Amazon FireTV Stick – A Dream XBMC/KODI Player
When Amazon first released their FireTV player there was not a ton of excitement for the AppleTV competitor. Sure it looked the same, provided similar features, and cost the same ($99), but for most consumers the features were too similar to create a buzz. With the release of the FireTV Stick however, Amazon has now targeted the very popular Google Chromecast price range, but added a wealth of features—and a Bluetooth remote—for $39, making it one of the lower cost media players and directly placing it in competition with the Chromecast, and Roku devices as well.
While the Amazon FireTV Stick is a more than capable media player that does exactly what it’s advertised, the true magic was discovered when I learned that the Stick could be used as an XBMC (now called Kodi) client. I have tested a number of various low cost XBMC clients over the years, and the problem has always been that the client can rarely play all of the files as my main HTPC, as anything with higher resolution or bitrate would either not play or cause stutter. With the FireTV Stick, that was not the case!
Below you’ll find the specifications for the FireTV Stick.
This is somewhat of a hybrid review, but I did want to cover the out of box experience as is standard for us here at Missing Remote. Although Amazon may be known for being an online-only player, the Amazon FireTV Stick was made available at many brick and mortar retailers, including Best Buy and Staples. As a result, the overall packaging and unboxing experience is wonderful. Everything is packaged very well, and you get the feeling a lot of care was put into the design and organization. The box is small but doesn’t make things cramped.
Inside the box we find a quickstart guide, the FireTV Stick device, a small remote control (we’ll get into this in a bit), a micro-USB B cable, AC-wall plug, and an HDMI extension connector.
The remote control is fantastically designed—not being too small in your hands like the AppleTV remote, and fits well in the palm of your hand. The top has the directional arrows and then below it are six command buttons which make it easy to remember where they’re located. This makes up for its lack of backlight as you will quickly learn where the critical buttons are and how to control. And of course, the remote is RF-based, so direct line of sight is not needed.
I’ll briefly start this section of the review by commenting that all of the apps I tested within the native Amazon experience worked to perfection. The Netflix and WatchESPN apps were much faster and more responsive than my Roku LT, and in fact I found them just as fast as the experience on an Xbox 360—note the WatchESPN does not support picture-in-picture like the Xbox, so it was not identical, but still acceptable. You can jump to the homescreen with the home button on the remote at any point and it’s very responsive.
Power consumption wise, the FireTV Stick is equally impressive, rating at a consistent 1.6W-1.8W whether idle or in use. This is critical as there is no power button on the device, so it’s always on. Once you see what it can do, the limited power draw is quite impressive.
While the fact that the Amazon FireTV Stick does all it advertises is great, the piece that I wanted to focus on is the ability to leverage the platform to act as an XBMC (KODI) media player client for your ecosystem. If you do a search for XBMC Client on Google, you will find a ton of results without any clear-cut winner—every option previously available has its drawbacks, and a lot of folks give up and build their own low cost HTPC client instead.
For starters, the installation process for Kodi (formerly XBMC) is quite simple thanks to some fantastic other websites which have done the legwork for you. The easiest installation I found was from Liliputing (http://liliputing.com/2014/11/install-xbmckodi-amazon-fire-tv-stick.html) which has the steps to “side-load” Kodi onto your FireTV Stick. In short, side-loading basically means installing the software as an app. While there are more in-depth methods of installing Kodi by rooting the device, I did not feel the benefits—such as launching directly into Kodi—was worth the risk of bricking (or having Amazon brick) the device. The downside to side-loading method comes if you are planning to jump between your Amazon apps and KODI frequently. To launch Kodi you need to go to the Settings page, then to Manage Installed Applications, and then finally launch the Kodi app.
If you primarily are using the Amazon FireTV Stick for Kodi, then the aforementioned steps are insignificant, as you will rarely need to go through the steps since the FireTV Stick is always on, so therefore it would always remain in the Kodi interface—unless you hit the Home button by mistake.
As far as media playback goes, the only file type I could not play was raw VOB files. Every other file and bitrate I tried to play was an absolute success. This included the full gamut from MPEG 2 m2ts, 720p H.264, 1080p H.264, 720p OGG, AVI, and a mixture of other 720p and 1080p video test files. It was truly astonishing and exciting to see this little guy plow through any and all video formats I threw its way without a sweat. I should mention, all of this connection is done wireless—as the FireTV Stick does not support Ethernet—over an 802.11n connection with my Linksys router. The Stick supports 802.11 a/b/g/n networks, so obviously your results could vary if you attempt to play a high bitrate across a slower Wi-Fi network.
The Amazon FireTV Stick supports video resolutions of 720p and 1080p up to 60fps. On the video side, I could not find any reason that you could not rely on it as your full time player—yes even replacing a dedicated HTPC—as long as you don’t require playing ripped DVD or Blu-rays! On the audio side however, that’s where the Stick falls short. While it supports Dolby Digital Plus, it does not support bit streaming HD audio, and actually down-converts those files. There’s a long thread over at the Kodi Forums (http://forum.kodi.tv/showthread.php?tid=206012) which does an exceptional job of breaking down exactly how various audio codecs are passed through to your receiver.
The last item I’ll mention is for you Chromecast lovers out there who love “slinging” content to your television, the FireTV Stick supports Miracast which offers similar functionality. With compatible apps (such as Netflix) you will be able to stream from your phone onto your television, in the same manner as Chromecast. It’s very responsive and quick, and I found the experience equivalent to that of Chromecast.
Audio limitations aside, the Amazon FireTV Stick is hands down the best Kodi (XBMC) media player device I have ever had the pleasure of testing. Every video file I could dream of playing was successful, and the speed and responsiveness was equal to a dedicated HTPC. And all this is accomplished at a fraction of the price ($39) and barely taking any power (1.8W max). If you’re an XMBC or Kodi user, I can’t comment enough how wonderful this little guy is, and would recommend it immediately to you for your secondary Television, or even your primary!
- Played all video files
- Simple installation for Kodi (XBMC)
- Comfortable remote control (with Bluetooth)
- Miracast streaming capabilities
- Doesn’t bit stream HD audio
- Side-loading method of installing Kodi makes SAF a challenge if they accidentally exit the interface