Amazon Fire TV Stick 4k and 4k Max Review

Amazon recently updated their Fire TV Stick 4k and 4k Max streaming devices (affiliate link). The original 4k stick first came out in 2018 making this new one a pretty big upgrade. The Max, however, made its debut only a year ago so this new one is more of an incremental update. You can see my full review here.

While I delved deep into the Max version in the video, I also touched upon the non-Max version, especially since there isn’t a significant performance difference between the two anymore. Both have the same processor with the Max’s CPU clocked slightly faster. But that uptick in performance will likely go unnoticed by most consumers.

The Max offers more storage, 16 gigabytes compared to the 8 GB on the regular 4K stick. This might be beneficial for those who download a lot of apps, especially games. Another difference is the Wi-Fi support. While both devices support the newer Wi-Fi 6 standard, the Max also supports the 6 gigahertz band, part of the Wi-Fi 6E standard. However, in my speed tests, I didn’t notice a significant difference between the two bands.

The Max also comes with a fancier remote with more buttons, allowing for more device control options. The Max has a new “ambient experience” that pops up with widgets and changing backdrops when the device is sitting idle. This feature is not on the regular 4k stick.

Both sticks support various HDR modes including Dolby Vision and HLG along with Dolby Atmos audio. They also support the new Dolby AC4 standard, which is part of the new ATSC3 broadcast standard.

For gaming enthusiasts, both Fire TV sticks should suffice for game streaming. I tried out Amazon Luna, Amazon’s streaming app, and found the performance to be adequate even over WiFi. The Fire TV ecosystem also offers native games, but the library is quite thin.

In conclusion, for the casual user, the regular 4K Fire TV Stick should be more than adequate. However, if you’re looking for specific features like ambient mode, the enhanced remote or more storage, the Max might be worth the extra cost.

Amazon Kills “Deep Linking” Impacting Plex, Reelgood, and Others on Fire TV

Over on AFTVNews my friend Elias Saba reported on a new development on the Fire TV platform that will impact Plex (affiliate link), Reelgood, Just Watch and other third party content search engines. Amazon reportedly will be disabling “deep linking” which is the practice of having one app link to content inside of another app. This topic is the subject of my latest video.

What this means is that if you’re maintaining a watchlist in Plex you can still maintain that list and find new content in the Plex database on FireTV, but Plex will no longer “drop you off” in another app to watch. You can, of course, use Amazon’s built in search which will continue to deep link into supported (paying) apps. This new Amazon policy mirrors a restriction Roku has had in place for its devices.

Why are they doing this? Because home screens and platform integrated search engines are a big business. Amazon and Roku can require providers to pay to be a part of search and/or get a higher position in query results. If you’re using a third party provider to find stuff to watch that impacts the bottom line. Those third parties apps can also charge for placement in their search engines which is a competitive activity.

Roku’s business model is no secret – most of the money they make from you using the device – not buying it. That’s why Roku and Amazon devices are so inexpensive. You can learn more in this video I made a little while back diving into Roku’s financial statements.

Like everything I do on this channel I went down a rabbit hole yesterday testing how deep linking works across all of the major platforms. Here’s how the others stack up:

Roku: No deep linking allowed but their built in search has good results (for now) that will deep link elsewhere.

Android TV / Google TV: Deep linking is still allowed but I’m finding that it’s broken for the most part. Linking into Netflix works ok but many other providers don’t seem to work reliably. Some deep links bring the user to the Google Play store even if the app is already installed.

Apple TV: Apple TV’s deep linking appears to work the best right now. Most of the apps I tested work through Plex and Reelgood. Apple TV is the most expensive box because the hardware isn’t as heavily subsidized vs. the other platforms making Apple less reliant on monetizing user activities.

All that said I still think third party watchlist apps are worth using to keep track of all of the great content we have available to us these days. You can see some prior coverage I did on those apps here.

Amazon Fire TV Cube Firmware Update Fixes Some (but not all) Lossless Audio Passthrough Problems

In my original review of the 3rd Generation Amazon Fire TV Cube I said that Amazon’s top of the line streamer is not something I can recommend for enthusiasts due to issues with lossless audio passthrough in Plex and similar apps.

Enthusiasts running Plex typically stream rips of Blu-Ray movies with lossless audio tracks containing Dolby ATMOS True HD audio or one of the many flavors of DTS. The only name-brand box that does it perfectly is the aging Nvidia Shield so many enthusiasts were hoping that Amazon would offer something to meet that need as well.

And then I got a DM from my friend Elias Saba at who passed along this story about those issues being addressed in a firmware update. So, I bought another box (I sold my original one to a viewer) and posted this followup video to see if they got it fixed.

The good news is that Dolby TrueHD ATMOS audio is passing through correctly now. The bad news is that no flavor of DTS audio is passing through and it looks like Dolby Vision support for enthusiast media that was working before is no longer working. All of my titles defaulted to HDR10 even with an embedded Dolby Vision track. Dolby Vision continues to works fine in streaming apps which is probably 99% of this product’s audience.

I am going to hold onto my Cube though as it appears Amazon is trying to address this enthusiast need. As new firmwares come down I’ll continually test things to see if anything changes. Stay tuned!