The television industry is in an interesting state of flux. Bundled cable subscriptions are still widely used by older individuals and, despite continually rising prices, fewer people than expected are actually ‘cutting the cord’. Younger individuals and many Millennials are simply skipping the traditional cable experience and going straight to the source for the content they want. Technology is making the entire process of finding information incredibly easy and inexpensive. The amount of material available continues to rise as do the various ways to see and consume video content. We literally have millions of hours of content available to us at a moments notice on almost every possible medium. Each year we have new options, products, and devices that come out. It can be tough to keep up with all of the changes. And, rarely does a product come along that can provide a better experience, save me money, and combine several ideals I’ve desired for quite some time (FireTV).
We haven’t had cable for years now, and I have tried pretty much every server, media center, and set top box in the last five years. I believe I have tried about 15 different boxes and streamers, but I’ve had difficulty finding that one that could do everything. In fact, in previous posts I’ve recommended several different options but now there is a single one that works best.
My Needs and Desires:
- Local OTA Broadcast
- Access to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu
- A nice interface for ESPN in HD
- Access to inexpensive or free content
- Play local content (all of my saved DVDs/BluRays)
- A nice XBMC experience
- A simple interface and remote
* Bonus: Play old school Nintendo games (via Emulators)
Seriously, I’ve used a: Apple TV 2, 3, Rokus HD, 2, 3, WD Live, NeoTv, Logitech Revue, BluRay Players, Laptops, Ouya, Xbox, Wii and PS3/4. I’ve tried them all. Finally, I can say there is a clear winner for casual and power users. It is the Amazon Fire TV. Yes, I’ve finally traded in my trusty ole Apple TV 2. I still use my RCA antenna to pickup channels from 70+ miles away but I’ve used the Modu Leaf Antenna in urban areas with great success.
Out of the box the Fire TV is a pretty strong device. It is one of the fastest devices that currently exists and it is priced competitively without being on sale. The Prime integration works well for those in the ecosystem and the voice commands are actually a little better than gimmicky (even though I wish they were universal across all apps). The ESPN app has already worked very well for HD World Cup soccer and plenty of other live events. It can run XBMC and emulators out of the box and can do even more once rooted (Homescreen shortcuts, USB storage, & Google Apps). I explain everything it can do below and FiretvNews has all the guides you could ever need for setup.
XBMC is basically an interface (or app) that aggregates all of your content into one pretty, customizable application. Once loaded, you can find and play any type of media that you would like. It is couch friendly and allows you to do many things such as:
- Play almost any files you can throw at it
- Beautiful, customizable, and easy to use interface
- Pull covers and artwork for local content
- Aggregate all content available anywhere into one centralized hub
- Customizable TV Guide with live streams from any source
I have ripped and saved all of my DVDs that I have stored on a hard drive connected to my router. The setup was around $50 and has served us quite well for the last few years. It has extremely low power consumption and can be accessed by all of our tablets and phones as well.
For Creative Non-Sanctioned Experiments
I think the holy grail of entertainment content would be an intuitive box that delivers consistent, high speed, easily searchable and organized access to all content available. I basically call this the Spotify model. I am so impressed with the Spotify model that I pay for its service monthly and thoroughly enjoy the product. Basically, every song I could think of is available in a easy to navigate, consistent, organized and inexpensive fashion. Now, if only the same was available for television.
For the television, the holy grail is:
- Live access to all the channels you want (and none that you do not want)
- A nice live TV guide
- All episodes and seasons of every television show without having to DVR
- Every movie made on demand
- Limited or few commercials
The crazy part is that this exists. It is available, works very well after a somewhat complicated setup, but it exists. I do not sanction this activity but I think it is impressive that it exists and is available. XBMC can be used with content aggregators that are ambivalent of source (or you can add your own source). Again, the idea that you can have a central media box that fits into your hands and has access to all content, is pretty amazing. I will not answer any questions about this (google is your friend), but it is pretty interesting conceptually. It also shows what is possible technologically, but will not exist due to the current revenue models in place. With spotify or youtube, we often forget to stop and think about how incredibly amazing it is that we have access to almost every song or video made on our inexpensive little devices. Technology is awesome.
To finish, we probably all watch a little too much TV. But, if you are going to spend the time to watch some great content, you might as well do it efficiently. With a few different tools, there is finally a box that can do it all. I can now retire my aging Apple TV 2 and move up in technology. The FireTV is not without its quirks but it has become the default option for set top boxes. As an additional bonus, with a few Bluetooth controllers and some old emulators, there are plenty of vintage gaming options to keep you busy for hours or days. It is nice to be able to have the content I want with a great setup and lots of hours of entertainment.