Being part of a family whose members own multiple Apple products, moving away from the notorious walled garden is not only a difficult choice to make, but often times a costly one. So when a product from someone like Amazon makes it easy for me to venture out even a little, I take notice. And with some of the latest apps and improvements that are now available on Amazon’s Fire TV, I just may be upgrading my collection of Apple TVs around the house to Amazon’s Fire TVs, and here’s why.
Everything you’d expect from the Apple TV
AirPlay through Reflector – There are several different developers that make AirPlay apps for your desktop that will turn either your Mac or your PC into an AirPlay receiver. AirSquirrels is one such developer and Reflector is its app that does just that. Recently AirSquirrels came out with a version of Reflector that supports the Amazon Fire TV. When AirSquirrels’ Reflector app for the Fire TV is running, you can stream music and video from your iOS device directly to the Fire TV as if it were an Apple TV. You can even enable AirPlay Mirroring and use the Fire TV to transform your television set into a big screen display for your iOS device. This was a feature that until the end of last year was pretty much exclusive to the Apple TV. The only downside, and depending on how you use your Apple TV this may be an minor inconvenience for you, is that the Reflector app must be running before the FireTV will show up on your AirPlay list of devices.
iOS Remote App for Fire TV – Showing continued support for the iOS platform, Amazon just recently released a native remote app for the Fire TV that mimics the functionality of Apple’s own iOS Remote app for the Apple TV. It complements the included remote that comes with the Fire TV by adding a virtual keyboard. This makes interacting with the various apps on the Fire TV much easier. One feature that Amazon’s remote has that Apples remote for the Apple TV does not is that it adds voice search capabilities to the Fire TV. While this feature is included with the remote that comes with box-shaped console version of the Fire TV, it is a feature that is lacking on the remote the comes with the tiny USB powered Fire TV Stick. Amazon’s iOS Remote app brings voice search to the Fire TV Stick without having to buy a replacement remote.
Home Share iTunes Music with Plex – If you have not yet uploaded your entire music library to Amazon’s Cloud Player, and you still have a sizable music library on your Mac or PC that you want to continue listening to on the Fire TV, then consider using Plex as a replacement to Apple TVs own Home Share feature. While this is a great way of instantly accessing your desktop’s iTunes Music library from the Fire TV, you may run into some problems when accessing your iTunes Video library. Plex does not have the ability to play back any media files with DRM (Digital Rights Management). As a result, any movies or television episodes that you may have purchased through your iTunes account will not be playable on the Fire TV. This may not be an issue if your video library is more Ultraviolet than iTunes as noted below.
Camera Roll Backups to Amazon’s Cloud Drive – If you happen to be an Amazon Prime Member, then you have unlimited photo storage on your Amazon Cloud Drive. Using the Amazon Photos app for iOS, you can automatically sync all of the photos you take on your iPhone up to the cloud in much the same way you do with Apple’s own iCloud Photo Stream service. Once you have Cloud Drive set up, you can instantly access all of the photos you take on your iOS devices directly on your Amazon Fire TV.
And everything else that the Apple TV doesn’t have
Apps – Of course there are some apps on the Apple TV that you can also get on the Fire TV like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go. But there are quite a few more apps available to the Fire TV that you simply cannot get on the Apple TV like Revison3, TWiT.TV, Pluto and even Sling to name a few. Some of the more notable apps on the Fire TV are the games. With the optional Fire TV Game Controller, you can play games like Minecraft, Terraria and BADLAND. While the video quality of the games will not rival that of the Xbox or Playstation, it is a convenient way of playing a game or two in front of your television.
Ultraviolet Movies on Flixster – One of the more interesting online developments lies in where you can store a digital copy of your purchased movies online. It use to be that when you received a Digital Copy with a physical DVD or Blue-ray purchase, you would get an unlock code for either iTunes or Microsoft’s Media Player. You would then download that digital copy and store it on your computer. Now-a-days what you get more often than not is an unlock code for Ultraviolet copy of the movie which is stored online in a digital locker. Flixster is one app on the Fire TV that you can use to access your online Ultraviolet movie library. Even if you purchased your digital movies from Target’s online video service (that has recently been shut down), you can still access all of your Ultraviolet movies via Flixster. In fact all online digital video services that use Ultraviolet share access to the same digital locker. It would be great if the rumors of Amazon joining Ultraviolet do pan out. Then I would have just three movie libraries in the cloud rather than the four I have now.
Amazon Prime – I probably would not have been as excited about how well the Fire TV adapted to all of my Apple products if I was not already an Amazon Prime Member. As such, I have been itching to drop Netflix streaming video in favor of Amazon Prime instant video. The one thing holding me back was that the Apple TV did not support it, and the Apple TV was the only internet connected device attached to every television in my house. With the Fire TV I can also access Amazon Prime Music as well. The only service not included with Amazon Prime is Amazon’s Digital Music service. Subscribing to this service would allow you to store up to 250K songs in Amazon’s cloud. The annual cost of this add-on service is the same price as Apple’s iTunes Match service. So once all of my Apple TVs are replaced by Fire TVs, I may have to switch over to Amazon’s Music service as well.