The Fire TV is a set-top box that lets you watch videos from its Prime Instant Video service and plenty of other online video besides. It comes with various apps installed so you can watch catch-up TV from the BBC, Channel 5, as well as accessing Netflix, Spotify and other services which require subscriptions.
See also: Prime Instant Video vs Netflix
You can access Prime Instant Video from an Amazon Fire tablet, an Android device, an iPad or iPhone, so the Fire TV is by no means your only option for getting Amazon video on the big screen.
The box iself is uncannily similar to the Apple TV and has all its connections round the back. The USB port isn't currently usable, so you can't connect a hard drive full of movies.
There's some powerful hardware inside and it runs a version of Amazon's Fire OS which is based on Android.
Setup is easy, as you simply choose your Wi-Fi network then enter your Amazon email address and password. It's a bit fiddly using the on-screen keyboard, but you should have to do it only once.
Amazon Fire TV review: Software
The interface is similar to the a Fire tablet and if you've already used the Prime Instant Video app, you'll already know how to navigate around the Fire TV.
A main menu runs down the left-hand side. The Home screen shows things you've watched recently, as well as newly added Prime Instant Video items and other featured content.
You can select Prime Instant Video and buy or rent movies or TV shows. Those with an Instant Video subscription will see a "Watch now with Prime" message appear on the thumbnail for shows and movies included in the subscription.
You can add titles to your watchlist and there are other sections for TV, Films, Apps, Games, Photos and Music. Video Library is where you'll find all your bought and rented content from Amazon.
If you want to search for a specific movie or TV show, you can use the microphone built into the remote, and Voice Search works well. It searches only Amazon content, though, which is a bit frustrating if you wanted to be able to search within the Netflix app, for example.
It's unusual, but you can also install games from Amazon's Appstore and play them with the remote control. Optionally, you can buy a Bluetooth game controller which is required for certain games.
Some games are designed for touchscreens, though, and don't really work even with the game controller.
What's missing from the UK version of the Fire TV is FreeTime which is where you can specify which content is available for your kids to watch. All you can do at the moment is set a PIN code which has to be entered before you buy or watch anything.
Prime Instant video has a fairly decent selection of films and TV shows, and is comparable with Netflix. Each has its own exclusive titles and in-house content, too, with Amazon's Transparent and Extant being two popular examples.
You can also watch YouTube videos, but there's no app for 4oD or ITV Player, so you can't get absolutely everything.
Videos start streaming almost instantly, and HD quality is very good. The Fire TV is also very responsive and the interface doesn't lag.
It's good that you can see which movies or TV episodes you've watched as a white line appears at the bottom of the thumbnail.
The only gripe is that even if you're browsing in the Prime Instant Video section, you'll still come across content that isn't included in your subscription. Only the first four seasons of Mad Men have the Prime tag at the top-left corner, while the remaining three are just tagged as HD. It would be nice to be able to filter out everything that isn't part of an Instant Video subscription as you can on the iPad app.
You can watch your own content across your home network using the Plex app, and you can search for and start Prime videos playing from a Fire tablet. Once playing, the tablet works as a second screen, showing IMDB information about the actors in the exact scene you're watching. You can also scrub through the video using the playback bar, as well as pausing it.
What's disappointing is the lack of subtitles, which will be a dealbreaker for some people.
Amazon Fire TV: verdict
Overall, the Fire TV is an excellent set-top box but it doesn't make a huge amount of sense to buy one unless you're also going to subscribe to the Prime Instant Video service. Plenty of cheaper media streamers let you watch Netflix, for example.
But if you do have a Prime subscription and a Fire tablet, then it's a great way to watch videos on the big screen.