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As a game console, Amazon's Fire TV fizzles

Hayden Dingman | July 10, 2014
Maybe we were too hard on the Ouya.

"Is the controller malfunctioning?" I wondered. But no, I could still get back to the home screen. I just couldn't play the actual game. Neither the analog sticks nor any of the buttons worked.

It's not a huge deal. The game was free. But why was it even available on the market? And not just available in the market — it was promoted in Amazon's very own Editors' Picks list.

It's doubly frustrating when you realize the Fire TV comes with only 8GB of internal storage, part of which is taken up by the operating system. That's comically small for a standalone gaming device — some of these games (looking at you, Grand Theft Auto) are multiple GBs. There's a reason the Ouya bumped its storage to 16GB soon after release, and most Ouya games aren't even as large as the ones on the Fire TV.

Once it's time to start playing, the Fire TV is constrained by the same problems as the Ouya — it cannot perform up to the standards required by many of these games, and we're only three months out from release. Give it another year or two, and the Fire TV will be even more outdated.

Every game I played stuttered. Two games froze. That's unacceptable. Sure, I'm pumping the game out to a 40-inch TV screen and Amazon wants it to look as crisp as if I ran it on my 5-inch phone, but the stutter is far more damning than a bit of aliasing/artifacting.

Games look like you'd expect from a high-end mobile device — 2D vector-based games look best, while 3D games are aliased with some less-than-stellar textures. You might not notice if you're not way into the games scene, but as someone who has (for instance) played Wolf Among Us on the PC for the last six months, the Fire TV version is clearly downrezzed, with lackluster lighting and particle effects.

The gamepad is a bright spot

I will give points to Amazon for its standalone Fire Game Controller, which is an optional purchase. It's well-constructed, solid, and far more responsive than the Ouya's. The D-pad is a little stiff, as are the left and right bumpers, but overall this is a decent piece of hardware.

My one complaint is that Amazon hasn't followed standards that exist across the industry, or at least hasn't required developers to adhere to those standards. On a standard controller, for instance, the button labeled B on the Fire TV controller is used to cancel actions or return to a previous menu. But not on the Fire TV.

The Fire TV also adds a row of buttons to the bottom that are ostensibly related to media playback — Rewind, Fast Forward, and Play/Pause — but then uses them for weird menu functionality in games, however only occasionally and without any real rhyme or reason.

 

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