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Hands On

The Fire TV's voice search feature has certainly generated a lot of buzz. Every online video demo I've seen demonstrates it. In fact, Amazon hired crazy man Gary Busey for a humorous 60 second ad that demonstrates voice search. Voice search is simple to use. You just press and hold the microphone button on your remote control and say the name of a movie, TV show, category, actor, director, etc. and within seconds you are presented a list of possible matches. Select one of the matches and instantly you'll see the results.

In its current incarnation, Fire TV's search is limited to searching Amazon and Hulu Plus content only. If the movie you select isn't included in your Amazon Prime account, or you don't have a prime account, you are presented with options to rent or buy the HD version, Add it to your watch list, Watch the trailer, or select "More Ways to Watch". More ways to watch generally gives you options to buy or rent either the HD or the SD version.

I tried to search for quite a few TV shows, movies, actors and directors, and in general, the voice recognition was very good. One of my searches was for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a new show on Fox. Fire TV search found Season 1 was available to watch on Hulu Plus, or you could purchase the entire season or single episodes either in HD or SD. Should voice search fail to recognize what you said, you can always revert back to the on-screen keyboard.

Another search for the new TV show, About a Boy yielded some interesting results. Fire TV showed that Season 1 episodes 3-6 were available to watch on Hulu Plus. Episodes 1 and 2 & 7 were available for purchase for $2.00 (HD), $1.99 (SD). I logged into Hulu Plus and found that only episodes 3-7 were available to watch. Episodes 1 & 2 were no longer available as apparently Hulu Plus has rights to only the most-recent 5 episodes. Apparently Amazon hasn't gotten an update that makes the current episode 7, which aired 2 days prior to my test, available for free through the Fire TV.

I decided to compare the Fire TV's search with the the Roku 3's. My first search was for Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Using the on-screen keyboard, I had to type in only BRO before the full name of the show appeared in the progressive search results box on the right side of the screen. Selecting it, Roku reported that the show was available on Hulu Plus, MGo, Vudu and Amazon.

Selecting any of the choices launched the corresponding "Channel". With the first three choices, if you have a subscription, you can watch it for no additional charge. When I selected "Amazon", Roku's Amazon channel watched, and I was presented the same purchase options ($2.00 (HD), $1.99 (SD)) that I saw on the Fire TV device. Though the voice search on the Fire TV definitely got you to your content faster, entering three letters on the on screen keyboard on the Roku 3 didn't seem like an excessive burden considering the better search results it returned.

As noted, Fire TV search is limited to Amazon and Hulu Plus content. I searched for Netflix's exclusive series, House of Cards. Fire TV only found one of the two available seasons, and only the first season was available from Amazon for $2.99 per episode (HD) or $1.99 per episode (SD). Of course, since it doesn't search Netflix (yet?), it didn't know about Season 2 or that both seasons were available to watch on Netflix.

Since search is such an important feature on media streamers and certainly a marquee feature of the Fire TV, I compiled another gallery to demonstrate searching on the Fire TV and the Roku 3.

Of course, both streamers offer Netflix with similar interfaces but slightly different presentations. The composite screenshot below shows the Fire TV's Netflix home screen on the left and Roku's on the right. It's personal preference, but I find Roku's interface more visually appealing. The large photo in the upper right corner of the Roku interface switches between three photos from the show. Both interfaces show the icon for the current Netflix profile.

Amazon Fire TV (left) and Roku 3 (right) Netflix comparison

Amazon Fire TV (left) and Roku 3 (right) Netflix comparison

I consider the Pandora interface on both streamers fairly modest, but I'd give a slight edge to the Fire TV. The Pandora interface on the Fire TV at least has a progress bar that shows how much of the song has played and a box that gives the option to find out why the track currently being played was included.

The Roku 3's Pandora interface is just a basic player. Both products fall short of the Pandora interface on the NETGEAR NeoTV or the one found in the WDTV Live streamer. You can check out photos of those two here. Here's another composite comparinig Pandora on the Fire TV and Roku.

Amazon Fire TV (left) and Roku 3 (right) Pandora comparison

Amazon Fire TV (left) and Roku 3 (right) Pandora comparison

The Hulu Plus interface on the Fire TV is identical to the updated Hulu Plus interface on the Roku 3. On the landing page, the top 2/3 of the screen scrolls through current Hulu Plus promotions. In the upper right corner there's a search box. Below the promotion screen you'll find the top level menu which scrolls to the right. In addition to the menus shown in the screen shot below, you also have choices of Queue, Originals, Video Games, History, Latino, British, Settings and Help and Info. Other menus such as Shows You Watch, Recommended for you, Popular Shows,Trending Now, etc., are available by scrolling vertically.

The Hulu Plus interface is virtually the same on the Fire TV and the Roku 3

The Hulu Plus interface is virtually the same on the Fire TV and the Roku 3

I've noticed some Fire TV reviews have complained about the lack of HBOGo support. In fact, Amazon's feature comparison shown at the top of the review has a missing check mark for HBOGo. I suspect that eventually there will be HBOGo support, but I'm guessing that there are also some licensing issues.

When I reviewed the Roku 3, I found while the device supports HBOGo, Comcast, one of the largest, and possibly soon to be the largest ISP in the country if the TWC merger gets approved, didn't support HBOGo on Roku. For this review, I checked back and found that a full year later, Comcast still doesn't support the service. So if Comcast is your ISP, the lack of HBOGo shouldn't be a deciding factor since it is supported on neither device.

Fire TV has a feature called ASAP that learns your viewing habits and preloads content for faster initial playback speeds. In my testing, I didn't really find much difference in loading time for Netflix or Hulu Plus between the Fire TV and Roku 3. However, I did notice that on the Fire TV, playing Amazon Prime content was almost instantaneous. It's not clear from the Amazon website if ASAP works across all streaming services or just its own content.

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