Since buying my Sony AF8 OLED I have been deeply disappointed by its poor Dolby Vision performance, it is just broken within the Sony software. However, with the new Fire TV Stick 4K you get Dolby Vision support, as well as most other things you could want from a streaming device for an absolute bargain price of £50
Amazon has gone back to the stick format rather than the dangly dongle of last year’s Fire TV. Unlike most yearly tech iterations that go up in prices, Amazon has actually reduced the price down from £69.99 to £49.99 representing over a 28% drop in price.
Last years model was a perfectly competent device with it being able to handle HDR10 and Dolby Atmos audio as well as supporting all the media codecs required for 4K.
This year’s model has some small but crucial updates; the Fire TV Stick now supports HDR in the form of HDR 10, 10+ and Dolby Vision. As far as I am aware, this makes this easily the cheapest Dolby Vision/HDR10+ device on the market, and the Apple TV 4K is the only other option unless you get a DVD player or an Xbox One X.
The device is further improved by an updated controller, it is a simple tweak but one I already love. The controller now has power and volume buttons allowing it to act as a universal remote for your devices.
As you might expect, Amazon has integrated Alexa into this, and you can enhance it further by getting an Echo Dot for full voice control.
The internals have been updated to provide the extra processing power needed. The 2017 version had Amlogic S905z quad-core up to 1.5 GHz while this version has an undisclosed quad-core CPU running at 1.7 GHz.
The GPU is now an IMG PowerVR GE8300 compared to the Mali450 MP3 in the former model.
RAM, storage and most of the other specs remain the same.
The audio support of this model is stated as Dolby Atmos compatibility, 7.1 surround sound, 2ch Stereo and HDMI audio pass-through up to 5.1 which appears to be an improvement over last years.
Build and Setup
All that 4K HDR processing appears to requires some large components, because this is an unwieldy stick that would be difficult to insert into most TV HDMI ports. Thankfully Amazon includes a bendable HDMI extender making the task a little easier.
The new device draws more power than the previous models, and it is highly recommended to use the power adaptor. I ignored this advice and have used my TV USB and have experienced no issues so far.
As with all Fire TV devices for the past two years, there is no built-in ethernet, you are restricted to 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi networks. If you intend on streaming a lot of 4K content, or even 4K content over your local network, then an ethernet adaptor is advisable. The official Amazon one is just £14 making the total price of this cheaper than just the dongle from last year.
If you bought the device for yourself, the set up is very simple; Amazon kindly pre-login your device saving you a precious few minutes. Unlike previous iterations, there is a small setup procedure for the remote, and I had to confirm music was playing and that I could control it. No codes or model numbers were required, it detected everything for me. Once done I can control my amp volume as well as switch the TV on and off.
I found downloading my apps quite a slow process but it was easily done.
I use Kodi for my local content, and installing it is a little more difficult than just downloading the app, but it is still a simple process with adbLink. MrMC is an excellent alternative option, but I am not keen on the interface, and I had to transfer my advanced settings so installed Kodi at the same time.
For some strange reason, out of the box the device was set to 1080p, within the display settings you can change this to Auto, allowing it to go up to 4K60Hz. There is also an option to play content in its native frame rate which I switched on.
There is not a massive difference between the interface compared to all other models, which is not a bad thing. You do get Amazon forcing their content on you, and I find browsing the Prime app a nightmare to get to the content I want, but overall it is an easy to use interface.
One of the significant additions is voice control. I wanted to test the HDR with Marco Polo, and I couldn’t immediately find it, so instead used the voice search, which found it quickly. As usual, you need to hold down the mic button, but if you have an echo dot, you can skip this part and ask Alexa out loud. Voice search isn’t perfect, not all apps are integrated, but it works well with Netflix and Amazon.
Unlike other devices, notably the Shield, you get comprehensive catch up channels including BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, 4OD and Demand 5.
Don’t expect any Google services to arrive ever, so if you have invested in movies or content on Google Play, you will need another device.
So far, I have found the performance to be flawless, in particular, Dolby Vision now works on my TV. I had abandoned all the software functions of my Sony AF8 due to pixilation in dark screens, Sabrina was a particularly bad example. I have lived with HDR10 on the Shield for the past few months, but now I can make the most of my expensive TV. Admittedly I don’t see a vast difference between the two HDR technologies, I think I would need two TVs side by side to appreciate it really.
That being said, on my OLED with Dolby Vision colours are beautiful and vibrant, blacks are perfectly black and everything performs just as I wanted it to. Dolby Visio appears to work perfectly well on both Netflix and Amazon Prime Videos.
I have a Sony STR-DN1060 amplifier and 5.1 speakers, in the past my NVIDIA shield would have issues with audio passthrough with certain files in Kodi. With the Fire Stick no such problems occur and I can leave audio passthrough on all the time.
Due to my set-up I have been unable to test Dolby Atmos, but I am led to believe this works equally well as everything else.
It may not be 100% perfect, the Amazon ecosystem can be a bit pushy with its own services, and the lack of ethernet means an extra expense.
Beyond that, there is nothing to fault with this device, as far as I am aware nothing on the market can currently compete with it. The Apple TV 4K is the only other comparable device, and that does give you access to a wider selection of 4K movies, but costs £130 more and isn’t very appealing unless you are committed to the Apple eco-system.
This has fixed all the software issues I had on my Sony OLED, and for the sake of £50 it seems like madness why anyone would put up with the built-in software on most TVs.
If you want a media streaming device that is compatible with all current video and audio technologies, then this is a must buy.
Fire TV Stick 4K Ultra HD (2018) Review
Product Name: Fire TV Stick 4K Ultra HD (2018)