A new software update for Amazon's Fire TV and Fire TV Stick will get some decidedly useful new features, including external USB storage, Bluetooth headset connectivity, improved Wi-Fi capabilities and better security protocols.
The software update confers both hardware- and software-related features, and will roll out automatically to Fire TVs and Fire TV Sticks over the next few weeks. As a side note, the streaming devices are now also available in the UK and Germany, and their users will receive the new software on the same timetable.
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The Fire TV box, due to its design and more powerful hardware, gets the more interesting updates. First, it will now have access to external USB storage. By connecting a USB stick to the Fire TV, you can save additional apps and games. This should be especially useful, as some Fire-compatible games can take up a lot of space. But unlike the rival Roku 3, Fire TV will not be able to play video and music files stored on an external drive.
Amazon has also added Bluetooth headset functionality to the Fire TV, which means that you can listen to shows, movies, music and games without disturbing other people in your home. Just about any set should work, although it's curious that this feature will not come to the Stick, as the Stick already supports Bluetooth remote controls. The Roku 3 allows private listening, but requires plugging into the device's remote control rather than using the ubiquitous Bluetooth protocol.
For both devices, the Wi-Fi and security options are getting a few enhancements. The Fire TV and Fire TV Stick will now be able to connect to Wi-Fi networks that open separate websites for logging in. Hotels and schools often possess systems like these, so you can use the Fire TV while traveling or in your dorm. PINs to confirm Amazon purchases are also now hidden when entering them onscreen, patching a fairly obvious security hole from earlier versions. Roku 3 cannot yet log into Wi-Fi networks that require extra authentication, without significant workarounds (opens in new tab).
Finally, users of the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick can access curated playlists on Prime Music and enable wireless screen mirroring from Miracast- and WiDi-enabled devices, such as newer Android phones and Windows computers, by holding down the Home button. These additions won't make or break the devices, but they're nice to have.
The Fire TV and Fire TV Stick are generally good choices for users already invested in the Amazon ecosystem, but need a few more features to rise to the top of the streaming devices category, such as a broader app selection and a more customizable interface. These updates, however, should put them well on their way.
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Marshall Honorof is a senior writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.