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Here’s what you need to know.
If you’re looking to cut the cord, there’s no easier way to do it than with Amazon Fire TV and the Amazon Fire Stick. Whether you’re looking to get into live TV streaming with Sling TV, want to add premium channels like HBO or ESPN, or want to stream Hulu or Netflix, Amazon Fire Stick makes it easy. Here’s everything you need to know before getting started.
What is Amazon Fire TV?
Amazon’s Fire TV brand, launched in 2014 with the Fire TV, is a series of digital media players that allow you to stream video content to your television via your internet connection. Imagine a DVD player you never had to load and that regularly updates with new content.
Fire currently comes in two different models, but have a couple of key things in common. Each device can access over 15,000 apps and games, including Netflix, Amazon Prime (obviously), Hulu, HBO Now, YouTube, ESPN, and more.
Looking to cut the cord but still watch traditional TV? Fire TV supports live sports and TV programming through PS Vue and DirecTV Now. In fact, you get a free month-long trial of DirecTV NOW with your purchase, and it includes channels like AMC, HGTV, and Fox among a host of others. Ultimately, services like DirecTV NOW and HBO Go require a monthly subscription fee, but the ability to choose what services you pay for instead of being forced into bundles by your cable company is invaluable.
How does Amazon Fire TV work?
Amazon Fire Stick requires an internet connection, which you connect to via Wi-Fi or, in the case of the Amazon Fire TV, an Ethernet cable. The device connects to your TV through its HDMI ports. Once activated, it will walk you through the setup process, logging into your pre-existing services and connecting to your Amazon account.
Any digital video or music you’ve purchased through Amazon will automatically be available to use when you’ve logged on. Also, photos you’ve uploaded to your Amazon Cloud Drive will be available for viewing.
Every Amazon Fire TV comes with a Bluetooth remote, so you’ll always be able to control your TV even if you’re not in the line of sight. Fire TV’s remote has Alexa Voice built in, meaning you can launch content simply by saying “Play Game of Thrones” or “Launch Hulu.” You can even order you a pizza if you ask. The possibilities are endless. (Here’s our complete guide on how to use Alexa, which includes Alexa’s Flash Briefings for news updates as well as how to manage your smart home products, calendar, and to-do lists.)
For Luddites who struggle to navigate menus, the Alexa remote is something of a godsend. You just have to press the microphone button and start talking. If you insist on using the remote, you’ll be happy to find it’s simple and clutter-free, with clear buttons that make navigating through menus easy.
Each model can log into hotel Wi-Fi connections, even if they require you to sign into a unique website. For travelers who want a portable solution to keep up with their favorite shows, it’s a valuable feature.
If you get bored with the standard apps available in the Fire app store, you can even download the infamous Kodi media player. It takes a little bit of work, but it’s possible to download Kodi on Amazon Fire.
- Amazon Fire TV Recast: Everything you need to know
- How to watch live TV on Amazon Fire Stick
- Everything you should know about the Amazon Fire TV Cube
- What is the Amazon Echo Show, and how does it work?
What is the Amazon Firestick?
The Fire TV Stick is Amazon’s basic model, serving up 1080p HD streaming in a tiny HDMI stick about the size of your standard USB flash drive. Costing just $39.99 and coming with Alexa Voice remote, the Firestick is a remarkable bargain. You get access to all of the same apps and channels as the Stick’s more expensive cousin, Fire TV. But there are a few downsides.
First off, if you have a 4K television set, you’ll still only be able to stream 1080p content. Secondly, the Fire Stick only has 8 GB of internal storage and 1 GB of memory. That will limit how much downloadable content and apps you can store on the device without streaming, and it hampers your ability to play some of the more graphically intense games offered in the app store.
And finally, to play games, you’ll need a controller, as the standard remote is not compatible with most titles. Amazon offers its own Bluetooth controller, and the device is compatible with most major third-party Bluetooth game controllers, including the PS4’s DualShock 4 if you already have one of those.
What is the Amazon Fire TV?
If you need to have the highest quality picture and sound for your daily viewing, the Fire TV is your best option. The basics are still the same, including access to all of the same apps and channels found on the Stick. But you also get some extra features for your $69.99.
Fire TV comes with the ability to output 4K video, 2 GB of memory, 8 GB of internal, and a microSD slot to store your videos, apps, and games. Also, Fire TV has an Ethernet port that allows you connect it directly to your modem and a USB port to connect an external storage device for streaming your existing music and video content off of a hard drive.
The extra 2 GB of memory comes in handy when you want to play the more advanced games offered in Amazon’s app store. Titles like Shovel Knight and Ducktails HD have made the journey from consoles, along with Lego Star Wars, Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead, and racing games like Drift Mania. Fire TV doesn’t come close to rivaling the power of the Xbox One or PS4. However, it’s also several hundred dollars less expensive. Once again, you will need a separate Bluetooth controller to play games.
- What is Roku and how does it work?
- Chromecast vs Roku vs Amazon Fire: What’s best for you?
- How to make the most of your Netflix subscription
How much does Amazon Fire Stick and Fire TV cost per month?
There are no monthly fees associated with either the Amazon Fire Stick or Fire TV. All you need to pay for is the device itself and you’re good to go. Where things can get expensive is when you start adding various channels (like HBO) or subscription services like Netflix. Your Amazon Prime subscription, which costs $99 per year and comes with a host of benefits, is a seperate expense.
In other words, Amazon Fire Stick and Fire TV give you a way to stream your favorite content. But you’ll still have to pay for subscriptions and other costs associated with the services you want to access using your Amazon Fire Stick.
Amazon Fire Stick vs Amazon Fire TV
Here’s a quick breakdown of the key differences between Amazon Fire Stick and Amazon Fire TV. You can save $30 by just going with the Fire Stick, but Fire TV is a better investment long term because it allows you to stream up to 4K Ultra HD resolution and it has a better quad-core processor, which you’ll definitely notice and appreciate.
Amazon Fire Stick channels and apps
There are countless free channels and apps available via Amazon Fire Stick and Amazon Fire TV, but many of them require additional subscriptions. Here are a few of the most popular options you can look forward. (Click on the links for expanded coverage and background information from the Daily Dot.)
On-demand entertainment on Amazon Fire
- Amazon Prime Video: If you’re already a Prime member, you’ll have access to Amazon’s full library of movies, Amazon originals, documentaries on Amazon Prime, 4K Ultra HD movies, and what’s new on Amazon each month.
- Netflix: Already a Netflix subscriber? Amazon Fire Stick makes it easy to stream. Here are our guides best movies on Netflix, and the must-see Netflix original series, documentaries, docuseries, and movies.
- Hulu: Whether you choose Hulu with Limited Commercials or upgrade for Hulu with No Commercials, both options offer a wealth of great movies, shows, documentaries, anime, and the must-see Hulu originals. Hulu with Live TV is also a popular way of watching live TV online.
- Crackle: This free service allows you to watch a fun list of movies and TV shows that rotate monthly, but you’ll have to sit through some ads.
Amazon Fire Stick channels
Live TV streaming on Amazon Fire Stick and Amazon Fire
- Sling TV
- PS Vue
- DirecTV Now
- Hulu with Live TV
Popular Amazon Fire Stick apps
How Amazon Fire Stick and Fire TV stack up against the competition?
We have an in-depth breakdown of what separates each of the three major streaming devices—Roku, Amazon Fire, and Chromecast—available here, but here’s a quick breakdown of the differences between them.
At $40, Amazon Fire TV Stick is slightly less expensive than Roku’s $49.99 Streaming Stick, and it comes with an Alexa voice remote. Roku currently offers more streaming channels than Amazon, 30,000 to Amazon’s 15,000, but how much mileage you will get out of those channels depends. A large chunk of them are simply dumping grounds for garbage content and channels you’d never watch. If you only need the major streaming services and want the voice remote, Amazon Fire Stick is hard to beat. If you want 4K streaming, Roku Premiere is far less expensive than Amazon Fire TV, at $49.99, but you don’t get the voice remote or the ability to play games.
At $35, Chromecast is the cheapest streaming option on the market, but it lacks important features like a remote. For just $5 more, you can get the Amazon Fire Stick and a voice remote. Oddly, Chromecast’s 4K option is still more expensive than Amazon’s, and it still doesn’t come with a remote. Unless you’re a Google diehard, there’s not a reason to buy a Chromecast.
Amazon Fire Stick vs. Apple TV
Apple TV’s cheapest model will set you back $149, and it doesn’t even offer you the ability to play video in 4K. Unless you’ve already invested lots of money into your iTunes movie collection and simply must have an app that can stream it, Apple TV is simply too expensive to compete with Amazon Fire TV or Roku’s collection.
Looking for something to watch? Here are the best comedies on Amazon Prime when you need a laugh, sad movies to make you cry, kids movies for the whole family, the best thrillers to get your heart racing, and the classic movies on Amazon Prime everyone should see. If that’s not enough, here are the best Amazon Prime channels.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance. The Daily Dot may receive a payment in connection with purchases of products or services featured in this article. Click here to learn more.
John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adopter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also also find him regularly performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.