Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A few thoughts while exploring the Amazon Fire TV - Revised Apr 12 and Aug 5, 2014

Just a status update, revised a bit April 12.

This is following my initial blog article on this, which highlighted the features.

This status update is to let you know I'd been exploring the new FireTV and reading others' experiences with it or questions they're asking, and organizing notes on how to do some of the many things it's capable of.

There are those who never got a Roku, Apple TV or Chromecast or even a Miracast adapter and want to know some basics;  others want to know more on the pros and cons than are seen in basic comparison charts, and then there is some curiosity about how mirroring and "Fling" technology works on this unit, which doesn't require a newer TV that includes those capabilities.

Currently, I'm somewhat addicted to using the unit (which will raise my electricity bill) because I'm into documentaries, and both Amazon and Hulu Plus have tons of those available, but it's the plethora of what is available in every genre in, for me, non-laggy ways and with great sound that's seductive for now.

The voice search works within 1 second for me and brings up a LOT, although this is usable only with Amazon Instant Videos as a rule while strangely reporting a Hulu Plus result now and then too, so maybe they're working on that.  The unit understood my spoken search words from the start (not an easy thing).]

  HBO Go is missing, but Amazon has told a couple of tech sites that they're working with HBO developers on that app.

  Workaround until then -- Since you can Mirror whatever is on your HDX and current HD tablet to an HDTV with a Miracast-capable unit, you can watch an HDX or current HD tablet's HBO Go app and mirror that content on a large HDTV via this FireTV unit.

   I tried the mirroring with the PBS Android app for tablets (which has great content on it), since there is no PBS-adults app specfically for the FireTV yet, which made the tablet app a good candidate for trying the mirroring feature.

  Amazon highlights the Smithsonian FireTV app on the new unit, and it has some, of course, educational full-episodes on it, with a lot of short clips for those wanting that.

  I tried Youtube for FireTV (it comes with the unit) and liked the video quality and sound but found it has the worst search function I've ever encountered.
  Vimeo is nice to have, but its search function is also ultra limited currently.

  My most recently viewed content always shows in the top row of athe Home page, which is similar to what we see with the Carousel on the tablets but without being outsized.
  Contrary to some reports, the top row showing most-recently viewed content includes videos seen via NON-Amazon apps as well.

  Here's Amazon's page of FireTV apps - specifically for the new unit.

  The remote control is well-made, small, and extremely comfortable for me, and economical in the use of buttons.  The batteries that came with it didn't function on the 2nd day although the batteries still had a full charge.  Odd.  New batteries I have did work though, with no problems on the 3rd day (today).

  The FireTV also makes "Fling" technology possible, which lets you send, from one of these tablets, an Amazon video to the TV so that it plays from the Cloud instead of from the tablet, freeing it so that you can use the tablet to just read about what you're seeing ('Xray' feature) or do normal tablet things on it while the movie or TV show displays on the HDTV for everyone in the room, with none of the buffering issues common to other ways of doing this.

  So, since HBO Go is available as an Android app on the current Kindle Fire HDX/HD tablets, you can mirror these (or anything you do on your tablet) to the HDTV via the FireTV box (which is smaller than I thought and I'll have pictures of it on top of my 10 yr old 34" reference Sony HDTV, which is a smaller TV than most HDTV owners today have and you'll see the size of the box with that).

I voice-searched "marlon brando" and got tons of his movies from the early 50s that I'd forgotten about and which are not available in streaming format on either Netflix or Hulu Plus.  Only a couple of them are free to stream, but the avg pricing to see one of these is between $1.99 - $2.99.
  As Prime users generally know, many of the Prime videos are downloadable these days too for the limited rental periods.
  Esoteric finds in some cases.  I even found a government film documenting Brando's testimony and that of several other film notables about a civil rights march, of all things.  I think super movie fans will like what's become instantly available in connection with favorite directors and actors.

  What is puzzling with Amazon's Prime is that some search results get you results that clearly show you that you can "Watch Now" because it's Prime at no added cost, while others return video info that doesn't mention it's Prime and available at no added costs, instead starting the info-display with standard rental cost and then you have to click on something like "Other ways to watch" which THEN mentions that it's an Amazon Prime Instant Video you can watch now if you're a 2-day Prime shipping member.

  Otherwise, on the ROWS of Prime videos that the FireTV highlights (a small subset of 40,000 said to be available) they have small diagonally-placed banners at the top left of the image to let you know it's Prime Instant video.

  It's easier, if wanting to see ONLY 'free' Prime videos,  to use your laptop, desktop, or even tablet, to go to the Prime-Only pages, by categories and genres or a listing, sortable, with details.

  Puzzle: These two pages mention a total of 17,000 Prime Instant videos rather than the 40,000 mentioned in the PR release.  That's because the 17,000 here refers to full series of tv shows as ONE video on the computer search, while the 40,000 videos count each episode as a separate video.

  But let's face it, they have 200,000+ videos, so at least 160,000 of them are items they hope will bring in some money as this is where their margins are to be made.  They produce tablets and now this new unit with higher quality hardware than available elsewhere and new capabilities for almost the same pricing, so the profit comes from sale of content.

  Older videos/films streamed tend to be $1.99-$2.99, and the newest ones are usually about $4.99, which does beat what my Comcast rentals are, and with Amazon's offerings, we can fast-forward (not so, the Comcast On-Demand ones, a limitation which drives me crazy).

  The relative power and speed of the unit, the abundance of good contentthe ability to do medium-level gaming, with an xbox-style game controller, parental control features, Amazon's information-filled X-ray features along with mirroring and 'Fling'ing are big pluses for me.

  I love being able to pause a movie to see info on the music in it (including how I might get it) as well as the now well-known "In-Scene" Xray features that show us who is in the current scene -- much better viewing this content on a large TV even if I enjoy viewing video on the 8.9" HDX tablet a lot (it's ultra clear and very smooth - at least when using cable TV rather than standard DSL).

  Again, with 'Fling' we can see info on a different device (Fling-enabled tablets) while watching the film full-screen on a TV without having to pause the video and place distracting info on the screen.
  It also frees the tablet for other uses while Amazon's Cloud runs the video displaying on the TV for more than one person to enjoy.

  Amazon MUSIC - Those who enjoy Amazon's streaming music from the Cloud, with lyrics for the songs provided for popular albums with publisher permission, will see this feature arriving for the FireTV soon too, they say.

  One thing not mentioned so far, this unit uses the most beautiful collection of screensavers I've ever seen -- photographed in beautiful light, the HDTV display of these images shows the quality of that light.  Now, if they would just add the XRay feature to those so I'd know where all of the photos were taken.  They even have Pitigliano in there.

Check often: Temporarily-free recently published Kindle books
  Guide to finding Free Kindle books and Sources.  Top 100 free bestsellers.  Liked-books under $1
UK-Only: recently published free books, bestsellers, or £5 Max ones
    Also, UK customers should see the UK store's Top 100 free bestsellers.

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  1. Does it play photos/videos/music via the USB port? The specs say "Content Formats Supported Video: H.263, H.264, MPEG4-SP, VC1
    Audio: AAC, AC-3, E-AC-3, HE-A, PCM, MP3
    Photo: JPG, PNG" but do you need an app to make them work? Or is a player built in?

    1. brik,
      Players built in, but so far this is only for formats included in apps available for the unit. The USB port entry in the support page says only "The USB port currently does not support any accessories."
      However, anything I can mirror to the unit from my HDX tablet does play including stuff I got from Youtube. It's meant to stream video from hosts serving them rather than for playing just what you have that you want to put on -- it does not have much storage space but it does mirror what's on a Miracast-enabled tablet...

  2. Any idea where the screensaver images are coming from? Is there a feed I can connect to in order to download them? I'd love to use them for my desktop or tablet, but I haven't been able to find any information on this anywhere.

    1. Rogue3 -- No, I've no idea where those unusually beautiful screensaver images are coming from, but they have me wishing they were X-Rayed like Kindle books and we could pause one to see where it was taken and a bit of info on the place. I'd even accept some recommended books on them or be able to click and send the background info to my tablet or e-reader. I noticed last week that they've added some more screensavers. I can get a bit mesmerized by them. For those I want to see off-TV, I take photos, and that way I can resize those to my screen. With Windows 7 and up, you can use any jpg as wallpaper.

    2. Rogue3, I forgot to say that using shutter speed 1/30 is important to get the picture right...A higher ISO should be used.


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