB so you'll need to do a little research to see what is optimal on your TV - we went with 10-bit YCbCr as being the best option on the 2 year old Samsung TV we did most of the testing on.
The audio output options are Dolby Digital Plus Automatic, Dolby Digital Plus Off, Dolby Digital Plus Over HDMI and Dolby Digital over HDMI. You’ll need to check the specs of your TV, Soundbar or AV Receiver to see what it can handle but the Auto setting should work in most instances.
Internet Streaming AppsAmazon has got most of the bases covered when it comes to securing the most used and popular video streaming services to the Fire TV 3’s roster. We get catch-up services from ITV Hub, All 4, My5, UK TV (Dave, Drama, Really and Yesterday) and, of course, the BBC iPlayer. In the case of the latter, the Fire TV gets in on the Ultra HD HLG HDR action with the Beta version of the app which gives it an advantage over both the Apple TV 4K and NVIDIA Shield TV – despite NVIDIA paying out to develop its own version of iPlayer for its device.
We like the sensible approach Amazon and Netflix have taken to live in relative harmony so the AFTV 3 gets the full fat UHD HDR version, as well as integrating recommendations in to the Fire TV homescreen, albeit they are heavily outnumbered by those coming from Amazon’s own Prime Instant Video app; you can also, content and equipment permitting, get Dolby Atmos (Dolby Digital Plus flavour) audio from Netflix. YouTube is also very well supported with Fire TV 3 hardware capable of VP9 Profile 2 decoding so that means both Ultra HD/4K and HDR playback. This is another win for Amazon’s device over the more expensive competition with Apple’s latest and greatest stuck at ye old 1080p and the Shield TV unable to play YouTube in HDR, although at least it can do Ultra HD.
Of course, we really should pay a little more heed to Amazon’s own offering and Prime Instant Video has become a really credible rival to Netflix, with plenty of worthy original content, a lot of which is in Ultra HD and some in HDR. The X-ray feature present on Fire devices, which allows you to view actor biographies, sundry background information and more from IMDb, is excellent. Clearly one area where Amazon is lagging behind Apple is in its breadth of 4K film content on offer, with iTunes having an awful lot more at this time.
Probably the most notable absence, at least as far as the UK is concerned, is Sky’s NOW TV service but that doesn’t ever look like it will make an appearance on the platform so if that’s a key service for you, you’ll need to look at either a Roku, Sky’s own NOW TV Box, an Apple TV or a SHIELD TV but do check first that your Smart TV hasn’t got an app of its own. Owners of the Fire TV in the USA are lucky enough to get the digital locker style, Movies Anywhere app but if you live elsewhere, you’re out of luck. Audio wise, the Fire TV has apps from Spotify (of course), TuneIn Radio, Vevo, a host of podcast clients and more, plus a very nice and TV friendly version of Amazon Music but the video apps are really the stars of the show.
Local & Networked Media PerformanceThe Amazon Fire TV 2 made/makes for a very good local media streamer using the popular fork of KODI specialised for Android, SPMC (and the paid-for app MrMC) but whether the Fire TV 3 will ever be as accomplished remains to be seen and we would say it’s probably not likely, in the short term at least. We side-loaded the latest versions of SPMC (16.7) and KODI 32-bit (17.4) but found the Fire TV 3 lacking the capability to passthrough HD audio (Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 is as good as it gets) while – and we alluded to it earlier – refresh rate switching was also a total no-go, resulting in choppy playback of our library of movies over our home network.
The 2x2 MIMO Wi-Fi did allow for streaming reasonably high bitrate content but while we’re unable to play our movies and TV shows in the correct cadence, we’ve no real interest in the Amazon Fire TV 3 as a local media streamer and frankly we don’t think Amazon is all that bothered about it either. Probably your best bet would be to use PLEX – which is available without sideloading – and let the server do some transcoding but, again, there is no HD audio support or dynamic refresh rate switching. If you only have £70-ish to spend on a networked streamer, there are better alternatives. That said, it is early days and the media player software developers haven’t yet had their hands on the Fire TV 3, yet, so it’s possible matters will improve and we’ll update this section as, when and if that happens.
AlexaAmazon’s voice assistant made its way to the Fire TV devices some time ago and while they weren’t the first to introduce voice control to a Smart TV device – the TV manufacturers got there before them – Alexa is arguably the best. For the time being, UK users will need to press in and hold the microphone button on the remote to issue commands but, hopefully, we’ll soon be able to use other Alexa enabled products to issue hands-free commands to the Fire TV as the US got that update in September 2017; we’ve asked Amazon UK when that will happen but there is no definite date, as yet. Alexa allows you to search for movies and TV shows, play music, get news and weather summaries, search and launch apps, and more besides. For instance, you can ask Alexa to find Tom Cruise movies or show me war films, play the next episode of a show you’re watching, skip forwards five minutes or play songs from Spotify or Amazon Music. Naturally, the Amazon services are best supported by Alexa but it does integrate with other apps and their numbers will only increase over time as the trend for voice assistants shows no signs of slowing down.
How future-proof is this video streamer?
4K Ultra HD playback up to 60 frames per second
HEVC decoding Full HD
HEVC decoding Ultra HD
7 Channel HD Audio pass-through
3D ISO playback
Over The Air (OTA) Software Updates
- An excellent selection of apps
- 4K HDR Youtube, iPlayer, Netflix & Amazon
- Keenly priced
- Pretty UI
- Nice remote
- No 24p Mode
- Pendant design is a little strange
- No HD audio passthrough
- Not all that many UHD Movies
Amazon Fire TV 3 Review
Should I buy one?For a whisker under £70, the Amazon Fire TV 3 offers an awful lot in terms of internet streaming apps, with most of the big hitters present and correct. There are 4K HDR versions of Netflix, YouTube, BBC iPlayer (beta) and, of course, Amazon’s own Prime and Instant Video service, plus all the UK catch-up services from ITV, Channels 4 and 5, in addition to the UKTV suite of Dave, Drama, Really and Yesterday. About the only video app missing of any import for the UK market is Sky’s NOW TV service. There are also a selection of music and audio services from Amazon, Spotify, TuneIn Radio and various podcast apps, to boot, as well as hundreds of games and sundry apps too numerous to list. The Fire TV 3 is also blessed with an Alexa voice assistant enabled remote control and the IMDb powered X-ray feature allowing you to garner further information on the content you’re watching, including actor bios, director info and more with just the press of a button.
In terms of using the Fire TV 3 as a media player for your local or network stored media, there's a long way to go before it becomes a credible alternative and we’re fairly sure Amazon isn’t really all that interested in that side of things either. There is no accessible 24/23.976 mode, for starters, which means you can’t play your movies (and most US TV shows) in their correct cadence. This is also an issue for internet streaming apps, too, although the AMLogic chipset does a fairly good of smoothing all content in to a 60Hz refresh. There’s also no support for HD audio passthrough in apps such as KODI and PLEX and frame-packed 3D video is also a no-go. On the (Dolby Digital) Plus side, you can get Dolby Atmos from VOD apps, including Netflix but if you’re looking for a dual internet/local media streamer the Fire TV 2 is currently a better bet, bar its lack of HDR support.
In the final analysis, however, the Amazon Fire TV 3 achieves what it sets out to do in providing a low cost but app and feature-packed option for those that view most of their movies and TV shows via internet services and for that reason it comes with a hearty AVForums recommendation.
You can buy the Amazon Fire 3 here.
What else is there?In our estimation, there are three devices in direct competition with the Amazon Fire TV 3. The Apple TV 4K is more powerful, offers a 24Hz output, Dolby Vision and a larger selection of affordable Ultra HD movies but doesn’t do 4K or HDR from YouTube and the BBC iPlayer app is also limited – it also costs £110 more than the Amazon device. The NVIDIA SHIELD TV also starts at £179 and possesses a 23.976Hz output, while supporting 4K HDR Amazon and Netflix. The Shield TV also has UHD YouTube, although not HDR, but it does have access to Google Movies and TV and is a far better vehicle for local streaming with excellent support from KODI, PLEX and SPMC. The third device is the Roku Streaming Stick Plus, which we’ve we haven't reviewed yet but, on paper, will run the Fire TV 3 close in terms of major app support and costs the same, although it is also unlikely to be any great shakes for your local content.
Networking, Internet, Streaming quality7
Set up, Menus, Remote8
Value for Money9
Our Review Ethos
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