It doesn’t take a lot time with Amazon’s new Hearth TV Stick and Hearth TV Stick Lite to grasp what they’re all about.
The $40 third-generation Hearth TV Stick is an overdue improve to Amazon’s best-selling streaming participant, changing its four-year-old processor with one which’s a lot sooner. The $30 Hearth TV Stick Lite, in the meantime, is a unadorned try to attain value parity with Roku’s funds Specific streamer, with the identical efficiency as the usual Stick however a significant compromise to its distant management: There aren’t any TV quantity or energy buttons onboard.
Of the 2, the Hearth TV Stick is way simpler to advocate than the Lite model. I’ve stated it earlier than, however having TV controls constructed into the distant actually is price the additional $10.
This evaluation is a part of TechHive’s protection of one of the best media streamers, the place you’ll discover opinions of competing merchandise, plus a purchaser’s information to the options it is best to contemplate when looking for any such product.
Whether or not the brand new Hearth TV Sticks are price shopping for over different funds streamers is tougher to say, as a result of Amazon is making ready a significant software program overhaul for later this yr. We’ll replace this evaluation after stated software program arrives. For now, those that benefit from the Hearth TV expertise can count on extra of the identical—simply with out as many velocity bumps alongside the best way.
Held subsequent to 1 one other, the brand new Hearth TV Stick and Hearth TV Stick Lite look an identical. Each plug immediately into your TV’s HDMI port (a brief extension cable is included if you happen to want extra clearance across the TV), and each have a quad-core 1.7GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, and dual-band Wi-Fi 5 assist. Whereas the 2 sticks haven’t any further ports past micro-USB for energy, an inexpensive USB-OTG cable would enable for thumb drives and different USB equipment.
Efficiency-wise, they’re a giant enchancment over the earlier Hearth TV Stick (which first launched in 2016), with a lot shorter loading occasions and fewer herky-jerky scrolling by way of menus, and so they deliver velocity roughly as much as par with different funds streamers. Roku units are inclined to really feel a bit sooner—if solely as a result of they’re higher at displaying partial menus or loading icons as an alternative of simply momentarily freezing up—however when it comes to loading occasions, it’s just about a wash.
Each Hearth TV Sticks also can provide 1080p video and assist excessive dynamic vary within the HDR10, HDR10+, or HLG codecs, although neither assist 4K video or Dolby Imaginative and prescient HDR. (You’ll have to step as much as Amazon’s $50 Hearth TV Stick 4K for these options.)
The one different distinction on the spec sheet is on the audio entrance: The place the Hearth TV Stick helps decode for Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital/Digital+, and DTS, the Hearth TV Stick Lite solely helps passthrough for these codecs.
That stated, the Lite’s lack of Dolby decoding received’t matter generally. I used to be in a position to hear Atmos’ object-based audio whereas watching Netflix’s Our Planet on each units; and if you happen to’re springing for an Atmos soundbar, likelihood is you even have a 4K TV to go together with it. In that case the Hearth TV Stick 4K is a greater choice anyway.
Totally different remotes
The larger distinction between the 2020 Hearth TV Stick and the Hearth TV Stick Lite is of their distant controls. Whereas the third-generation Hearth TV Stick has TV quantity and energy controls on its distant, the Lite mannequin doesn’t.
Amazon takes nice delight in these TV controls, which assist a variety of televisions, soundbars, and A/V receivers by way of infrared instructions. When you’ve got a sound system with its personal IR receiver, you’ll be able to arrange the Hearth TV to manage the quantity independently of the TV, and you may as well use HDMI-CEC to manage all the things in unison.
As soon as extra, with feeling: It’s actually good having these controls on a single distant. On the Hearth TV Stick Lite, I saved reaching for quantity buttons that weren’t there, and needing to succeed in for a separate TV distant was a impolite awakening.
The Lite mannequin does have its personal distinctive distant management button that launches the Hearth TV Channel Information, which shows a grid information for supported companies similar to AT&T TV Now, Philo, Sling TV, YouTube TV, and Amazon’s Hearth TV Recast DVR. However for most individuals, that’s not a worthy trade-off, particularly as a result of you’ll be able to at all times use the distant’s Alexa voice management button to open the information or tune on to particular channels.
Similar software program (for now)
That is the a part of the evaluation the place issues get a bit squishy. Again when Amazon introduced its new Hearth TV Sticks, it confirmed off a brand new menu system that’s extra streamlined than the present one.
However that’s not the menu Amazon is delivery right now. As an alternative, it’s the identical previous chaos that’s outlined the Hearth TV expertise since late 2016. Beneath the top-level menu and featured content material, you’ll get a row for current apps and recently-viewed Prime content material, a sortable row of favourite apps, after which a sprawling record of suggestions with a heavy emphasis on Amazon’s Prime Video and IMDb TV companies.
Now, I’m on file for having appreciated this interface up to now. On the very least, it’s extra attention-grabbing than Roku’s method, which makes no makes an attempt to advocate something aside from free, ad-supported video.
However as I wrote in my Roku Extremely evaluation, units like the brand new Chromecast with Google TV, TiVo Stream 4K, and Apple TV 4K are all higher at coping with too many streaming companies. Like Amazon, all of them attempt to present a single menu for content material as an alternative of constructing you bounce into numerous totally different apps, however they’re extra organized, extra customizable, and fewer biased towards sure sources of content material.
Right here’s a primary instance of the place Hearth TV falls quick: On my house display screen, there’s a row referred to as “Science Fiction,” with movies like Moon, Arrival, Prepared Participant One, and Blade, however the house display screen reveals no details about the place these movies can be found. For that, you should click on on every entry, which reveals that Moon requires a Showtime subscription (which Amazon sells), Arrival is a rental (additionally bought by Amazon), and Blade is on Hulu. What looks like an try and make sense of streaming is absolutely only a technique to upsell you. Against this, the brand new Chromecast and TiVo Stream 4K allow you to customise which companies seem on the house display screen, so that you don’t get suggestions from companies you’re not already paying for.
In the meantime, Amazon’s Alexa search perform continues to return irrelevant outcomes for style searches similar to “new comedies” or “basic sci-fi,” so you’ll be able to’t actually sift by way of streaming choices that approach. Given all the things else Alexa can do on Hearth TV units—from launching music and video content material to controlling good house units—search is an uncommon weak level, particularly in comparison with Siri on Apple TV and Google Assistant on the brand new Chromecast.
Whether or not any of this may change with the brand new interface is unclear, as a result of Amazon hasn’t but proven sufficient of it. We are able to solely hope it’s not only a contemporary coat of paint over longstanding flaws.
Different lacking items
The opposite large situation with Hearth TV units proper now’s that none of them assist HBO Max or Peacock as a result of Amazon’s ongoing carriage disputes with AT&T’s WarnerMedia and Comcast’s NBCUniversal respectively. When you can nonetheless watch HBO on the Hearth TV Sticks by way of different strategies—with an Amazon Channels subscription, by way of dwell TV companies like YouTube TV and Hulu + Reside TV, or with standalone subscriptions by way of the HBO app—you received’t get the expanded Max catalog, and Peacock isn’t accessible on the platform in any respect. It’s potential to sideload HBO Max and Peacock on Hearth TV units, however customers shouldn’t have to leap by way of these hoops.
Whereas I’m ranting: It’s time to cease giving Amazon a cross for not supporting personal headphone listening. Apple TV and the brand new Chromecast each assist Bluetooth headphones or earbuds, and Roku’s cell app helps Bluetooth or wired headphones. Some Roku gamers even have headphone jacks constructed into their remotes. Whereas Hearth TV units can technically hook up with Bluetooth headphones, they supply no technique to regulate the quantity with out elaborate workarounds.
A strong funds streamer with points
The brand new Hearth TV Stick nonetheless has its upsides. Solely Roku affords streaming gamers at comparable costs, and Amazon’s frequent sale pricing usually makes the Hearth TV Stick even cheaper. Alexa opens up some voice-control potentialities that don’t exist on low cost Roku streamers, similar to launching dwell TV channels or controlling good house units. It’s additionally a pleasant technique to entry sure over-the-air DVR options, together with Channels DVR and Amazon’s Hearth TV Recast, neither of which Roku helps.
Nevertheless it additionally looks like a streaming gadget trapped in limbo, with neither the app-centric simplicity of Roku gamers or the elegant unified streaming information of the brand new Chromecast with Google TV. We’ll have to attend and see whether or not this yr’s large interface improve will push the Hearth TV in a clearer route.
Both approach, although, assume lengthy and onerous earlier than cheaping out on the Hearth TV Stick Lite and its inferior distant. That’s one thing no software program replace can repair.