Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Amazon Fire TV Stick Part 1: Setup

If you're looking for information on playing games, particularly RetroArch, on your Fire TV, I created a new web site that includes the RetroArch guide as well as a lot of other stuff. I hope you like it. For the most current information go to:

Breaking from the home automation topics, today I'm writing about something I ordered on a whim when it was on sale the day it launched, the Amazon Fire TV Stick:
Fire TV Stick and Remote
I've broken things down into multiple posts:

Like many of Amazon's products, they didn't create the product category.  Roku launched the category in 2012 but it didn't take off due to issues with MHL (discussed below).  Google popularized it with their Google Chromecast last year, and Roku followed up with an improved stick earlier this year, the Roku 3500R Streaming Stick.  Similarly Amazon's own Fire TV box was already aimed squarely at the Roku 3 Streaming Media Player and the Apple TV boxes.

First, a little background:  Roku and Apple both have both been in the streaming box market for a several years.  Apple's device, which has been through several revisions, has been a relatively nice device for people who really are embedded in Apple's iTunes ecosystem, but the current device is pretty long in the tooth.  Expect Apple to update it in 2015.  Roku has been the "every man's" streaming box for several hardware generations and even my parents, who were both born in the 1930's, have a Roku.  Both boxes have the downside of, well, being boxes.

After Roku's first attempt at creating a Roku's stick, Google created the Chromecast, which is also a little dongle that plugs into an HDMI port and hides itself away behind your TV.  It has some pretty cool features, but is very dependent upon your using phone or tablet for interface.  Roku's "we can fit our Roku box into an HDMI dongle," like the Roku box, gave you a remote control, and the second generation product avoided the problems of the first gen product.

That gets us to Amazon.  Earlier in 2014 they announced the Fire TV, a direct competitor to Roku.  Running a modified version of Android Open Source (like the Kindle Fire tablets that share the Fire name), the Fire TV was aimed directly at the streaming box market with a bit of a twist.  Amazon is trying to sell their own media services, including video, music, and their own Android app store, so they made their box significantly more powerful and included the option to buy a Amazon Fire Game Controller for playing Android games on your TV.

Then in late October, they announced the Fire TV Stick, a less powerful version of the Fire TV aimed at the streaming stick segment.  When it was announced they had a 1 or 2 day pre-order special of $20 (normally $40).  We have located our original 47" LCD TV in our playroom, where it has about 5 generations of Nintendo systems connected through a switch box, and the Fire TV Stick seemed like a logical way to enable Netflix, Prime Instant Video, etc. for this TV.  I didn't hesitate.  They said it would arrive in January.  January came early:

Fire TV Stick Unboxed
What you get for $50, from Left to Right:
The Stick Itself
The RF Remote
2 AAA Alkaline Batteries for the Remote
A USB to Micro USB Cable for Power
A 5W Micro USB Power Adapter
An HDMI Extension Cable

As you can see from the picture, there's quite a lot in the box.  There is the stick itself, along with an extension cable in case you are installing in a location that makes it difficult to plug in everything. There is an RF (Radio Frequency) remote that allows you to control the unit.  Most remotes use infrared (IR) so they require a sensor on the device to have line of sight to the remote.  RF gets around that at some expense.

Finally there is a USB cable/wall adapter to power the device.  Amazon recommends (repeatedly) using their wall adapter.  As I touched upon a little in the Leviton USB Outlet post and the Better Car Charger post, USB power varies.  As you may recall, the base USB spec is 0.5A (2.5W), and 100mA (0.5W) before "digital negotiation."  There are USB charging ports that gets us as high as 7.5W (depending on the design) without negotiation, and then there are crazy things like current generation iPad chargers that go all the way up to 2.4A (12W).  Amazon is saying "we know our adapter is 5W, but we can't promise anything for any others."  That doesn't mean you won't be A-OK plugging it into a USB power port on the back of your TV like the one my newer Samsung TV has, but you should understand that things might not behave correctly and plan accordingly.

Finally, I mentioned MHL and Roku in the opening.  You may not know about MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link), and I'll spare you the details, but MHL is a standard that is related to HDMI and includes sourcing power.  The first generation Roku stick used MHL and it caused all sorts of issues.  Most TV's didn't support it, and there are different versions which have different power levels (sound familiar?) and it was generally an unhappy deal for Roku as an early adopter.  The Chromecast, newer Roku and Amazon Fire sticks don't bother with MHL, and instead source power through the aforementioned micro-USB power.  Ironically, newer TV's are supporting MHL (my Samsung has MHL support on one of its HDMI ports) just in time for this abandonment.  It will be interesting to see if the USB ports become unnecessary in the future.

Setup is super easy.  You plug everything in and turn on the TV, selecting the correct HDMI port.  The device discovers your wifi network and connects (you have to peck in your security code with the arrows on the remote and an onscreen keyboard), it plays a little intro cartoon and you are quickly to the main screen, where Amazon media sources are prominently displayed.  All the usual suspects are there, Amazon video purchases and rentals, Prime Instant Video, etc.  Beyond that, everything else, like Netflix, involves downloading apps.

Products referenced in this post:
All posts on the Fire TV Stick:


  1. Any idea if the Leviton outlet will power the Fire TV Stick? Looking to put the outlet behind my TV; it should get rid of the adapter and save an outlet!

    1. That should work, Mike. There should be no problem, as the Leviton outlet provides more than enough current. The Amazon adapter is their standard 5W (1A) adapter, and the Leviton will exceed that even if you plug in 2 devices.

  2. I tried using my USB on my Sanyo TV to power my Fire Stick, but it kept restarting, So I had to just use the plug that came with it. Also, The remote is Bluetooth, is that considered RF as well?

    I am still trying to figure out the best way to sideload apps and use TVMC along side it. Thanks for the writeup! I enjoyed it.

    1. Somehow missed this long ago. Yes, Bluetooth is Radio Frequency. The other common remote control technology is Infrared, or IR.

  3. I have been using a firestick for some time plugged into a HDMI MHL port taking power from a USB port. Suddenly the firestick no longer works. Its weird cos i have 2 sticks..both wont work on this port anymore. Whether powered from the USB or the normal power lead. They work fine on a second TV tho. I connected a DVD to this port and it works fine. So its not the port. I am baffled by this. Any idea's please.

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