The good and the bad of using an Amazon Fire TV Recast to watch the Super Bowl

In my article about the various ways to watch Super Bowl LIII on a Fire TV device, I said that the best way to watch would be with a Fire TV Recast over-the-air DVR. I hosted a small Super Bowl party and, naturally, we used the Fire TV Recast to watch the game. Since I’m not much of a sports fan, this was my first time using the Recast for a live game. Here are the pros and the cons of how it all went.

The Bad

Antenna Reception

All over-the-air devices are limited by how good your antenna reception is for the given channel that you want to watch. I’m lucky that I live in a location where I get about 70 channels through a hastily placed AmazonBasics indoor antenna without much effort. While most of the channels I care about come in clearly, CBS, which is where the Super Bowl was airing this year, is not one of those channels.

My plan was to reposition my indoor antenna, and possibly move my Fire TV Recast entirely, before the game for optimal CBS reception, but then I remembered the old rusty antenna that I had stashed away, which the previous owner of my house left behind. I plopped it on the ground in an open area of my back yard and ran a cable to it from the Fire TV Recast. Surprisingly, CBS reception was perfect and it gave me about 40 more channels than my indoor antenna. Problem solved.

I mention all of this as a bad thing because when you stream over the internet, antenna reception is something you don’t have to worry about. While most people with OTA devices probably have their antenna setup locked down and figured out, it’s still something you have to think about and occasionally fiddle with.

Bitrate & Resolution Fumbles

The only real issue I had using the Fire TV Recast for the Super Bowl was its occasional bitrate and resolution hiccups. Unlike most over-the-air devices, like an HDHomeRun or Tablo which stream a mostly unmodified MPEG-2 video feed from their tuner, the Fire TV Recast encodes everything in H.264 before streaming it out to the playback device. The benefit of encoding the video is that the Fire TV Recast can change the resolution and bitrate of the stream on-the-fly to ensure that there is uninterrupted viewing, regardless of your network quality or device capabilities.

The problem with encoding on-the-fly, which I couldn’t help but notice on Super Bowl Sunday, is that the video often starts off at a low resolution and low bitrate, before bumping up to full quality a second or two later. This isn’t really even noticeable through regular Fire TV Recast viewing sessions where you tend to start a video and watch it all the way through with minimal interruptions or pauses. At the Super Bowl party, we were constantly pausing, restarting, rewinding, and fast-forwarding in order to rewatch plays, rewatch funny commercials, and to deal with the usual array of interruptions. With so many chances for playback to re-initialize, the second or two of low-quality video became noticeable to me, enough to where I started purposely rewinding an extra 10 seconds so that I knew the video quality would be caught up once the section I wanted to rewatch began to play.

The poor initial playback quality was especially noticeable during the Super Bowl halftime show. This is likely due to the higher bitrate needs of things like the fire, smoke, and fireworks that were part of the musical performance, which is explained well in this video. Above is a worst-case scenario, which I artificially forced the Fire TV Recast into, to demonstrate what it occasionally looked like when starting playback during the halftime show. You can see that the video resolution being streamed is 432p, instead of the 720p that it would eventually switch to after a second or two.

It seems like the Fire TV Recast is overly cautious about starting with poor video and then ramping up once it feels the connection is good enough. This is probably great for people trying to stream video over subpar WiFi across a home full of walls, because it means their stream never buffers or drops. However, for someone like me, and I assume many of the tech enthusiasts reading this, who have rock solid home networks, it gets in the way of watching high-quality video.

Most things in my home, including the Fire TV Recast and my multiple mesh WiFi routers, are hard-wired with gigabit Ethernet. The weakest point in my setup for the Super Bowl is the Fire TV Cube connected via WiFi to a router that is 2 feet away, but even that clocks in at 333 Mbps, which is more than enough bandwidth for any streaming task. It seems like the Fire TV Recast should be able to minimize, or entirely eliminate, the need to start low and then ramp up video quality when video initially starts, but it doesn’t. Instead, it too often plays it safe by first streaming poor video.

The Good

Voice Control

I recently switched back to the Fire TV Cube from the Fire TV Stick 4K as my main device. I may write an article soon about why, but a big reason was for the Cube’s hands-free voice and universal remote capabilities. We were all still at the table finishing up our meal when kickoff time came. It was great being able to just belt out “Alexa, tune to CBS” in order for the TV to turn on and have the game come up through the Fire TV Recast in the background as we finished up. Voice commands also came in handy to control playback when needed while I was away from the remote.

Control On My Terms

The main reason I thought watching the game through the Fire TV Recast would be superior to any of the available internet streaming options is having full control of the video feed. With streaming apps, especially TV network apps, it’s always a mystery whether they’re going to be able to pause, rewind, and/or fast-forward the video stream. I was pretty sure the Super Bowl would be among the less restricted streams, since it’s free for everyone to watch, but being unfamiliar with CBS’ apps, I still didn’t know what control would be available. Using the Fire TV Recast ensured that I’d have a local copy of the game to do with as I pleased.

Effortless Fast Forwarding & Rewinding

Just as important as being able to skip forward and backward during the game, was the ability to do so effortlessly. TV network apps are notorious for having clunky fast-forward and rewind controls. The Fire TV Recast avoids that all together by having great playback controls.

By the time the first half ended, we had built up a time delay buffer and it was simple to skip past the recap report straight to the halftime show, thanks to the timeline screenshots shown while fast-forwarding with the Fire TV Recast. When interesting plays or funny commercials needed to be replayed, a few presses of the back button is all it took to jump back a bit. Voice commands even came in handy with fast-forwarding and rewinding. Being able to say “Alexa, skip ahead X minutes” was easily the quickest way to jump back to a specific spot in the game when I needed to stop the video for a bit.

Overall, the Fire TV Recast did a great job being the video source for the big game. It provided the flexibility that I needed and the familiar ease of use that I wanted. Having to set up a last-minute antenna was less than ideal, but that’s on me for being something that I should have taken care of for good long ago. The seemingly unnecessary video quality ramp-up when playback restarted was my only complaint, but I’ll take that over having less video control in a streaming app any day.

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