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Old 07-07-2019, 12:16 PM   #3751
John F
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Amazon Echo is $50 at Amazon.
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Old 07-07-2019, 02:07 PM   #3752
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Amazon Echo is $50 at Amazon.
Thanks for posting. That's an excellent price. Here's the link.

The last time it was this low was during last year's Black Friday from QVC when you bought two.


Edit: this Echo supports stereo pairing. When you buy two and pair them, you'll hear true stereo sound. One Echo will play the left channel and the other one will play the right channel. I do this with two Dot 3s and it sounds great. Doing this with two Echo 2s will deliver even better sound since the Echo has two speakers (2.5" + 0.6") and the Dot only has one speaker (0.6").

* Echo Stereo System Device Compatibility

* Set Up Echo Speakers For Stereo Sound
.

Last edited by tubemonkey; 07-07-2019 at 02:42 PM.
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Old 07-07-2019, 03:02 PM   #3753
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I wonder if Amazon is planing an upgrade for the Echo 2. This is half off the retail price of $99.99 and $20 off the recent sale price of $69.99. This Echo was released nearly two years ago in Oct 2017 so an upgrade is certainly possible given the age of this device. Additionally, the Echo 2 has the older styling of sharp edges compared to the newer styling of rounded edges found on the Dot 3 and Echo Plus 2.

Time will tell.
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Old 07-08-2019, 04:07 PM   #3754
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My Show5 arrived last week, and the setup was even easier than a regular Echo, no cellphone required as the WiFi happened locally on its own screen.

Resolution is not great, but adequate as I don't intend to watch any videos on it, sound is ok, about like a Dot and again, adequate as I'm no audiophile. I did not notice any difference in sensitivity to the Second Gen Echo it replaced despite having only two microphones.

All in all, I'm pleased at being able to see my Ring doorbell with just an "Alexa, show the front door" command.

The problem I have is I'd really like it to just show me the clock instead of cycling through all the things that Alexa can do. I really don't need to know how to make peanut butter cookies.

Last edited by wodin; 07-08-2019 at 04:11 PM. Reason: Added rant
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Old 07-09-2019, 02:08 PM   #3755
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I originally posed this question in the Prime Day thread, where there was a post yesterday about the Amazon Echo 2 on sale, but I didn't get any replies. I actually think this thread is probably a better fit, so I'm trying again here, in anticipation that perhaps Echo speakers will go on sale again on Prime Day(s), and I might want to buy a couple.

Here's the (long-winded) question:

I'm really uninformed on how Amazon Music works, but I do remember seeing a bunch of discussion a while back when Amazon quit allowing people to upload and store more than a few of their own songs.

Since you can no longer store your own music on Amazon (I have way more songs than the 200 or 250 or whatever the limit is), is there any other way to play your own music through Alexa/Echo? Or can you only play the stuff you have bought from Amazon (or have access via Prime Music or Amazon Music Unlimited)? I did see that the Echo can also work with some other streaming services too, but I want to play my own music.

And if you can't play your own music through Alexa/Echo, then I assume you can do it through Bluetooth? But that wouldn't be any different than streaming to any one of the gazillion other Bluetooth speakers I own ??? And presumably I couldn't stream to multiple Echos to get the "whole home" thing?

Thanks in advance...
Sorry about that. I meant to answer you yesterday and got sidetracked.

Anyway, long story short, as far as I know, Alexa will only play songs purchased from Amazon. I don't know of any way you can upload your music collection and have it recognized by Alexa for playback.

And you're correct about playing your music via Bluetooth. The Echo dumbs down to being just a speaker and that's not what you want.

Maybe someone else has a solution. I never bothered to upload my music to the cloud for playback and rely on streaming services (Spotify, Pandora, etc) for my music.
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Old 07-09-2019, 09:38 PM   #3756
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I read somewhere recently that Plex server has an Alexa skill that lets you voice-control play your local music library. A few other local solutions were referenced as well iirc.
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Old 07-09-2019, 11:41 PM   #3757
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This is a deliberate policy of Amazon. Apparently they used to permit upload of songs to their cloud via I think a Windows Desktop program. However, this functionality was removed, as I recall before the introduction of Alexa. Alexa can also access only Audible Audiobooks. The walled garden is indeed alive and well. There are some third party skills which may circumvent this. I tried one of them a while ago and the results were not particularly satisfactory, though things may have improved since then and/or more suitable skills may now be available. I like Amazon music and Audible. However, believe it or not, there are some songs not available on Amazon Music which it would be nice to be able to upload. Likewise, Audible is great for Audiobooks, but it would be nice to be able to listen to, say, Overdrive Audiobooks on Alexa as well. But I'm not holding my breath!
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Old 07-10-2019, 10:23 AM   #3758
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Quote:
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This is a deliberate policy of Amazon. Apparently they used to permit upload of songs to their cloud via I think a Windows Desktop program. However, this functionality was removed, as I recall before the introduction of Alexa. Alexa can also access only Audible Audiobooks. The walled garden is indeed alive and well. There are some third party skills which may circumvent this. I tried one of them a while ago and the results were not particularly satisfactory, though things may have improved since then and/or more suitable skills may now be available. I like Amazon music and Audible. However, believe it or not, there are some songs not available on Amazon Music which it would be nice to be able to upload. Likewise, Audible is great for Audiobooks, but it would be nice to be able to listen to, say, Overdrive Audiobooks on Alexa as well. But I'm not holding my breath!
Alexa also sucks with podcasts. I can find and play a podcast on my iThingies in less than a minute. With Alexa, it takes forever, and usually results in my giving up and playing the podcast on my MacBook Pro. The native podcast skill is bad, and none of the 3rd party ones I've tried are very good either.

As far as my locally saved song files, I long since gave up on trying to play them via Alexa. Again, it is much easier and quicker just to put on a headset and tell Siri to play them. Apple has its walled garden too, though their walled garden is more for security, but at least they know how to give decent access to personal music files and podcasts.

Last edited by OtinG; 07-10-2019 at 10:37 AM.
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Old 07-10-2019, 10:35 AM   #3759
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Well I finally bit the bullet and ordered a Fire TV Recast this morning. At $130 it seems like a good deal, especially since I already have two Fire TVs and an outdoor TV antenna. I like the idea of being able to stream OTA TV to my Fire TVs as well as my iPhone and iPad. I also like that its TV guide supposedly incorporates not just OTA TV channels but services like Pluto TV. As far as I can tell, it cannot record Pluto TV though, only the OTA TV channels. I use Hulu with Live TV but it doesn't have PBS, CW, or some of the other local programming I like, so it will be nice to record those channels now too. It will also be way more convenient to use the Fire TVs to stream Hulu, Pluto TV, OTA TV, Prime Video, and any other related streaming services without having to go through the PITA process of switching my TV into TV mode and my home theater into the proper line running to the TV. It should certainly simplify things quite a bit.

I'll let you know how it goes once it arrives and gets set up and used for a while.
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Old 07-10-2019, 10:50 AM   #3760
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I'll be interested in hearing your opinion of the recast UX.
Since I'm a Roku household, I went with Tablo as my whole-home OTA DVR, and while it is nominally functional for my purposes (i.e., I decided not to return it and pay almost double for a Tivo instead) it is so far behind Tivo in terms of functionality and UX, that I do sometimes question my decision.
With your general antipathy toward, as you say, "bezo's bozos" I figure you'll notice and point out any failings....

Last edited by ApK; 07-10-2019 at 01:33 PM.
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Old 07-10-2019, 11:02 AM   #3761
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Here's the problem with the no box return. If you do not have a smart phone, you have to remember to tell the cust service rep that you do not have a smart phone. The little picture thing that they can scan at the desk does not print. They have to send you a different link so you can print out label.
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Old 07-10-2019, 01:22 PM   #3762
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With your general antipathy toward, as you say, "bezo's bozos" I figure you'll notice and point out any failings....
Well, my parent's generation never thought that SO--SO was good enough. If they had there would still be a lot of dead astronauts orbiting the earth and moon. I watched this country go from a powerhouse manufacturing nation to seeing "Made in Japan" then "Made in Taiwan" then "Made in China" stamped on the bottom of nearly all electronics. I watched the Detroit auto industry go with so--so is good enough and now Detroit is a city of abandoned ghost plants, rusting heaps of yester-year. Just try to find a TV or radio made in the USA today. Not too many are anymore. And now we are seeing the software industry adopt that same so--so is good enough philosophy. Damn straight I'm going to point out how wrong that is as well as point out what doesn't work. Perhaps so--so is good enough for others, but I will never accept that philosophy. Bezos Bozos are just so--so at their best, and until they earn the recognition of being top notch I will continue to call them for what they are.
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Old 07-10-2019, 01:48 PM   #3763
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Originally Posted by OtinG View Post
Well, my parent's generation never thought that SO--SO was good enough. If they had there would still be a lot of dead astronauts orbiting the earth and moon. I watched this country go from a powerhouse manufacturing nation to seeing "Made in Japan" then "Made in Taiwan" then "Made in China" stamped on the bottom of nearly all electronics. I watched the Detroit auto industry go with so--so is good enough and now Detroit is a city of abandoned ghost plants, rusting heaps of yester-year. Just try to find a TV or radio made in the USA today. Not too many are anymore. And now we are seeing the software industry adopt that same so--so is good enough philosophy. Damn straight I'm going to point out how wrong that is as well as point out what doesn't work. Perhaps so--so is good enough for others, but I will never accept that philosophy. Bezos Bozos are just so--so at their best, and until they earn the recognition of being top notch I will continue to call them for what they are.

Accepting so-so software software reminds of this Dilbert strip:
https://dilbert.com/strip/1995-01-22

However, as a occasional code monkey myself, I should also point out that in a shop like Amazon, developers are rarely in charge of a product.

Even in the much smaller shops I've worked for, more that once, I've been told to deliver a prototype proof of concept much more quickly than the estimate for the actual project, and then I get told to move on to something else because what I built was "good enough."
I'm pretty sure there are still one or two of my prototypes running in production somewhere, and I assure you that was not my intent....

Last edited by ApK; 07-10-2019 at 01:52 PM.
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Old 07-11-2019, 06:56 AM   #3764
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Old 07-12-2019, 06:07 PM   #3765
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Quick Mini Review of the Fire TV Recast

Quick Mini Review of the Fire TV Recast

Caveats: Iíve never owned or used an OTA DVR prior to the Fire TV Recast, so I have no past experience to compare it too. I have owned and/or used several Cable/Satellite DVRs in the past, and they mostly were marginal units provided by the Cable/Satellite TV service provider. The Fire TV Recast has a much better user experience than any of those I used in the past. Also note that I have not tested it with voice commands yet.

Overview

I must say Iím pleasantly surprised at how good of a device Amazon created in the Fire TV Recast. It is a DVR designed for OTA TV (broadcast TV received via an antenna) as well as being a media streamer capable of streaming OTA TV and a few compatible streaming services like Pluto TV to your Fire TVs and compatible mobile devices (smartphones and tablets). Note: It cannot record from any source other than an antennaóno recording from streaming, cable, or satellite services. I have no issue with the lack of recording ability from non-OTA live TV because I really donít expect any OTA TV DVR will be able to allow that service due to legal and contractual agreements, unless jailbroken.

How Does It Work?

To view DVR recordings or live OTA TV (and compatible services like Pluto TV), you must have a Fire TV or a compatible mobile device with the Fire TV app installed. I have not found a way to view recordings or live TV via a computer because Amazon has not released a Fire TV app for Mac. Iím not sure about Windows PC. Although you can view Prime Video in a browser on a computer, there does not seem to be a way to view the Fire TV Recastís recordings or live TV streams in a browser.

Once you run through the rather easy and painless setup with your Fire TV Recast, the Menu at the top of the Fire TV Home screen will display a new DVR menu item. See image below where I circled the new DVR menu item. Selecting the DVR menu item will display the Fire TV Recast home screen on your Fire TV.



I forgot to look at the Fire TV iOS app prior to setup, but after the Fire TV Recast is set up the app Home screen displays the On Now page containing the live OTA TV programming you have available to watch at that time. See the left screen capture below. You have a menu across the bottom of the screen to toggle between On Now, Recordings (see right screen capture below), Remote, and Settings. Basically the mobile app is a scaled down version of what you get via a Fire TV. Iíll discuss that below (assuming I remember).



My Ratings

I think I need to separate out my ratings into three categories. First, the Fire TV Recast device itself. Second, the User Experience (UX) and UI when using the Fire TV Recast with a Fire TV. Third, the User Experience (UX) and UI when using the Fire TV Recast with a compatible mobile device via the Fire TV mobile app.

Fire TV Recast: Rating

So far I have to give this DVR and streaming box a very high rating. Iíll give it 4.5 stars. Iím perfectly fine with being limited to the Amazon ďwalled gardenĒ when it comes to using the Fire TV Recast. Some will not like that, and I totally understand. With devices like TiVo and Tablo you can enjoy them via Fire TVs, Rokus, and other streaming devices. That will be a BIG plus for many people. But for me I donít need that. And of course YMMV and your needs might be totally different from mine.

I do own two Rokus, but I prefer to use my Fire TVs. One reason is because with my Fire TVs in conjunction with the Fire TV Recast, I can have direct access to streaming services like Hulu with Live TV and Netflix, plus I can easily stream Prime Video, and now I can stream OTA live TV and Pluto TV, and all of this is rather seamless. In the past, to watch live OTA TV I had to take out a universal remote, press a button to switch control to my sound-base then toggle through the HTML ports to the one attached to my TV, then press another button to switch control to my TV then toggle through the input devices to actually watch OTA TV. All of that basically set up my system to watch OTA TV on my TV with sound output to my sound-base. It worked well, but it was kind of a pain to have to go through that ritual. Once the TV and sound-base were able to allow me to enjoy OTA TV I had to use the TVís guide, which to put it mildly, blew big chunks. I have a 10 year old Sony Brava TV, it is really nice, but was made before smart TVs were popular, and lacks many currently available features. The channel guide it uses often is incorrect, is a PITA to make work, and is very clunky to use. In a brief statement, viewing OTA TV in this manner made for a frustrating user experience mostly because the UI was dated and not very easy to navigate. Now once I was finished watching OTA TV and wanted to go watch Hulu with Live TV or some other programming on my Fire TV or Roku, I would then have to use the universal remote and toggle through the input devices on my TV to return to using my sound-base to control the home theater stuff, then toggle through the HTML ports on the sound-base to the one attached to my Fire TV (or Roku or whatever device I wanted to switch to).

So as you can see, switching over to watch live OTA TV on my TV was a chore, to say the least. I have two TVs, one in the living room and one in my study. Both required a similar ritual to switch between OTA TV and streaming services. The one in my study doesnít use a sound-base though as it is a newer Vizio smart TV, but it still was a chore to switch services. I mostly use the TV in the living room though, and that was the one I described the process for above.

Okay that was a long winded explanation of why I donít mind using the Fire TV Recast and being tied to the Amazon ďwalled gardenĒ. With the Fire TV Recast in conjunction with my Fire TVs, I can use one remote, press one button that turns on the TV and the sound-base and the Fire TV, and sets the sound-base to the proper HML port so that I will see the Fire TV Home page after all the devices turn on. One button, imagine that! Also one button turns it all off too. Iím not sure if I could do that with a Tablo, TiVo, etc., but I knew I could with the Fire TV Recast, which made it the one to choose.

As stated above, I give the Fire TV Recast box a 4.5 star rating. It was crazy easy to set up. I set it up and had it working in less than 30 minutes with no issues at all. Amazon did a very good job of making the setup run smoothly. The user experience was extremely good, and the UI used in the mobile Fire TV app to setup the Fire TV Recast was intuitive and easy to use. Amazon has not always been known for easy, intuitive setups but they nailed it this time.

The hardware seems more than adequate for what the Fire TV Recast was designed to do. It is very quite running. It was easy to connect all the cables and what not. It has Gigabit Ethernet. The only reason Iím dinging it by half a star is because of the slightly lower resolution it uses. Lower than some other DVRs from what I understand, but Iím not that familiar with any of the other devices. Amazon opted to transcode all of the recordings and streams into 720p with 60 frames per second. Honestly, it looks pretty good, but if you compare it to the live TV channels that are received in 1080i, then it has a bit less quality than they have. However, the constant 720p at 60 frames per second means all channels look and function pretty much alike. The Fire TV Recast actually saves the recording in MPEG2 in the original format in which they are received, but it transcodes them in real time when streaming. I know of no easy way to get at those original format files though, but if they ever offer access to them or if they ever decide to offer 1080i streaming, then the rating would jump up to 5 stars IMO.

BTW, Amazon nows allows us to plug in an external HDD or SSD for extra storage space. But they do make you reformat the drive so they can lock down the recordings.

Streaming OTA TV and Pluto TV to Fire TVs: Rating

I give this aspect of the user experience at least a 4 star rating and probably a 4.5 star rating. The afore-mentioned lack of 1080i streaming does lower the quality of streaming on certain channels. But I donít see any issues with action scenes, so that is one reason Amazon decided on 60 frames per second at 720p. The quality of the streaming is at least as good as most of the cable TV services Iíve used in the past. If you compare it to them then it looks really good. If you compare it to Prime Video or Hulu on the Fire TV, then Prime Video and Hulu have that competition won due to higher resolution. One reason I read that Amazon chose 720p at 60 fps was to keep the bandwidth down enough to allow two consecutive streams as well as two consecutive recordings simultaneously. I have 200 Mbps internet, so with the Gigabit Ethernet I donít anticipate any streaming issues, nor have I encountered any. As mentioned earlier, I have no experience with other DVRs like Tablo or TiVo, so I cannot make a comparison to them. I can tell you it is at least as good as the cable TV DVRs I used in the past when it comes to resolution.

The Channel Guide

The user experience with the UI in general, and especially with the Channel Guide, is very good. The Channel Guide was well designed, gives me plenty of information, and is customizable to a certain degree. See image below. As you can see from the image, the Channel Guide lists the OTA channels that my antenna was able to find during scanning. It also lists the Pluto TV channels. So it is very convenient to have both of these in one guide. If I click on an OTA TV channel or a Pluto TV channel, Iím taken to that channel in a fairly seamless fashion. Iím sure the Pluto TV channels are using the Pluto TV app, but it is very seamless, and when I am watching a Pluto TV channel I can jump back to the guide. You really donít get the feeling you are in the Pluto TV app because it is that seamless. to be clear again, you cannot record the Pluto TV channels. You can only record OTA TV channels. I have a total of 196 TV channels when you combine the 75 OTA TV channels that were located during scan and the 121 Pluto TV channels that are provided through that service. However, most of those are not something I want to watch. There are a lot of foreign language channels and channels of no interest to me. However, the Fire TVs allow you to hide or show the channels you want to have appear in the guide. This is a great feature as I wound up only being interested in 31 OTA channels and 47 of the Pluto TV channels. To show or hide or make a channel a favorite, simply go to the Fire TV Home page and select Settings ó> Live TV ó> Channel Management ó> Fire TV Recast (or Pluto TV, then go through the list of all the channels and toggle them to your preference. Hidden channels will not be displayed in the Channel Guide.



On Now

An alternative to the Channel Guide is the On Now list of programs currently being broadcast. To access this list, select the DVR menu item on the Fire TV Home page, scroll down and to the On Now row.



Recording

Setting a recording via the Channel Guide on a Fire TV is pretty easy and flexible. Simply select the DVR menu item on the Fire TV Home page, scroll down and select Channel Guide, locate the program you want to record, click the Menu button on the Fire TV remote, and select Record. You can select one episode only or the entire series. I think it can be done by voice command too, but I have not yet attempted any voice commands. There are several Default Recording Options you can set up. To set up these options, go to the Fire TV Home page and select Settings ó> Live TV ó> Live TV Sources ó> Fire TV Recast ó> Default Recording Options to set the following options:
  • Start Recording (can set to On Time, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 15, or 30 minutes earlier, 1 hour earlier)
  • Stop Recording (can set to On Time, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 15, or 30 minutes longer, 1 hour longer)
  • Keep At Most (can set to 5, 15, or 20 episodes)
  • Recording Preference (can set to New Episodes or All Episodes)
  • Image Quality (can set to HD Preferred, HD Only, SD Preferred, SD Only, or Any)

This is a decent amount of control over recording settings, certainly more than I had with Spectrum cable TV or have with Hulu Live TV, but it could be a bit more robust IMO. I would also like to be able to set a time from and time to option, and I would like to have a way to lock a specific program to a specific channel. For example, if I set This Old House to record every episode in the series on PBS, I will get all the episodes shown on other channels recorded too, and I might not want that to happen. PBS has a couple of side channels including Create on which they rebroadcast already shown episodes of their more popular shows, so I could wind up with more episodes than I want or need. Thankfully you can set the maximum number as shown above, but being able to tie the program to a single channel would be a great filter to have.

To review your list of scheduled recordings, select the DVR menu item on the Fire TV Home page, scroll down and select Scheduled Recordings.



To review your recorded programs select the DVR menu item on the Fire TV Home page, scroll down to the My Recordings row.



Streaming OTA TV and Pluto TV to the Mobile Fire TV App: Rating

I give this aspect of the user experience a 3 star to 3.5 star rating. In the mobile app you donít notice the slightly lower resolution of 720p, especially on a smartphone. However, the mobile app is a greatly scaled down version of what we have on the Fire TVs. The most notable omission, and it is a huge omission, is the Channel Guide. Rather than have a Channel Guide, you only have the On Now list which takes a while to scroll through. The second major omission is the lack of ability to hide unwanted channels. I have 196 channels in total but only show 78 of them on the Fire TVs, but I have to scroll through all 196 on the mobile Fire TV app. Amazon dropped the ball here and made the user experience less appealing than it has on the Fire TVs. It means you can only schedule recordings from currently playing programs. Without the Channel Guide there is no way to search for future programming they way you can on the Fire TV. That is a major hit to user experience, enough to drop the rating significantly for the mobile app.



The mobile Fire TV app does allow you to stream outside of your local WiFi network though, so you can stream live OTA TV and recorded programs if you set it to allow streaming out of home, in other words, allow a cellular connection. To allow this, select Settings ó> Data Usage and toggle on the option. You have multiple options as far as streaming quality from which to choose.

The rest of the functionality in the mobile app is on par with the Fire TVs, but this was clearly designed for mobile use. If you want to set up options for the Fire TV Recast I suggest doing that with a Fire TV.

Conclusion

I paid just $130 plus tax on sale for the Fire TV Recast. At that price it is a winner. For my particular case and usage criteria, I think it was a great choice and so far I am very happy with it. But Iíve only had a short time to use it so faróabout 24 hours. Time will tell. Over all Iíve had a very good user experience and the UI is certainly well done. Iím still amazed and pleasantly surprised that Amazon was able to get it this close to greatness. The 720p is pretty good. Action and sports scenes and darker scenes suffer a little bit. OTA directly to TV from antenna is generally better, but not that much. There are a lot of OTA TV channels that are broadcast in SD still, so the lower resolution really doesnít have a big of an impact as one might imagine. Actually, very few of my OTA channels are broadcast in HD. I will post my experiences when I get around to testing it with voice commands. Iím not holding my breath on that though.

Last edited by OtinG; 07-12-2019 at 11:41 PM.
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