The Amazon FireTV 4K is great, but frustrating because it is soooo close to being perfect

I had a Western Digital WDTV Live in the master bedroom for a few years, to play movies and tv series I had stored on my home server as well as Netflix and YouTube, but it started acting funny, not turning on, rebooting for no reason, apps crashing, so I decided it was time for an upgrade. My parents bought me an Echo plus for Christmas and I figured FireTV would integrate well with it… also there was a big Boxing Day sale on them.

Installation was a breeze. I can’t remember the last time I installed a new piece of hardware that was this easy. It found the wifi router easily enough and after providing the password, the unit took care of the rest. Because I bought it directly from Amazon, it had my account information as soon as it connected. It figured out my discount brand television and automatically configured the remote to allow it to control the power and volume. Added bonus, no need to mail in a warranty card because Amazon already has a record of the purchase.

I don’t know about the basic FireTV stick, but the 4K is fast. When I power on the tv (using the nice slim Alexa enabled remote) I am right in the home page as soon as the screen come up. It used to take two to five minutes before my WDTV was ready. Moving from item to item is speedy and has no lag. I connected to the wireless router on the 5ghz band and even though the router is one floor down on the other side of the house, videos load quickly and play smoothly. I could only test with 1080p at the moment, I don’t have a 4K tv.

The apps! So many apps. My old WDTV had not gotten an update in a loooong time and had nothing but the basics on it with no way to add more. The Fire stick on the other hand has not just applications I always wished I had (Twitch app, web browser) but the ability to download piles of others from the App Store. That’s especially good because, being the responsible corporate entity that Amazon is, a lot of the apps are geolocked. No NBC, ABC, CBS or HBO Now for us Canadians (even though I’m already paying for the channels with my satellite provider) but there are apps for Global, CTV, CBC and a lot of non-regional free (and legal) streaming services like Tubi and Popcornflix. That’s a really good thing because….

No DTS support!? Seriously Amazon? The audio format is twenty five years old! My first home theater receiver supported it twenty years ago! The WDTV box I just got rid of could play videos encoded with it! Can you tell I’m upset!? Have I used enough exclamation points!? It isn’t a hardware problem, because the VLC app I downloaded from the App Store decodes and plays it just fine, so it must be a licensing issue and you can’t tell me Amazon (who’s valuation hit a trillion dollars this past September) is unable to afford it, but every cheap DVD player in existence can. So, they obviously refuse to provide support for it. I have to use VLC to play my own files, but the interface for VLC is boring, it’s like playing all your media from windows file explorer. I installed the Archos Video app, which gives me a beautiful interface and pulls information from the net to display nice posters and descriptions of all my movies, it even neatly organizes tv shows into series. Sadly it uses the FireTVs native decoder and player, unlike VLC, so it can’t play the files I backed up from DVDs and Blu-ray that contain DTS audio.

And why do I have to use an external player? Why can’t I play video files directly from the home interface? It’s a rhetorical question, I know exactly why I can’t. Amazon is trying to force people to use their subscription services. Same reason the Echos can’t play song files you’ve bought from someone else and stored locally. Greed. Trying to “leverage existing platforms to drive revenue”. The only reason they even allow other apps on the stick is that they know nobody would buy it if the only source accessible was Amazon Prime.

Last thing I’m going to complain about is the Alexa support. This may or may not be within Amazons control, but some applications support searching by voice command (Netflix) and some do not (CTV Go, Tubi, Archos… pretty much every app I’ve tried that was not Netflix or Amazon Prime). The other issue with Alexa commands is when a search does work and turns a movie with sequels, it doesn’t just start playing, instead it shows you a list of all the films in the series it can play. When you pick one (using the remote, Alexa does not seem to understand commands like ‘play that movie’ or ‘pick this item’) it presents the movie details and you have to click again to get it to play. The whole point of voice commands is to not have to use the remote. It doesn’t do it with items where the search returns only one result. If I tell it “Alexa, play Jeopardy” the system finds it on Netflix and then starts the play the next unwatched episode all by itself. Watching Tournament of Champions on Netflix is great by the way.

Overall, I’m still happy with the device. For the price it is an amazingly powerful and compact media player. All of my complaints can be fixed my Amazon should they choose to, and if they don’t I always have the option of installing Kodi on the stick, putting Plex on my home NAS or (shudder) converting all of my DTS encoded files to Dolby.

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