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October 5, 2018

Don’t buy an Amazon Fire TV Cube — get this instead (probably)

by John_A

fire-tv-cube-review-2.jpg?itok=ugKYJy6Q The Amazon Fire TV Cube is still a fine device, but you can get nearly the same features for less money.

An Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K bundled with a new Echo Dot does nearly the same stuff as a Fire TV Cube — and for just two-thirds of the cost.

I’m going to to out on a bit of limb here — I have yet to use the new Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. It ships at the end of October. But barring some sort of huge performance catastrophe in which it runs ridiculously slower than the Fire TV Cube (and I’m willing to give Amazon the benefit of the doubt here), I’m pretty confident in the following statement:

You probably shouldn’t buy the $119 Amazon Fire TV Cube. Instead, I’d pick up an $80 Fire TV Stick 4K/Echo Dot bundle. Here’s why:

Dolby Vision is important

If you’re just getting into the world of 4K televisions, know this: HDR is important. It’s short for high-dynamic range, and it basically makes colors more colorful — because it can show a greater, more dynamic range of colors — and because it also will help make blacks look darker. It allows for greater contrast.

There are two main flavors of HDR. There’s the open-source HDR10 (and now HDR10+, and there’s the proprietary Dolby Vision. Generally speaking, Dolby Vision is considered to be the better of the two standards.

fire-tv-stick-4k-side.jpg?itok=X41K1Y9q The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is the first Fire TV to support the Dolby Vision HDR standard.

In addition to your television having to support one or both of those standards, whatever device you have connected to it also will need to support an HDR standard if you want to watch content in HDR.

The new Fire TV Stick 4K supports HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. In fact, it’s the first (and only) Fire TV device to support Dolby Vision. The Fire TV Cube does not.

For a lot of folks who have 4K televisions that support Dolby Vision, that’s all you need to know.

For those who are looking to buy devices to last a good while, this is the way I’d go. The $119 Fire TV Cube will not get a magic update with Dolby Vision due to the processor it’s using.

You’ll keep (nearly) the same Alexa support

Basically, the Fire TV Cube is a (soon-to-be-extinct) Fire TV 4K pendant combined with an Echo Dot. Same internals, only with microphones and a speaker crammed in there, so you can do all the same hands-free Alexa stuff.

The Fire TV Cube does go a little bit further, though, with CEC control and in infrared emitter — allowing you to tell your TV to change the channel, or change the volume, or turn things off and on.

That was especially important because the Alexa Voice Remote that originally shipped with the Fire TV Cube — well, it kind of sucked, unable to adjust volume or turn off the TV. For that, you’d either need to use your voice — which I still contend is not a great way to watch TV — or use a second remote control.

With the new Fire TV Stick 4K we have a new Alexa Voice Remote with proper IR controls for volume and power. And a current-generation Echo Dot brings that same Alexa support, just without the integrated TV control.

The bottom line

Look, unless you just have to be able to turn your TV on and off with your voice, or just have to keep things condensed into a single device, or just have to have an IR extender attached to your streaming box, I’d go with the Fire TV Stick 4K/Echo Dot bundle. You’ll save about $40 right now, and that’s not bad on devices that Amazon is almost certain to refresh again in a couple years anyway.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a Fire TV Cube — at least nothing that a better remote control won’t fix. But if you’re going to go that route (and spend more money in the process), at least be sure to order the updated Fire TV Cube bundle, which ships on Oct. 31 and includes the new remote.

But me? I’d save the $40 and just get a Fire TV Stick 4K with the new remote, and with Dolby Vision, and with an Echo Dot for the Alexa stuff. It’ll save you money now, and it’s got the features you’ll want for the long haul.

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