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Hands-On With Amazon’s New FireTV Media Player

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It’s only been a few hours since Amazon revealed its new FireTV set top box, giving us a good chunk of time to play around with it and get familiar with the new UI and controller.

Amazon hyped three big selling points for the FireTV, including speedy performance, easier search, and an open content community.

Where performance is concerned, Amazon certainly delivered.

We’ll get to the full details in a formal review, but for now, features like “ASAP” (which learns what you are likely to watch and cues it up so you don’t have to wait for it to load) and the ability to fast scroll through content categories is snappy as can be. And that’s not putting it lightly.

I’ve owned high-end Rokus, a Samsung SmartTV, and an Apple TV and have never seen a media streaming player move so quickly.

That’s not to say there’s no loading screens whatsoever. Downloading apps takes a hot second, and shows that aren’t cued up with ASAP still go through a loading process.

Where search is concerned, Amazon tried to solve this through voice controls. The new Amazon FireTV controller, equipped with Bluetooth so you don’t need to point it at anything, has an embedded mic so that you can bring up certain titles, genres, etc. This, too, works pretty seamlessly.

You simply hold the microphone button on the remote, speak your query, and get answers back. It’s quick. It’s easier than typing. And it seems like a no brainer. Bravo, Amazon.

Finally, we come to content. Undoubtedly, Amazon’s FireTV has plenty to choose from, including Netflix, Hulu+, WatchESPN, Showtime, Pandora, and thousands of games from the FireOS ecosystem. However, it is missing HBOGo, which is kind of a deal-breaker for me. Roku, Chromecast and Apple TV all serve up Girls and Game Of Thrones.

In terms of UI, I’m still undecided. Everything new takes some getting used to, but the dual panels on the left side, for FireTV options and then the subsequent categories for each of those options, has been confusing.

But let’s get back to gaming. Amazon created a gaming experience to pair alongside the FireTV, that lets you use the remote, a dedicated gaming controller, or an app on your phone or tablet to game it up.

I’m still not convinced that this is a selling point to most people. If gaming is important to you, you probably own a console. If gaming is a secondary priority, you have the option to play games on your smartphone or tablet. The in-between space is a difficult one to tackle, but Amazon’s original games seem relatively intriguing.

In other words, my initial impressions are that the gaming controller and gaming functionality are most certainly not a reason to buy the device, but may prove an interesting addition to the set top box landscape.

The FireTV is $99, and the additional gaming controller is $29.99. HDMI cord not included.

We’ll be hitting you with a full review in the next couple weeks, but until then, enjoy this little video and figure out your streaming priorities. We’ll get this sorted out together.

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