|The Amazon Fire TV Is Getting Better|
By Michael Comeau APR 24, 2014 2:24 PM
Amazon's streaming box is showing big improvements.
On April 7, I reviewed Amazon.com's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Fire TV, concluding that it was a letdown due to numerous usability issues, including a poorly designed Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) app, a subpar Prime Instant Video experience, and limitations in voice search.
In fact, I'd been planning to return my Fire TV and to stick with my Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) TV, which has a vastly superior user interface.
But in the past few days, enough news has surfaced to convince me to keep my Fire TV -- and I'm actually thinking of sending my Apple TV to the dark waters of Craigslist!
Voice Search Expansion
Aside from its warp-speed hardware performance, the main attraction of the Fire TV is its uncannily accurate voice search. However, at the Fire TV's launch, it was limited to searching Amazon content and music videos on Vevo.
On April 17, Amazon announced that Hulu Plus, Crack, and Showtime are integrating their libraries into Fire TV's voice search. And on April 21, in his quarterly shareholder letter, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said he expects Fire TV voice search support for Netflix Instant later this year.
"Later this year" is more ambiguous than I'd like, but it should be a game changer when it comes. Searching letter by letter absolutely stinks after you've used Fire TV's voice search.
Since the Apple TV Netflix app is so much better than the Fire TV version, I actually double-fist remotes, using Apple TV for Netflix, and Fire TV for Prime Instant Video. If I can use voice search to search Netflix on Fire TV, I'll put up with the goofy interface (endless rows of content) in exchange for the convenience.
Hopefully, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) will follow through and support voice search in the Fire TV YouTube app as well.
The HBO Deal
On April 21, Amazon announced a multiyear deal with HBO that will bring popular shows such as The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and The Wire, along with other HBO content, to Amazon Prime.
It's important to note that this isn't an HBO free-for-all. Newer HBO shows such as Game of Thrones and True Detective, as well as classics such as Curb Your Enthusiasm and Sex and the City, don't come as part of the package. HBO Go, the streaming service that actually does contain the whole HBO enchilada, will come to Fire TV later this year.
Still, this is a pretty nice package of high-quality content that would otherwise cost a fortune to purchase on DVD or in digital form. I don't steal movies or TV shows, and I keep forgetting to borrow an HBO Go password, a practice HBO doesn't oppose.
As I get my Sopranos fix, I'll be using Amazon Prime streaming far more often, meaning more Fire TV use. (Note: Amazon has a pretty extensive list of Prime-compatible hardware devices here.)
It will take some time for these improvements to be implemented into Fire TV, but I'm feeling way better about my purchase than I did just a couple of weeks ago. The overall user experience still feels a bit klunky and unpolished, but Fire TV is moving in the right direction. For Prime subscribers, it's a great piece of hardware for $99, and I'm closer to ending my dysfunctional relationship with my cable company.
Now, Apple may soon announce a new Apple TV that blows away the Fire TV, but you can't play Amazon Prime content on an Apple TV, and in any case, I'm living in the here and now.
And on a Semi-Random Note...
Following yesterday's article on Amazon Prime, a number of readers reached out to me to declare that there's nothing good to stream free on Prime. I heartily disagree and, in fact, while I can't tell for sure, it feels like Amazon's been stuffing more good movies onto Prime since Fire TV came out.
So here are some TV and movie recommendations (even some for the kids) that can be streamed right now on Prime:
Beverly Hills Cop
Thelma and Louise
Terminator 1 & 2
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The Station Agent
Silence of the Lambs
Desperately Seeking Susan
Dora the Explorer
Inside Amy Schumer
Sure, there's a shortage of brand-new stuff, but there's still plenty of good stuff. And, yes, I think Desperately Seeking Susan is good stuff.
By the way, does anyone else feel like Amazon and Netflix have been pushing The Avengers and The Hunger Games too much for too long?
I've had enough. Give me The Mighty Ducks!
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