Monday, October 27, 2014

Amazon's new Fire TV Stick - Like Chromecast? This is even better. $19 for the next 2 days only for new (free trials do count) and existing Prime members - Intro promo. Update2 for remote control + setup info. New limit: 1 per customer.

Amazon's new Fire TV Stick, a challenge to Chromecast

After Amazon's success with Fire TV (which really is beautiful, fast and smooth,  with a burst of new apps recently -- over 600 now), Amazon has added the FIRE  TV STICK" - a portable unit that attaches to any HDMI port of an HDTV.

And to bring it to our attention in a big way, this $39 item will be $19 for the next two days only (US only, currently), for new and existing Prime members.

Amazon adds that "Eligible customers get a free 30-day trial of Netflix and Amazon Prime when they purchase Fire TV Stick."

  In addition, per Amazon's Press Release, Amazon states: Customers who are new to Prime can sign up for a free trial and also receive this special price.  That statement is not seen on the product page but is an important point.

  As of late Monday night, Amazon changed its initial "two per customer" to "one per customer."  I've had a lot of inquiries about the stick, so that doesn't surprise me.

Here's a quick look at Amazon's comparison chart for the FireTVStick.  (See the  larger comparison chart in the Amazon product page's popup.)
As you can see, the Amazon stick and the Roku both include dedicated remotes. (The Voice remote -- an upgrade from the one included in the TVStick box -- is separate upgrade option at $30).  Google's Chromecast doesn't offer a dedicated remote.

  There will be a free Remote App for Fire and Android (and arriving later, for iOS), which will make Voice Searches possible without the optional Voice remote.
  TIP: If you do order the optional Voice Remote, some report that their dogs are attacted to it, so keep them higher, out of reach of pets.

  Here's info on how the unit is set up and ways to control it with mobile devices if you don't get the Voice remote control

Some runaway capabilities of the FireTVStick:
1.  It has a dual-core processor over the others' single-core processor so will be noticeably faster.
2.  It has twice the memory of the other two and will be smoother during processing of streams.
3.  The storage is 8 GB versus the 2 GB of the Chromecast and the 256K of the Roku sticks.
4.  Those with the FireTV will know how easy the VOICE Search is vs typing in alpha letters.
5.  FireTVStick has Dolby Digital Plus certified surround sound feature.
6.  It has an optional game controller (sold separately then) and has over 200 games to less than 30 for the Chromecast and less than 100 for the  Roku stick.

The Chromecast is at a disadvantage to the other two, even further, as it
1. doesn't have the Dual-band/Dual Antenna WiFi capability
2. doesn't have Amazon Instant Prime.

However, Amazon doesn't yet have HBOGo, though it was mentioned as coming, some time ago.  Until that happens, those having Fire tablets can Mirror to the FireTVStick for the HDTV what is on them (HBOGo is an official app for these).  But then this can be done with the FireTVStick with other tablets and phones.  Amazon's product page emphasizes:
' Use your iOS or Android device to fling music and movies to your HDTV—and control playback—from apps like YouTube and Spotify. Or, share movies, TV shows, music, and photos from your compatible tablet or phone with everyone in your living room using display mirroring. What you see on your Fire OS or Android device is exactly what you’ll see on your big screen. '
Another important feature is Amazon's ASAP for instant streaming. "No more waiting for your movies and shows to buffer—ASAP learns what movies and shows you like so they start instantly."

Amazon emphasizes its ecosystem, which has "over 200,000 TV episodes and movies, millions of songs, and hundreds of games.  Amazon's press release highlighted the following:
' ... Netflix, Prime Instant Video, Hulu, WatchESPN, NBA Game Time, Prime Music, Pandora, Spotify, and more for instant access to shows like Transparent, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Game of Thrones, and The Wire—plus the largest selection of movies and TV episodes to rent or buy from Amazon Instant Video. '

I already have the FireTV but have wanted something for my computer room and of course a more portable version that I can take to friends' homes to easily share my own video-streaming favorites and watchlists.  While the HDMI Cable on the old Kindle Fire HD 8.9" tablet from 2012 could be used to attach to hotel TVs, Amazon has this info box:
' Coming soon -- take Fire TV Stick with you to use with HDTVs in hotels, college dorms, airports, or anywhere with captive portal Internet access that requires entering a password or a log-in. '

At any rate, I will end this here so more will know right away about Amazon's aggressive 2-day intro rate

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  1. For $20, this is a no-brainer for me. I just got a Kindle Fire for my grandson's birthday and his mom has been debating a Fire TV console. I will hold onto it until Xmas and make his day.

  2. Jazz, "No brainer" was my first thought too. I already have the FireTV and have often wished it were more portable so that I could bring it to friends' homes and share my favorites on their TV's but didn't want to set it up for other TV's and change the more static unit again back at home, I'd expect to do this with a portable unit though.
    The Voice Remote is $30, so if one wants that (it's a huge feature), then it's $49 during the promo, for Prime users. Normal pricing brings it to $69. Controlling it instead with one's tablet or phone should be easy enough, but I would REALLY miss the Voice search feature.

    I'll test out the FireTV remote to see if it works with the Stick, once it gets here.

    1. Well, I see the FireTV remote does work with the TVStick, so I'm set. I'll have to try it with just a normal tablet though to see what that's like for others. They say the remote app will be available for Fire and Android but that the iOS one will come a bit later.

    2. Fire Stick is not shipping until December, but they can ship the remote app as soon as it is ready (since it will work with Fire TV also). The app will support voice search (pretty much for free on Android). Of course the app won't have voice search on Fire tablets without microphones, like last year's Fire HD7!

    3. Tom, I hear that it'll be ready for download at the time the StickTV is released. (Probably just before it's released, I imagine.)

    4. When I first read about its being released November 19, I putzed the time away and put in an order a couple of hours later, before doing the blog. There was no way I wouldn't get one at that price, and I already have the FireTV remote.
      Even then, mine won't be delivered until December 1. I noticed that at first they limited the deal to two per customer and on the 2nd day changed that to one per customer.

  3. I hope I can connect the stick to my AVR instead of my TV, so I can get good multi-channel sound. I bet I can, but the Amazon product description mentions only connecting to a HDTV, and says "Dolby Digital Plus certified, audio pass through up to 7.1". (I have Fire TV connected to my AVR, and it seems happy enough.)

    1. Gregory,
      If the Fire TV can be connected to your AVR, it's likely possible for the stick since the FireTV page shows the setup for the stick to an HDTV but says in the text, "With Dolby Digital Plus up to 7.1, enjoy rich, cinematic surround sound via HDMI or optical out."

      The FireTV specs: "Type A HDMI 1.4b output, w/HDCP"
      The Stick specs... "Type A HDMI 1.4b output, w/HDCP 1.4"
      For 'Audio'
      FireTV: "Support for Dolby Digital Plus, 5.1 surround sound, 2ch Stereo and HDMI audio pass through up to 7.1"
      Stick...."Dolby Digital Plus certified, audio pass through up to 7.1

      Interesting differences in types of formats supported:
      -- FireTV --
      Video: H.263, H.264, MPEG4-SP, VC1
      Audio: AAC, AC-3, E-AC-3, HE-A, PCM, MP3
      Photo: JPG, PNG
      -- FireTVStick --
      Video: H.264
      Audio: AAC-LC, AC3, eAC3 (Dolby Digital Plus), FLAC, MP3, PCM/Wave, Vorbis
      Photo: JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP

      Please let us know how it goes for you.

    2. I think they only say HDTV to emphasize the point that the Fire Stick has no separate audio output (which Fire TV has, giving you more options for hooking it up). If your AVR is happy with Fire TV (without using Fire TV optical audio out port), then it should be fine with the Fire Stick as well.

    3. I would not say Fire Stick is 'better' than Chromecast, just different.

      Chromecast is not a standalone device (except for its beautiful screensaver). You must pair it with a mobile device, specifically with a mobile app that supports Chromecast (you can also mirror Chrome browser pages). That confers the advantage of simplicity: there is nothing to install or authorize on it, you just use the mobile apps you already have and use and update. It is a great experience. It also means its specs are completely adequate for what it does (unless you want to do 4K streaming).

      Fire Stick and Roku are designed to operate standalone. As such you have to install apps and have signin credentials in many cases for each app. Some of those apps will support 'second screen' operation, similar to Chromecast (which you can think of as being '100% second screen'). And just as with a mobile device, you may need to think about security/parental controls, etc.

      It's true that most people will probably prefer Fire Stick because it is more versatile, for just $4 more. But it is also a lot more complex, and there are more things that can go wrong. For example, before you can have your second screen experience, you have to install apps to pair your mobile apps with. There will be continual to both Fire OS and the apps.

      That said, Google would probably do well to drop the price on Chromecast to $20, or bundle it for free with Nexus Player, just so it will continue to proliferate and attract developer attention (particularly on iOS).

      I think we can say that Microsoft's recently announced Miracast adapter is DOA.

    4. I think Amazon says 'HDTV' to remind people that they need a TV involved which has an HDMI connector, no matter how the setup[ is configured (via AVR or not). I agree with your conclusion ! (Couldn't reply to that comment separately for some reason...

    5. By the way, Tom, sorry to post comments so late. Was not really around and forgot to check !
      -- I'm not sure about the simplicity of Chromecast. I've read a lot of complaints about little problems for what is nevertheless a very popular item, And for pure Android users, who tend to pride themselves on all the things pure Android can do, it's fairly limited and, as mentioned, not very flexible. But I've had a link to it immediately upon release as it's such an attractive item.

      The stick's 2nd screen capability will allow Fire tablets/phone to get Amazon's special X-ray of applicable movies and music -- being able to see who's in the current scene of a movie or tv show, background. I really like the lyrics scrolling down with current line highlighted when listening to music.

      For me, the flashstorage of 8KGB and the 1GB of memory makes it better than Chromecast in the likelihood of getting faster and smoother streaming video -- the background ASAP feature will tend to make loading a lot more timely.

      The dual band/dual antenna feature is not minor. It makes a difference as noted in reviews of the first Kindle Fire HDXs.

      The dual core processor vs Chromecast's single core should make another difference.

      Agreed re the recommended Google counter-action...

      Thanks for your thoughts and again apologies for not getting to the blog comments soon enough. The comments put into the spam folder amounted to 103,000 at one point.


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