The Amazon Fire TV Stick is one of a class of products called a “set-top streaming device.” These devices connect to your television and your home wireless network and are able to stream video from a number of different sources. The Amazon Fire TV Stick is a particularly appealing choice among these products because it has a low price, great reviews, comes from a trusted company, and has apps for almost every important streaming app.
But if you have never purchased a set-top streaming device before, or are still unsure of what the Fire TV Stick needs and is capable of, then you probably have some questions about it. I did too before I bought mine (yes, I have one, and I love it), so the list below answers some of my own questions, as well as some common ones that I have encountered.
Item 1 – The Fire TV Stick and the Fire TV are two different (though similar) products
Amazon uses the “Fire” branding on a lot of their products. There are several Fire tablets, there used to be a Fire phone, there is a Fire TV, and there is a Fire TV Stick.
The Fire TV Stick and the Fire TV both do many of the same things. However, the Fire TV has some extra features, is a more powerful device, but it costs a bit more money.
The Fire TV Stick is the focus of this article. It’s the less expensive of the Fire-branded set-top streaming devices, and is the more practical and economic choice for the majority of people that are simply looking to stream video to their TV.
Item 2 – Your Internet connection will need to be good if you are going to stream video
Video streaming is one of the more connection-intensive activities in which you can partake on an Internet-connected device. Even streaming in standard definition requires you to have a minimum of 3 Mbps connection. While most broadband services, such as DSL, cable, or fiber should exceed that requirement, you might want to visit fast.com and make sure that the speeds you get on your computer exceed the recommended minimum requirements for the type of streaming that you want to do. According to Netflix, the suggested broadband speeds are:
- 0.5 Megabits per second – Required broadband connection speed
- 1.5 Megabits per second – Recommended broadband connection speed
- 3.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for SD quality
- 5.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for HD quality
Item 3 – Amazon Prime is not included with the Fire TV stick
While many of the advertisements for the Fire TV Stick include images and features that are available on the device, many of those features also require you to have an Amazon Prime subscription. If you have never had a Prime subscription before then you are probably eligible for a free trial, where you can see what you would get if you decided to purchase the subscription.
But if you activate the Prime trial when you purchase the Fire TV Stick, you will only have access to the Prime features for the duration of the trial, unless you choose to pay for Prime after that. However, you will still be able to use the Fire TV Stick features after that, even without access to the Prime-specific features.
Item 4 – An Amazon Prime subscription does not give you full access to Amazon’s entire video catalog
The Amazon Prime subscription that provides you with free two-day shipping on products sold through Amazon also provides you with access to the Prime video streaming library. However, the Prime video streaming library does not include every video that Amazon offers. It includes a subset of their entire catalog, and if you want to watch a movie that is not part of the Prime catalog, then you will need to rent or purchase that movie.
Fortunately these movies are easy to distinguish from one another by looking for a banner at the top-left of the movie image. The picture below shows a movie that you can watch for free with Prime:
While the picture below shows a picture of a movie that you would need to rent or purchase:
Item 5 – Many video streaming apps are free to download to the Fire TV Stick, but you will need a (paid) subscription to use them
There is a channel store on the Fire TV Stick where you can search for and download some streaming apps to the device. You will need to do this initially when you are first setting up the Fire TV Stick, then whenever you have another new app that you want to download. The majority of these apps will be free to download.
But when you open the apps, they will ask you for account information before you can use them. While there are some free video streaming apps on the Fire TV Stick, many of the more popular ones require a monthly subscription. This includes services such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, and others.
Item 6 – You need additional hardware and cables if your TV doesn’t have an HDMI port
One of the ends of the Fire TV Stick is an HDMI plug. This is nice because you won’t also need an HDMI cable to get the Fire Stick to connect to your TV. This is usually an additional, overlooked expense for these types of devices, so the Fire TV Stick can save you some money over some other options that require a cable.
But the Fire TV Stick only offers an HDMI connection option, which is a problem for TVs that don’t have an HDMI input. One way to resolve this problem is with an HDMI converter. You connect the Fire TV Stick to the HDMI converter, then you connect the converter to your TV with RCA cables(the red, yellow, and white ones.) One thing to be aware of with this setting is that you will not be able to stream HD content due to the output capabilities of RCA cables. They max out at 480p. Additional, you may run into issues with HDCP compliance, which can prevent videos from playing occasionally. This doesn’t happen to everyone, or with every video, but it is a possibility.
Item 7 – You need a Wi-Fi connection to use the Fire TV Stick
The Amazon Fire TV Stick has to connect to your network to access and stream videos from the various apps that are installed on the device. The Fire TV Stick also does not have an ethernet port, which means that its only means for connecting to the Internet is your Wi-Fi connection.
The setup process for the Fire TV Stick will require you to select your Wi-Fi network from a list of networks within range of the Fire Stick, then you will need to enter the password. Like most other wireless devices, the Fire TV Stick will remember those credentials, and will automatically connect to the Wi-Fi network when it is turned on. The proximity to the wireless router will affect the signal strength, which will affect the Fire Stick’s ability to stream video. Therefore, you will want to have the Fire Stick as close to your wireless router as possible.
Item 8 – How can I see a Firestick movie list?
This item is a little tricky, as there isn’t really a way to list every possible movie that you could watch on the Fire TV Stick. The total library availability will depend on the video streaming apps you have installed, which apps you have a subscription for, whether you are willing to purchase a movie that isn’t available as part of one of those streaming subscriptions, etc.
However, you can view a list of movies that are available with a Prime subscription here.
Item 9 – You don’t need Amazon Prime to use a Fire TV Stick
The difference between an Amazon account and Amazon Prime can be a little murky, and I have definitely had conversations in the past where someone has confused their (free) Amazon account with a (paid) Amazon Prime subscription.
The only thing that you absolutely have to have if you want to use your Amazon Fire TV Stick is the (free) Amazon account. Amazon Prime is not required if you want a Fire TV Stick. The device is definitely “better” if you have a Prime subscription, however, as it will afford you access to the Prime video streaming library. But if you don’t want to incur the expense of the Amazon Prime subscription, or if the content of the Prime video library doesn’t appeal to you, then you can save money by foregoing it.
Item 10 – Video streaming can use a lot of data if you are using the Fire TV Stick on a connection with monitored data or a data cap (like a cell phone hotspot)
When you are streaming video to the Fire TV Stick you are using a lot of data. For many home Internet connections that don’t have any data caps, and don’t pay for data usage beyond their monthly flat payment to their ISP, this isn’t a problem.
But if you use a cellular connection for your Fire TV Stick, that video streaming data is going to add up very quickly. While there is no specific amount of data usage that you can point to, a good general rule is that standard definition video will use 1 GB of of data per hour, while high-definition video will use 3 GB of data per hour. So, for example, if you plan to watch three hours of high-definition video on your Fire TV Stick each night, you would be looking at about 270 GB of data usage per month. And that’s just the data that the Fire TV Stick would be using. You would also be using data on your mobile phones, computers, and other devices that are sharing that cellular data connection.
Hopefully the list above has answered any reservations that you might have had before purchasing a Fire TV Stick of your own. If not, we also have a Fire TV Stick FAQ that you might want to check out.