Amazon has launched the Fire TV Stick for $19, soon to rise to $39. This HDMI stick media player runs on a dual-core SoC and offers mirroring support.
Amazon’s Fire smartphone may have been a $170 million bust, but its similarly Android-based Fire TV has done well, becoming the best-selling streaming media box on Amazon, according to Amazon. (This is known as synergy.) The original Fire TV had been rumored to be a stick computer, a la Google’s Chromecast, but it turned out to be a more fully featured set-top. Now, Amazon is coming through with the HDMI stick version to go mano a mano with Chromecast.
Fire TV Stick with remote
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The Fire TV Stick costs $39, four dollars over the Chromecast, and today and tomorrow it’s available for only $19 for Amazon Prime members. The device will ship on Nov. 19.
Like the Chromecast and other media players, the Fire TV Stick lets you connect to major online video providers. It supports the services and games offered for the Fire TV, which have tripled since the device launched seven months ago, according to Amazon. Services include Netflix, Prime Instant Video, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, NBA Game Time, Twitch, Showtime Anytime, Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, Vevo, Plex, A&E, PBS, PBS Kids, Watch Disney Channel, and YouTube.com.
The one major missing service is HBO GO. However, the Fire TV Stick offers two services Chromecast doesn’t: Bloomberg TV and the 200,000-title Amazon Instant Video. Available games include Monsters University, Ski Safari, and Flappy Birds Family. The Fire TV Stick’s processor does not appear to be ready for more demanding action games. The company does, however, provide the same optional, $40 Amazon Fire Game Controller as is available with the Fire TV.
Fire TV Stick interface
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The Fire TV Stick borrows from the Fire TV an alternative to Chromecast’s casting called “flinging.” You can fling movies and TV shows from a Fire tablet or Fire phone to the Fire TV Stick. Said flinging will turn the TV into the primary screen and free up your phone or tablet to provide “playback controls, a customized display for X-Ray, or simply a place to email, browse the web, and more, while you watch a movie,” says Amazon. Fire TV Stick supports standards like DIAL “so you can also fling services like YouTube, Spotify, and coming soon, Netflix, from your Android phone or iPhone,” says the company.
The Fire TV Stick can also use WiFi to mirror one’s mobile display on the big screen if you have a Fire tablet or phone, or a Miracast-enabled device from Motorola, Samsung, LG, or Google, says Amazon. Mirroring is said to require no additional apps or software. (For more on flinging, mirroring, or otherwise tossing your content onto the screen and seeing what “sticks,” see our earlier Fire TV coverage.)
While the Fire TV rocks a quad-core Snapdragon 8064, the Fire TV Stick runs Amazon’s Android based stack on a more modest dual-core, Cortex-A9 Broadcom Capri BCM28155 system-on-chip. The SoC provides VideoCore4 graphics and the ability to display 1080p video at up to 60fps. Amazon did not list a clock rate, but the BCM28155 is typically clocked at 1.3GHz. Amazon points out that Chromecast and the $49, Linux-based Roku Streaming Stick both have single-core processors.
The Fire TV Stick measures 3.3 x 1.0 x 0.5 inches (84.9 x 25.0 x 11.5mm), and weighs 0.9 ounces (25 grams). It provides 1GB of RAM and 8GB of flash storage, compared to 2GB/8GB on the Fire TV, 512MB/2GB on Chromecast, and 512MB/256MB for the Roku Streaming Stick. Like the Roku device, but unlike Chromecast, it features dual-band MIMO 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi. Amazon also notes that the device adds a feature its two highlighted rivals lack: Dolby Digital Plus surround sound.
The Fire TV Stick is further equipped with Bluetooth 3.0, an HDMI 1.4b output with an extender cable, and a micro-USB port dedicated to power input duties. Hardware features found on the Fire TV, but missing the Fire TV Stick include USB, Ethernet, and TOSLINK optical audio ports.
Fire TV Stick remote
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The device ships with a simple, Bluetooth-enabled remote control device with a 5-way directional trackpad and other standard buttons. For $30, you can also move up to the optional voice-enabled remote that ships with the Fire TV.
As a third input alternative, you use the Fire TV Remote App, which is available for the Fire phone, other Android phones, and “coming soon,” the iPhone. The app features the same voice search engine as Amazon Fire TV, letting you pull up content by speaking the name of a movie, TV show, actor, director, or genre.
The Fire TV Stick version of X-Ray, powered by the IMDb movie database site, lets users “dive deep in-scene to explore characters, trivia, music, and more,” says Amazon. Using the Second Screen feature on Fire tablets or phones, you can view X-Ray information on your mobile device while the related movie or TV show plays on the TV. X-Ray provides information about cast and crew, the names of songs as they play, and a list of music. It even provides character backstories, as well as trivia questions presented in context with the action on the screen.
The interface includes an ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction) feature that predicts which movies and TV episodes you will want to watch and buffers them for playback for faster access. You can also use the Fire TV Stick for playing slide shows of photos or videos you take on your phone or tablet and upload to Amazon Cloud Drive.
Also available is Amazon’s Whispersync technology, which saves and synchronizes one’s video and music library across all of devices. With Whispersync, you can start a video or game on a phone, and then pick up where you left off on the TV.
“Fire TV Stick is the most powerful streaming media stick available,” stated Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO.
In related news, Roku is preparing a potential filing for an initial public offering, according to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The media player manufacturer is likely to do this confidentially, says the story. It’s allowed to do so because it has less than $1 billion in annual revenue. Roku has already raised about $153 million in financing from investors including Hearst and News Corp., says the Times.
The Fire TV Stick is available now for $39, and through Oct. 28, it’s available to Amazon Prime members at $19. The device will ship on Nov. 19. The optional Amazon Fire TV Voice Remote costs $30, and the Amazon Fire Game Controller costs $40. Eligible customers get a free 30-day trial of Netflix and Amazon Prime. More information may be found at the Amazon Fire TV Stick product page.