When shoppers are looking for a streaming player this holiday, they will probably choose from Amazon's new Fire TV Stick 4K and Roku Premiere I've reviewed earlier this month. Both are right near the $ 50 mark, and the cheapest 4K HDRs you can get (assuming your TV is built is not already good enough). Each has its own features: Roku has the most simple, easy-to-use software and offers more applications, while Amazon supports Dolby Vision and allows you to manage Fire TV Stick 4K with Alexa.
After spending a few days through Amazon's newest, it's a simple recommendation. But unless you already use Alexa every day, I do not think it's something that makes it the final choice.
- Dolby Vision, Atmos, HDR1
- Remote can now turn TV on / off, control volume and swap channels on any cable box
- Fast Performance and good power quality
- Amazon needs to chill with self-propelled
- No Vudu means few choices for Dolby Vision movies
- Alexa's capabilities in certain programs remain limited  One of the best changes like Amazon have done, has nothing to do with Fire TV Stick 4K itself. The company has improved its bundled Alexa Voice Remote by adding power, volume and mute buttons that can directly control your TV. The setup is dead easy; You just push the volume buttons a couple of times until Amazon watches what TV you have. After that, you can leave the TV clock alone when using the Fire TV. Roku has done this for a while with some of his remote controls, so it's time that Amazon added the same convenience.
But Amazon goes a step beyond just managing volume and power: the new voicemail contains IR blaster so it can actually change the TV's current HDMI input, check a connected audio bar, or even adjust to a particular channel on Supported Cable / Satellite Boxer ("Set on Channel 4 on Cable" or "Set to ESPN on Cable") – Just like the cube. The new remote control can be purchased separately by existing Fire TV owners, and from now on it will also be included in the Fire TV Cube. There is also a needy upgrade for that product.
But the actual Stick hardware has its share of improvements. It plugs directly into a free HDMI port, and you run a connected USB cable to a nearby outlet to get up and running. (The USB port on most TVs is not enough to adequately connect the Fire TV Stick 4K.) In the case of audio / video presentation, the Fire TV Stick 4K controls each box that home theater enthusiasts want: Dolby Vision, HDR10, HDR10 + (really only of interest to Samsung TV owners), and Dolby Atmos. This is the only streaming device in Amazon's lineup that makes Dolby Vision; $ 120 Four TV Cube is strangely lacking, making Roku the whole player lineup. So at only $ 50, Stick gives excellent picture and sound at a price that is significantly less than Amazon's handsfree Cube or Apple TV 4K. It has also been upgraded with a faster processor that creates menus and starts up with a video that is responsive and fast.
Unfortunately, Walmarts Vudu Service – An Important Source Of Dolby Vision Content – Still Has Not Released An App For Fire TV That Leave You With Netflix And Amazon. Both largely limit Dolby Vision (and HDR10 for that matter) to their original content, while Vudu supports HDR for many Hollywood releases.
Alexa's functionality is very appealing. Rocal voice distances allows you to open a particular streaming app, search for content or play music. But with Amazons, you can do all this and also check the weather, check your smart lights, record a feed from your doorbell camera, or access Alexa's other skills with a simple voice request. Out of the box, press the microphone button on the remote control to use voice. But if you have an Echo device in the living room, you can connect it with the Fire TV Stick 4K to get hands-free Alexa capabilities.
You can say "Alexa, show me 4K movies" and get a list of choices from both Prime Video and Netflix. Or you can ask for content with a particular actor. Alexa can also access any movie in the Movies Anywhere and play it through Prime Video. When searching for something (or just select it with the remote control), the fire TV always favors any service so you can watch it for free. For example, when I pulled up Halloween the first result was shown a free trial of Shudder, with the opportunity to rent or buy the movie from Amazon next to it. Like Roku, Fire TV tries to avoid confusion in where and how to stream. I also like the TV shows and movies go straight in the last row instead of the app they came from, which makes resume much faster.
With that said, Amazon's habit of nursing their own content across the main screen can be annoying. It is a "Netflix recommends" line and others that mix content from different streaming applications to balance things out. But sometimes you will scroll through enough Amazon stuff to give out a "probably already". Does Thursday Night Football really need their own dedicated line? Beautiful Boy appears to be a nice movie, but a great banner ad for an Amazon Studios theater release does not make me so good. Setting up with these little things is probably still worth it when considering everything that Fire TV Stick 4K offers for $ 50.
The Four TV Home screen provides small customizable – moving tiles around the "Apps & Channels" section is the scale of it – and requires more horizontal scrolling than I prefer. Often I find myself just having Alexa open any app I want and then check things with the remote control from there. Could not be much easier.
Still, Alexa voice commands need to be better and more reliable. The Fire TV Stick 4K could not find The Romanoffs one of Amazon's newer originals, instead showed me a 1960 movie star Kirk Douglas. And while Netflix recently added "deep" voice support support, some basic requests – like "Play Next Episode" or "Skip This Episode" – did not work for me. "Play The Good Place " gets the job done. "Next episode" or "Skip this episode"? Not so much. This should not be too much to ask from Alexa, and run into walls where you do not expect them to be annoying. (Hopping between episodes works fine with Prime Video and other apps.)
YouTube does not exist on Fire TV as a proper app like Netflix or HBO Go. Instead, Amazon guides you through either its own silk browser or Firefox. I know it's like a problem, but once you've signed in to your YouTube account, it's just great. YouTube can still play 4K content and looks great, original app or not. Watching YouTube TV is another story. There is simply no good way to do it on this device, which I find incredibly frustrating since I consider it to be the best streaming TV service. Hulu with Live TV or PlayStation Vue subscribers can jump right into live TV, but not YouTube TV customers. When does this stupid feat end between Amazon and Google?
Despite these gripes, Fire TV Stick 4K comes away as a very strong value. If you have a Dolby Vision compliant TV, it is probably a better buy than the Four TV Cube (and will cost you less). Even if you're not a smart home person, Alexa is very helpful in quickly pulling up a show or movie, and the voice remote control now has TV controls that were too late. Amazon gets a little self-satisfied with its ads and content, and the company seriously needs to work with YouTube ASAP, but the disadvantages are not enough to ruin the rest of what is here.
But with its excellent remote control, is Fire TV Stick 4K a definite winner over Roku Premiere / Premiere +? Not for everyone. Roku has better app selection, provides a simpler and more customizable experience, offers similar 4K HDR visuals, and has a voice spacing that can handle the entertainment side of things. In addition, it also supports Google Assistant to help level up with Alexa. But Alexa certainly gives four TV Stick 4K powers that Roku lacks in itself out of the box. Its video looks very good.
Photography by Chris Welch.
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