After a year of anticipation and months of teases, Amazon finally unveiled its bid to control of the living room: the Amazon Fire TV.
More of a digital media streaming device than a proper gaming microconsole, Amazon still assured customers that it's great for gaming, too - and so with that lukewarm endorsement in hand, we decided that it was time for Pocket Gamer to dive into what the Fire TV had to offer.
And I, being the first American to step forward, volunteered my time and spare HDMI port for the cause.
If there's one thing to be said for the Fire TV straightaway, it's that it looks absolutely futuristic.
Right out of the box, the Fire TV exudes a sort of quiet, powerful elegance that still manages to look dignified no matter how quickly its glossy surface attracts fingerprints.
I was so impressed with its small form factor that I immediately scurried about finding objects to use for scale photos. My search turned up a Pikachu Yellow 3DS XL, a Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, and a Kindle Paperwhite.
Here's how the Fire TV stacked up.
So, it’s svelte - and it fit neatly on top of my Wii U which kindly donated its HDMI cable for my first impressions of the device.
Not your average customer
As my profession and ownership of a Wii U probably attest, I'm not the targeted audience for the Amazon Fire TV.
In fact, there’s absolutely no shortage of devices on which I can already watch streaming digital content, so there really wasn’t a void in my life for the Amazon Fire TV to fill.
Still, if you don't happen own an iPad, PC/Mac, PS3, PS4, Wii, Wii U, Xbox, Xbox One, Roku, Android Tablet, 3DS, or PS Vita, you'll probably be impressed with how the Fire TV performs.
I was most impressed with how quickly and accurately the voice search worked for both games and digital media. More laudably, it recognised my searches and displayed the text on screen even when the requested content wasn't available from any of the supported services.
Load times were nice and crisp too, with the unit being almost frighteningly fast as it blazes through its menus. On the whole, navigation felt incredibly intuitive - with the only exception being that I couldn’t figure out how to turn the impressive little unit off.
Turns out you can't turn the Amazon Fire TV off, short of unplugging it from the wall.
Turns out, you can't - short of unplugging it from the wall.
No, I’m not kidding.
Finally, streaming quality and speed wasn't noticeably different from what I'd get from my PS3 or Wii U - but that's to be expected, considering they're all going off the same wireless network and are outputting through HDMI cables.
So, how did the Amazon Fire TV fare when put through its gaming paces?
The results were promising, and then quickly underwhelming. After being lured in by a nicely laid out Game Circle with plenty of categories ranging from Puzzle to RPGs, I felt spoiled for choice.
Then, I clicked on one of the categories and saw about 10 games on offer - only a handful of which I'd heard of before. Trying other categories, I was met with similar results.
I can understand the Fire TV's desire to go toe-to-toe with the consoles already in the living room to prove itself as a competitor, but emulating their lack of launch titles was a very interesting decision for Amazon to make.
My Amazon-branded gaming controller didn’t arrive on the same day as my Fire TV, so I couldn't play the exclusive shooter Sev Zero shown off at the press event. Stuck with the default controller, I downloaded Gameloft's Minion Rush and gave it a whirl.
It ran quite smoothly on the Fire TV, but the novelty of seeing a mobile game on my TV screen wore off quite quickly when I realised how ill-suited that particular title is to a controller interface.
On a tablet or phone, Minion Rush feels fun and frantic as you quickly swipe to help your careening minion avoid obstacles and grab bananas. That element doesn't exist on the Fire TV, and no matter how much you might try to get excited about using the controller to play, it feels - for all the world - like you're just changing the TV channel.
The next day, my controller arrived and I eagerly synced it up so I could play Sev Zero.
After unpacking the controller, I was immediately pleased at the overall feel of it. There were no creaks or pops when you picked it up, and it didn't feel especially cheap. Although a good bit clunkier than the Fire TV itself, the quality of the controller felt good.
Its weight, however, was another story.
After a 20 minute play session of Sev Zero, my wrists started to ache. This is probably due to the twin AA batteries in the back of the controller, arranged just far enough away from the bottom of the unit that they'll tip the whole thing forward when it's held in a neutral position.
Unfortunately, the time I spent with Sev Zero felt equally taxing.
Sev Zero won't be luring the console crowd away from their respective camps any time soon.
The game itself is a good bit of fun for a few minutes as it's a hybrid shooter and tower defense game, but the predictable enemy AI, generic music, and mediocre visuals didn't exactly ignite my gaming passions.
Its lack of cinematics and jangly graphics made it feel undeniably like mobile title, and it'd be more of a match for PS2-era graphics than anything put out in the previous or current console generation.
Sev Zero certainly won't be luring the console crowd away from their respective camps any time soon - especially when one can buy a used PlayStation 3 and a copy of Skyrim (Game of the Year Edition) for about the same cost as a Amazon Fire TV and controller.
One week after
The Fire TV is a powerful little device for $99.00, but it certainly won’t take over the already established living room any time soon.
Instead, it feels like more of a "grandma's house" entertainment system, or possibly a vacation home microconsole where one can have access to their streaming service of choice with the possibility of some light gaming tossed in.
The games available for the Fire TV fall into a strange no man's land in that they're (at current) nowhere near what one can get from a console, and the native mobile games feel more comfortable on the touchscreen devices for which they’re designed.
There's some hope of this improving with exclusive titles down the line, however, as Amazon certainly has the talent for it.