2017 Amazon Fire TV (3rd Gen)

2017 3rd Generation Fire TV

The 2017 Amazon Fire TV (3rd Gen) is a change for the Fire TV product line, and not necessarily a good one for those interested in playing games.  With the 3rd gen Fire TV, Amazon has moved towards something between the 2015 Fire TV (2nd Gen) and the 2016 Fire TV Stick (2nd Gen).  The device is more compact and designed to fit behind your TV, but this smaller form factor, along with the corresponding choice of the Amlogic S905Z SoC, means it’s not as powerful graphically as the 2015 Fire TV (2nd Gen), leaving the 2015 Fire TV (2nd Gen) as the best choice for playing games, while you can still get one.

Hardware

The 2017 Amazon Fire TV (3rd Gen) is a good product if your main goal is to stream content.  For content streaming, it checks the boxes: 4k HDR? Check.  Compact and hidden? Check.  H.265 and VP9 decode?  Check.  Somewhat surprisingly, Amazon has made another change in SoC supplier from Mediatek (still used in every other current Fire device and Amazon’s supplier of choice since about 2014) to Amlogic.  Time will tell if this was a good move or not.

Unfortunately for those interested in playing games, the Amlogic SoC has a similar GPU to the 2016 Fire TV Stick (2nd Gen).  This means OpenGL ES 2.0 instead of 3.1 and simply a lot less power.  While this will still play a lot of gaming content, it’s simply not the higher end device that the Fire TV platform has been in the past, and it’s a clear step backward from the 2015 product.  Less significant today, but perhaps important for long term support, is that the device is also 32-bit instead of 64-bit.

While it does have 2GB of RAM like historic Fire TVs rather than 1GB like the Fire TV Sticks, Amazon has still made the decision to only put 8GB of flash memory in the device, which is unfortunate, especially considering that this device lacks the micro-SD Card slot that the previous platform had – another way that it’s more like the Fire TV Stick than a full Fire TV.

The 2017 Amazon Fire TV (3rd Gen) does check a number of other hardware feature boxes, with Bluetooth 4.2 with Bluetooth LE and 802.11ac WiFi.  Amazon has introduced a USB Ethernet Adapter for those who want to use wired Ethernet.  Optionally, you might consider utilizing a USB On-the-Go (OTG) cable in the power port to allow you to connect external accessories like wireless game controller adapters (for WiiU Pro and Xbox controllers), keyboards and Ethernet adapters.  If you go the OTG route and include a hub, or buy an OTG/hub combo, you can utilize a 3rd party USB Ethernet adapter in addition to any other USB peripherals you want to add.

Software

While the new SoC supplier and 32-bit SoC may create some concerns about long term supportability, in the short term, it may actually be a driver for this being the first Fire device running Fire OS 6, which is a significant step forward for Fire OS, since it’s based on Android 7.1 (2016 release).  Fire OS 5 was based on Android 5.0 (2014 release).  Since SoC support is one of the biggest reasons different versions of Android can or can’t run on different devices, it’s possible that this newer Amlogic platform simply didn’t have software support for running such an old version of Android.  It will be interesting to see what other Fire devices get Fire OS 6 updates.

Summary

The new 2017 Amazon Fire TV (3rd Gen) is a different device than either the previous generation Fire TVs or the Fire TV Stick.  It’s more of a souped up Fire TV Stick than a full blown Fire TV, and that doesn’t bode well for gaming on the platform.  Amazon seems like maybe they’re giving up on that, or maybe we’ll see something different in the future, some sort of notional Fire TV Pro?  It will be interesting to see.

Accessories


Amazon Links:

2017 Amazon Fire TV (3rd Gen) ($70)


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