If you’re after for a streaming player that can play content from all the major apps in good quality and grants control over your home cinema set up via your voice, the Fire TV Cube ticks all those boxes. The omission of an HDMI cable is odd omission, and if you're not fussed about controlling your home cinema devices, the Fire TV Stick 4K does a similar job for a lot less.
- Dolby Vision and HDR10+ support
- Pleasing picture quality
- Control over a wide range of home cinema devices
- Set-up is simple and easy
- Alexa is great (when it works)
- Lacks detail in the darkest areas
- HDMI cable not included
- Double the price of the Fire TV Stick 4K
- Review Price: £109.99
- Hexa-core processor
- Multi-HDR support
- Alexa voice control remote
- 4K up to 60fps
- Weight: 465g
- 16GB internal storage
- Dolby Atmos
Announced at IFA 2019, the Amazon Fire TV Cube is the second version of the model with the first only made available in the United States.
The second generation of the Fire TV Cube sees it finally travel across to the UK. It sits at the top of Amazon’s Fire TV range and is their fastest, most powerful Fire TV product yet.
The Fire TV Cube is able to do everything a Fire TV Stick can do, but throws into the mix hands-free control over a wider range of home cinema products.
Related: Best TV
Amazon Fire TV Cube design – The omission of a HDMI cable is disappointing
The Fire TV Cube is, well, a cube. Available in a glossy black finish – which attracts dust and smudges like a moth to a flame – it’s slightly nondescript and monolithic in its look, but it’s not a device meant to draw attention.
The Cube has one HDMI out, a mini-USB and port for the IR extender on its rear. Curiously, there’s no HDMI cable included, which is an odd omission.
What you do get is an optional IR extender, which Amazon has recently made available separately – as well as an optional ethernet adaptor if your Wi-Fi signal is weak. The purpose of the IR extender is to open up the Fire TV’s reach so it can control devices in tight spaces or ones locked away in an AV rack.
Inside the unit are eight microphones and advanced beamforming technology that suppress surrounding noise to hear your requests. And the Fire TV Cube make use of local processing so Alexa responds quicker. The hexa-core processor powering it aims to offer a fast and fluid performance.
On the top is a cool Knight Rider-esque LED strip that signals when Alexa is activated. There are also four buttons – a plus and minus button for volume, an action button for Alexa activation and a mute button for privacy. You arguably won’t use them much, but they’re useful if Alexa isn’t working or the included voice remote has gone walkies.
The remote comes a mute button at the bottom – for the TV, not Alexa – and a microphone button to engage the voice assistant. Otherwise it’s your usual layout, with a D-pad for navigation, playback and volume controls, home button etc.
Amazon Fire TV Cube set-up – Easy to set-up, though you’ll need to change the default HDR setting
Set-up, aside from the lack of an HDMI cable, is simple. If you’ve experienced any other Fire TV devices, the Cube is much the same.
One thing to note is that the Fire TV Cube needs to be placed one to two feet (around 30cm) away from a speaker. Presumably so Alexa can not only hear you, but isn’t confused by the wash of audio from a speaker that could sound like a command.
Once plugged in, you’ll be asked to sign in or create an Amazon account, and through on-screen prompts Alexa will guide you through the process of setting up your TV and connecting to other audio/home cinema products.
This process is, again, minimum fuss. You’ll need to confirm the brand of TV and soundbar from a list of supported options – which are numerous – and Alexa will turn the TV/soundbar on/off and play music to recognise the inputs.
You can increase the number of products Alexa holds sway over in the Settings menu; whether that’s a satellite box, AV receiver or game console. Connecting a Virgin TiVO box involved letting Alexa know which HDMI port it was connected to, with Alexa switching back and forth between the inputs to confirm.
Related: Amazon Alexa Guide
There is a potential disadvantage. If you’ve connected you Blu-ray player into a soundbar, you won’t be able to control it via HDMI. That could perhaps be remedied by the IR extender, if it can reach, but this is unlikely to be a significant issue for most.
One thing I’d suggest doing once you’re up and running is changing the HDR setting from Always On to Adaptive HDR, so the Fire TV Cube doesn’t apply HDR to non-HDR content. Why Amazon continues to set it as the default is rather odd.
Amazon Fire TV Cube interface and features – Multi-HDR support is great, though the interface could be better organised
The interface is the same as before any, and I have to say it’s not one I have a huge affinity for.
The homepage is slick, with the main tabs on top opening access to Movies, TV shows, Apps and Settings. It doesn’t favour Amazon content as much as it did in the past and the homepage reflects what you’re watching.
The problem I have is sifting through Amazon’s own menus. It’s not always easy to decipher which films or TV shows you can get from Amazon itself or a channel Prime Video hosts, and scrolling through row upon row of titles is dull.
Alexa can be used to mitigate this. In fact, Amazon heartily endorses that you do, with command prompts appearing on screen with regularity (these can be turned off). Alexa helps, so long as you know what you want, and saves pressing a button for the most mundane of tasks.
HDR compatibility is all-inclusive with HDR10, HLG, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, giving the reassuring feeling that the Fire TV Cube is extracting the best picture quality it’s capable of across a from a range of devices.
Related: What is HDR?
Dolby Atmos is also supported if you have the kit to take advantage. If not, the Fire TV Cube can play audio in stereo, Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby Digital.
In terms of apps and channels, Amazon has promised a vast amount of content. It’s not as much as Roku – unfortunately there is no Dog Relaxation Channel – but BBC iPlayer, All 4 and ITV Hub are available, with Prime Video (naturally), Netflix, Disney Life (Disney Plus next year), YouTube and Apple TV the main video apps, with Spotify, Tidal and Vevo offering access to music services.
Amazon Fire TV Cube performance – Very good HDR performance, but lacks detail in the darker areas and Alexa can be flaky at times
In terms of picture quality the Fire TV Cube puts in a pleasing performance.
Plugged into a Samsung Q85R, the performance from the Fire TV Cube apps aren’t as good as those on Samsung’s Eden platform. Watching The NFL Show in HD on iPlayer and the colours are more saturated and black levels overemphasized to the point where detail is lost. It’s a bolder image, but not as refined.
It’s a similar experience watching The Morning Show in 4K HDR on Apple TV Plus, with the strength of the blacks obscuring some detail, but the Amazon app shows less detail with bright highlights and colours that are less accurate.
Fire TV version of The Morning Show on the left vs the Samsung Apple TV app performance on the right
Detective drama Bosch on Prime Video looks closer though. There’s a little less detail, but colours are arguably a bit punchier and more expressive at times.
A switch back to iPlayer for Seven Worlds, One Planet in UHD HLG, and it’s a beautiful, resplendent image. Even though the first episode is set in Antarctica, whether its the icy, beautifully blue skies or the vivid, multi-coloured sunsets, the Fire TV Cube delivers an arresting image.
Detail is also good. In the instance where two Bull Elephant Seals proceed to headbutt each other in a fight for supremacy, you can see the scar tissue of previous fights and the deep red rivulets of blood in their mottled fur, which makes for a startling image.
Alexa is not always the smartest assistant, and not all apps offer the same level of voice control. Asking her to pause/play on BBC iPlayer or Apple TV brings up a Hal-esque “Hmmm, I’m not sure I can do that”. Some apps, such as All 4, will be getting in-app voice control later this year, but you’ll need to keep that remote nearby.
But when Alexa works, it works well. Search brings up mostly accurate results and a speedy reaction to your queries. There are, though, instances where it’s confused.
Asking it to turn the TV on led it to tell me what was showing on TV. But for most of the time it works as advertised, whether that’s launching apps/content, switching from inputs or searching for a title. You won’t have to shout either, thanks to the far-field microphone inside the unit, it can pick up your voice from across the room. And it stays with you for a few seconds more for any follow up questions.
I can’t overestimate how nice it feels nudge the volume up or down, or switch between inputs with my voice. The Fire TV Cube makes a compelling argument for hands-free operation, even if it’s not at the point where it’s available across all the apps.
Buffering speeds can vary, too. Mindhunter on Netflix could often downgrade to a blurry picture despite having speedy connection. Prime Video on the Fire TV Cube often took a lot longer than the corresponding Samsung app to load into UHD, playing in HD HDR for a while. Strangely, BBC iPlayer was completely fine, loading UHD right from the get go.
Should I buy the Amazon Fire TV Cube?
If you’re in the market for a streaming device that can play content from all the major apps (and then some), does so in good quality and is able to (mostly) give you control over your home cinema set up via your voice, the Fire TV Cube ticks all those boxes.
There are issues, but there’s a sense they could be ironed out through updates, although I feel the UI could use a refresh with the amount of content Amazon has. The lack of an HDMI cable is an odd omission, but the scope and convenience that Alexa offers – at least when it works, and if you’re a Prime user – is great.
At £110 – although it’s available for £30 less during the Black Friday sales – it’s still more expensive than either the Fire TV Stick 4K or the Roku Streaming Stick Plus.
Whether you’ll go for a Fire TV Cube comes down to whether you want to bring control of your various devices into one ecosystem. If you’re not fussed with that, the Fire Stick 4K can perform in the same manner for a lot less.
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