The Fire TV also allows for screen mirroring and second-screen capability if you own a Kindle Fire HDX. These features are expected to be expanded to other devices, including the iPhone and iPad, and to Android-based phones and tablets. Screen mirroring (Miracast) will display whatever is shown on your device’s screen on your TV, and thanks to the fast processing, we found that to be nice and smooth, even when playing videos. When not mirroring, you can use your phone or tablet to search for a title you want to watch within Amazon’s streaming services and then “fling” it to your TV with a push of a button.
Once something is playing, you can use a feature called “X-ray” to display additional information from the IMDb database—character names, actor information, and other trivia—on your mobile device. So, for instance, as a character enters a scene, the actor’s picture will appear on the device’s screen, along with the character’s and actor’s names. Tapping on the actor’s picture will bring up his or her bio.
You can also access your personal content on the Fire TV. You can look at photos and videos using Amazon’s Cloud Drive app, which lets you upload content from Apple- and Android-based phones and tablets, and from your PC or laptop. While it does require you to upload the content to the cloud, it’s pretty fast and easy to use. Unfortunately, music playback is unavailable at this time, but you can expect support for Amazon’s Cloud Player app soon. Also, Fire TV lacks DLNA compatibility and the ability to view files from the USB port, which may be a more direct and easier way for some than the cloud. One shortcoming of using only cloud-based media is that you will be able to see only content from the single registered Amazon account, so your friends or family won’t be able to show their photos on your TV.
If you’re into gaming, there’s good news: Fire TV’s gaming platform is more advanced than what we’ve seen on other players. For example, our press sample included a preinstalled game, “Sev Zero” which was a lot closer to the graphics and playability of console games then the basic puzzle games you get on most media players. You can play games using the provided remote, but most dedicated gamers will want to purchase the optional Fire Game Controller (about $40), which is similar to an Xbox controller. While you can play the basic games now available in the Amazon market, you can expect more advanced games later in the year that will most likely require the Fire Game Controller or possibly other compatible controllers.
While it’s not available yet, another unique feature will be of interest to parents: a dedicated area called Free Time, for kids ages 3 to 8. This section has fairly extensive parental controls that let you choose what your kids can see, and set time limits for viewing for weekdays and weekends. To exit the Free Time area, kids need a password.
Based on our relatively brief First Look, we found the Fire TV to be a fast, easy-to-use media player with some nice features, though it is not a complete game changer with revolutionary breakthroughs in either price or features. In the same way that the Apple TV is a good choice for anyone living in the iTunes and Apple world, this box will appeal to anyone who uses Amazon Prime, Amazon Instant Video, and the company’s cloud services. And since there are still some features and services that haven’t yet been released, we’re withholding final judgment on the player until we complete our full evaluation, which will be coming soon. Keep checking back for updates on Fire TV and other players—including the new Roku Streaming Stick—and visit our streaming media player buying guide.