When I first bought the FireTV, my initial impression was, “It’s really good, but…”. I liked it for the price, but a couple of things annoyed me.
Now, after almost two months, I like it so much I bought another one to replace the windows based home theatre PC I was using in the main living room.
Turns out, the operating system of the FireTV is just a modified version of Android. So pretty much any application that runs on Android Nougat will run on Fire OS 6. That means Kodi, RetroArch, OpenVPN and loads of TV channel specific applications, not available in the official Amazon Appstore, can be installed on the FireTV without jailbreaking or rooting the device. These apps can be installed using the Downloader app from the Appstore and installing them from a web link, or you can load them directly from a USB thumb drive. The FireTV supports connecting a USB OTG (On The Go) cable, which lets you then plug USB devices directly to it, even a USB hub to connect multiple devices, allowing you to store more than the onboard 8GB would normally allow. Totally worth the $6.99 Canadian it cost.
My biggest complaint initially was the lack of DTS support. I just spent the past few weeks re-ripping and encoding my Blu-ray collection and about 80% of them had DTS-HD Master audio tracks, so it was a big deal not being able to manage and play them with a nice interface. I found a paid app in the Amazon store called MrMC, which has a nice interface and not just decodes DTS audio, but can pass the the signal straight through to my Yamaha receiver and let it do the audio processing. It’s a nice application but is really just Kodi with add-on support removed, and you have to pay for it. So I went with Kodi.
Kodi gets a bad reputation because of all the people loading it onto cheap Chinese android boxes, so that they can us add-ons to watch illegal streams of TV shows and movies. At it’s core though Kodi is just a media manager and player. It organizes the TV shows, movies and music you’ve backed up to a hard drive or network and has its own internal player that supports HD audio formats and pass-through. I chose Kodi over MrMC because of the add-ons though. Not the bad ones, but the ones that let you watch legal streams from the websites of TV networks that are freely available. Foodnetwork, History Channel, CBC, there are add-ons for all of them that let me watch archived episodes on their websites without needing a mouse.
Gaming is what put a really big smile on my face though. There are two really cool applications for gaming that run great on the FireTV 4K. RetroArch and Steam Link.
You’ve probably heard of RetroArch, but if you have not, it is a front end interface for running emulators that allow you to play old video games. The FireTV 4K processor is powerful enough to play games from the Atari/Coleco/Intellivision days all the way up to the first Playstation without trouble. The problem though is that while the application is perfectly legal, a lot of the “backed up” game files are not, unless you own a copy of the original cartridge, and even at that, some consider it a grey area.
Steam Link though! I love Steam Link! If, like me, you chose not to buy the most recent generation of gaming console and instead invested your money in a PC, Steam Link allows you to play all the Steam games you own on your television. So, instead of sitting at my desk with headphones on, playing on a monitor, I can sit on my sofa and play my favorite PC games on a large flatscreen TV, with the audio coming out my surround sound system, and all it cost me was $19.99 (free shipping with Prime) for a Bluetooth game controller.
“The FireTV 4K is powerful enough to play GTA V, or No Mans Sky, or Fallout 4?” You ask. No! I respond, but it doesn’t have to be. That’s the beauty of Steam Link. The game is actually running on your big powerful desktop PC (or laptop if that’s what you usually game on) and what Steam Link does is to transmit the inputs from your controller to the PC over your network and then streams the video and audio back to your FireTV. So it never matters how processor intense a new game is, if you can play it on your PC, you can stream it to your FireTV.
So, yeah, after using it for a while, and investing just a little time and only a few more dollars, the FireTV 4K has really impressed me. Not so much the stuff Amazon wants you to use it for, but all the other stuff you can do with it.