Fire TV Stick 4K Max – For Amazon lovers (review)

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max is the Amazon challenger to Google TV 4K Chromecast. There are lots of similarities and yet some significant differences. The main ones are that Fire TV has Wi-Fi 6 AX (if you have a compatible router) and is laser-focused on getting you to buy Amazon Prime audio and video content.

Not that Amazon Prime lacks content – it is really steaming, err streaming, ahead making some quite good unique content. But as you know, most Aussies have Netflix, and one other account – Disney+ is a Prime contender (pun intended). And Foxtel is having a renascence with Kayo, Binge, Foxtel and more – sorry, not available on Fire TV.

 Fire TV Stick 4K Max

WebsiteProduct page
Price$99 but on special currently at $59 (12/12/2021)
Warranty1-year
CompanyAmazon is an American multinational conglomerate that focuses on e-commerce, cloud computing, digital streaming, and artificial intelligence. It is one of the Big Five companies in the U.S. information technology industry, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook.
MoreCybershack Amazon news and reviews

First impression – another HDMI dongle

It can stream up to 4K video content from various Amazon Fire TV apps. It is a candy bar design 108 mm x 30 mm x 14 mm x 49g with an HDMI male adapter at one end. This means it would stick out or down from most TVs, so it also has a female to male flexible cable that should fit most TVs or monitors.

It requires a 5.2V/1.8A/9W USB-A to micro-USB charger (supplied), but it could be powered from any USB-C 3.1 5V/2A/10W USB port. We did try it on 5W – no go.

Then there is the Alexa voice remote. It pairs with the Firestick via Bluetooth.

Setup – hand over your credit card

It requires an Amazon account which you will have if you shop at Amazon (or are a Prime member), Audible or have Alexa. Setting up an account is easy but remember that Amazon is first and foremost a data harvester to sell you things you did not know you needed. It wants a valid credit card number in case its clever marketing works! You can control some privacy settings, but you may have to look deep for them.

Once plugged in to a spare HDMI Port and powered, it runs you through the setup to reach the Amazon TV screen. The top third is Prime Video recommendations (and occasionally free-to-air promotions).

There is a middle bar for search and Prime Video, Amazon Music, Amazon Photos, Amazon Apps store and in deference to other services Netflix and YouTube.

The bottom 66% is all about Amazon Prime – showing many genres and categories.

A few things about Fire TV Stick 4K Max

  • Amazon claims its 40% more powerful than its previous Fire TV Stick 4K. That is nice, but it does not do much. It still outputs 720p, 1080p, and 2160p (if you have a 4K TV) at up to 50fps (frames per second – sometimes called Hz). Most of the content we tested was at 25 and some 50fps. Note that Australian power is 50Hz, a.k.a. 50 fps.
  • HDMI is 2.0, and HDCP is 2.2
  • Video: Dolby Vision, HDR 10, HDR10+, HLG, H.265, H.264, VP9, AV1. This means it can support Dolby Vision content and other HDR formats. Most of the time, it is H.264 video stream (not HDR), and YouTube uses VP9.
  • Audio: AAC-LC, AC3, eAC3 (Dolby Digital Plus), FLAC, MP3, PCM/Wave, Vorbis, Dolby Atmos (EC3_JOC)
  • Photo: JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP. It will support compressed Dolby Atmos 16-bit/44.1/48kHz and 8 channels (5.1.2) or 5.1/ 7.1 surround. Most of the time, the audio stream is PCM 2.0 (stereo) up to 6 channels (5.1)
  • Wi-Fi 6 AX 2 x 2 MIMO mean up to 1200Mbps
  • Storage: 8GB mainly for Apps
  • BT 5.0 LE. You can pair headphones, speakers, keyboard, and mice to Fire TV.
  • Alexa Voice remote BT, 2 x AAA batteries – good for Amazon Prime content
  • It does not support Chromecast (Google 4K TV does)

Good Wi-Fi is critical

It supports Wi-Fi 6 AX 2×2 MIMO full-duplex 1200Mbps, but most homes will have older Wi-Fi 5 AC (maximum 866Mbps half-duplex) or Wi-Fi 4 N dual-band (maximum 433Mbps half-duplex).

We tested with these older Wi-Fi versions, and the experience was poor – frame dropping, pixelation, tearing and lag. It was worse when Wi-Fi had concurrent Spotify streaming or smart TV use.

Naturally, Amazon has the answer with its eero Pro 6 Wi-Fi 6 mesh system. We have it on the review testbed but were unable to complete testing before our Xmas shutdown, and it is coming.

If you have older, underpowered Wi-Fi and it does not stream reliably; you can get a low-cost USB-A to micro-USB (to pass through the power) and Ethernet port (100Mbps – no gigabit) if you want to connect it directly to a router. Or look at upgrading your home Wi-Fi to AX.

A note on Dolby Vision (DV) and Dolby Atmos (DA)

First, your TV needs to support it, and you need DV/DA content. There is not much DV/DA content on Amazon Prime, more so on Netflix.

The TV plays the DV to its panel’s capability. It is HDMI 2.0 and may not stream at 50fps (likely 25fps), but the TV will handle that OK. Sound is either processed via the TV (usually with 2.0 or 2.1 inbuilt speakers), and the DA is down-mixed to that – you don’t get 3D spatial DA.

Alternatively, if you have a DA 5.1.2 soundbar, it passes a maximum of 8 channels to it, and you get two (Left/ Right front up firing) spatial 3D height channels. If you have a 5.1.4, 7.1.2/4 or 11.1.4 DA soundbar, there is no DA signal for the extra channels, e.g., no rear Left/Right up-firing or additional 3D height channels.

It does not provide as immersive sound as true DA can.

Apps – make sure it has your favourite streaming apps

The caveat with any smart TV, streaming stick, or whatever, check they have the streaming app you want. For example, you won’t find any Foxtel or its channels like Flash, Binge or Kayo. Some web articles may say you can ‘sideload’ Apps, but this is not easy nor encouraged. The main Australian apps include:

NetflixDisney+Apple TVParamount+
YouTubeStanTubiiView
9 Now7+10SBS
Optus sportPlex  

Some apps require subscriptions, and unless you have a 4K Netflix subscription, it will only stream in 1080p and 5.1 sound. When we asked Alexa to show all Dolby Vision content on Amazon Prime, it bought up fewer than a dozen, and Alexa refused to reveal Netflix Dolby Vision content.

There are hundreds of other Apps (streaming services, utilities, and gaming), and our advice is to check Channels Prime Video. I found the JustWatch App far more informative, and I could turn off the channels I did not have.

Cybershack view – Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max is for Amazon lovers

Dongles are dongles and provided you don’t expect too much from the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max, you will be fine. And provided you don’t expect uncompressed Dolby Vision and Atmos or DTS:X sound, it is fine too.

During four weeks of tests, it occasionally froze, lagged, gagged and lost Bluetooth connectivity, but a quick power cycle fixed it all. In all, it was a good gateway to Amazon Prime TV – not so good with others channels.

If you are serious about adding smarts to your TV, I would recommend NVIDIA Shield 4K TV (Both the Stick and Pro versions) because they have the processing power, can upscale to 4K (yes 4K TVs can do that, but the image looks better from the Shield TV) and it has so many more streaming services including Kayo.

Rating

In the right circumstances, this is perfect for Amazon Prime users. But there is so much more content out there that it does not access, so Google TV (Google Chromecast 4K TV and NVIDIA Shield TV), Fetch Box, Telstra TV and Foxtel are worth exploring.

$99 but currently on special 13/12/21 $59
8

Features

8.0/10

Value

9.0/10

Performance

8.0/10

Ease of Use

8.0/10

Design

7.0/10

Pros

  • Can stream compressed 4K HDR/10/10+/Dolby Vision
  • Low cost
  • Amazon focused
  • Wi-Fi 6 compatible (if you have it)

Cons

  • Need an Amazon Prime video account to install
  • Region-locked for some international Apps
  • Only maximum 8 sound channels for Dolby Atmos
  • Remote probably won’t control the TV on/off or volume up
  • Way too many 'sponsored' content ads


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