Video recording, storage, and playback details for the Amazon Fire TV Recast

There are a lot of details we still don’t know about the Fire TV Recast, Amazon’s newly announced over-the-air DVR for Fire TVs that also works with the Echo Show and mobile devices. There are some things that we probably won’t learn until the device ships, but through reading Amazon’s lengthy FAQs page and asking Amazon directly, here are details about the codecs and specs of how the Fire TV Recast records video, stores it, and how it’s played back.

The Fire TV Recast stores all content to its internal hard drive as unprotected raw MPEG-2 video files in their native resolution. This is important because it means that the full 1920×1080 resolution of channels that broadcast in 1080i is maintained for all recordings. Remember, no US channels broadcast in 1080p. They all broadcast in either 1080i or 720p.

When watching content from the Fire TV Recast, whether it’s live or recorded, and regardless of whether you’re watching through a Fire TV, Echo Show, or mobile device, the raw MPEG-2 video files are transcoded to H.264 with a maximum resolution of 1440×720 at 60 frames per second. This is done to ensure compatibility with a wide range of devices, including older Fire TVs that cannot de-interlace 1080i video.

The bitrate and resolution of the transcoded video are adjusted, on the fly, to ensure a highly reliable stream. This is the same procedure used by streaming video from services like Prime Video and Netflix. So, if you’re watching content at home through a Fire TV with a solid connection, you’ll see the maximum resolution and bitrate, but if you’re watching on a spotty mobile connection, the video quality will automatically adjust to keep the stream from dropping. When viewing content through a Fire TV, the Fire TV Recast may switch to a direct one-to-one WiFi connection between the two devices to bypass your home network if it determines that the direct connection will result in a superior video stream.

Transcoding video is a very CPU intensive process, so due to the need to transcode video in real-time, only two devices may watch content from the Fire TV Recast simultaneously. Since recordings are stored in MPEG-2, in order to maintain their full quality, and are transcoded each time they are played, this means that the 2 simultaneous stream limit applies to both live and recorded content.

The number of programs that can be recorded simultaneously is not affected by the number of active viewing streams. Recording is only limited by the number of available tuners in the device. This means that, for the 4-tuner Fire TV Recast, you can be recording 4 channels while two devices are watching pre-recorded content, all simultaneously. For the 2-tuner Fire TV Recast, 2 channels can be recorded while 2 devices stream pre-recorded content. Obviously, if a live channel is being viewed, that will reduce the number of channels that can be recorded simultaneously on either model.

The fact that viewing pre-recorded content does not affect active recordings is important for anyone who was hoping to have 3 or more devices viewing content simultaneously. If two devices are watching something and a third device hops on to watch a live show, while that third device will not be able to watch live, they will still be able to set their program to be recorded so that they can watch it later and not miss it. Again, this assumes there is an unused tuner to use for the new recording.

As far as audio goes, the Fire TV Recast supports Dolby 5.1 surround sound, both for live channel viewing and for recordings. If the playback device does not support Dolby 5.1, then 2-channel stereo audio will automatically be played instead.

Knowing all these video specifications is probably not important for the average consumer who just wants to tune-in and watch a high-quality reliable video stream, which it sounds like the Fire TV Recast will provide. For those of you who have made it this far in the article, you, like me, probably have other plans beyond basic watching.

Amazon’s official stance is that the Fire TV Recast does not support external storage and video files cannot be transferred off of the device. As for external storage, I’d like to point your attention to the unused USB port on the back of the Fire TV Recast. The last time Amazon shipped a device with an unused USB port was the original Fire TV, which they soon updated to enable the USB port for, you guessed it, external storage. I’d say that there’s a pretty good chance the Fire TV Recast will support external USB storage through a future update that arrives after the device is launched.

As for pulling video files off of the internal hard drive of the Fire TV Recast, while it may not be officially supported, I’m confident that the savvy Fire TV community will figure out a way to get to those tantalizing full-quality 1920×1080 MPEG-2 files stored on the device.

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32 comments
  1. Ron says:

    The way I read it, it seems the number of simultaneous recordings IS affected by the number of streams being watched
    “With a 4-tuner Fire TV Recast, you can:

    record 4 programs at once;
    watch 1 live or recorded program while recording 3 other programs in the background; OR
    watch 2 live or recorded programs on different devices at once while recording 2 other programs in the background.”

    So it seems tuners are used even when viewing recorded content. This differs from Tablo which only uses a tuner if the viewing is remote. This could be because I believe Tablo transfixed as it’s recording as opposed to when it’s streaming.

    • Ron says:

      Should be transposes not transfixed at the end.

    • AFTVnews says:

      That part of the FAQs is written poorly. I explicitly asked Amazon about that exact thing and they explicitly told me that 4 recordings AND 2 pre-recorded viewing streams are possible simultaneously on the 4-tuner model (2 recordings and 2 pre-recorded viewing streams simultaneously for the 2-tuner model). Tuners are NOT used to view pre-recorded videos.

  2. Paul Savage says:

    will it be possible to use for m3u8 playlists or only free to air channels with aerial

  3. beq says:

    Interesting approach to recording and time of transcoding, with benefits like OTF bitrate adjustment during playback.

    But wouldn’t it also combine the drawbacks of both HDHomeRun, and Tablo et al? Like the former, storing MPEG-2 takes more space. At the same time, forcing all live streams to be transcoded to h.264 means an increased channel tuning/surfing lag for all clients, even those that could play MPEG-2.

    Wi-Fi Direct support is fascinating though.

    BTW another article mentioned channel guide integration of the antenna stations and the PS Vue service, with de-duplication of any broadcast channels. I assume the Vue’s cable programming schedule is being merged into the Fire TV’s new native channel guide on the DVR tab, as opposed to the actual Vue app linking to the Recast’s antenna stations?

    Partnering with Sling might’ve made more sense, except for the fact that they already make their own AirTV for just this reason :) I wonder though if other than Vue, all the other live OTT services will also integrate their guide data on the Fire TV?

    • beq says:

      Might be cool to also see all the OTT live services start integrating their programming schedules into the native channel guide on the Roku TV (which can be brought to the Roku players, just like this new Recast guide leveraging the one from Fire TV Edition).

      Also integrate with Android TV (Live Channels), and even as an enhancement to the Apple TV’s TV app.

      Anyways thanks for all the informative posts on this site.

  4. Ian King says:

    It would be great if it could do two additional things:
    1. Using IR blaster commands control a cable STB and digitize/store HDMI or analog video outputs from STB
    2. Act as a DVR for streaming video so that viewers can skip advertisements

    • tech3475 says:

      I doubt we’ll ever be able to see that because of HDCP, the decline of Analogue and the nature of VOD/not wanting to annoy other companies.

      Best bet for VOD would be to get a router which allows you to set up an adblock.

  5. Andy M says:

    What’s key for me is if they either offer commercial skip or are compatible with MCE Buddy so that we can remove those pesky commercials from recordings.

  6. Mark B says:

    This could be the best tuner you could buy vs hdhomehome tablo tivo etc. the pricing is great. You need to keep in mind that all those other services kill you with fees plus sometimes require a dedicated pc on 24/7 to record your shows. We’ll have to see how it performs in the real world but if the channel changing speed is good the only reason to buy a Prime etc is if you need drm cablecard support which obviously this is not designed to do. That or not feed the Amazon beast which is something to consider.

  7. Ice says:

    On pure speculation, you think the community would make it possible to have a hard drive full of videos connected to the Recast act as streaming server?

  8. sunrise495 says:

    Would love to see the interface on a FiteTv with this device?

  9. cheryl jones says:

    One of the problems is that you are going to have to have wifi to use this. Does not say so on the product page but probably assumes such. I was excited because i am a cord cutter and have 3 tvs with the 10.00 rabbit ears on each set. However because of the placement of the tvs i have different degrees of success with pulling in channels. One tv gets 40 channels and one gets 12. I could put this in the room that gets the 40 and get 40 channels on all tvs.
    The fire stick will only work with wifi. It will not even go to the homescreen without wifi. My roku will go to home screen without wifi. I have the roku that takes a flash drive and i can watch stuff from there. So if i lose the wifi i am going to have to start putting on rabbit ears and re-tuning everything.

  10. Tom McElvy says:

    No mention of a monthly fee for the schedule info and other info. It would seem that is there is not a fee, they would mention that, as it would be a HUGE selling feature! Any word on this?

    Also, rading their FAQs, I cannot stream to my iPad or iPhone across the internet. Am I reading that right? If so, that is a HUGE deal breaker for me!

  11. shwru980r says:

    The article mentions the possibility of being able to retrieve recordings from the Recast. Does this mean there is no DRM on the recordings?

  12. Michael says:

    So it cannot show me 1080i on my TV? It must always be downscaled to 720P?
    I have a Tivo Roamio OTA that does 1080i and that scales perfectly to my 4k TV.

    • shwru980r says:

      You have to stream over WIFI with the Recast while the Roamio OTA is using an HDMI connection.

      • Michael says:

        I don’t think Amazon is making this reduction in video resolution very clear to people. Including my question to them on facebook. 720 just doesn’t look at good on my 4k tv as 1080. Until 1080 is supported I will stick with the Tivo Roamio.

    • Jim says:

      Does the TiVo Roamio support 5.1 surround sound?

  13. AR says:

    stupid question, but i will ask it again anyways
    as someone who has never paired an echo device with a fire tv device i want to know if i will be able to to use my echo dot 2nd gen’s to control this thing to change channels on my 1st gen fire tv sticks
    of if changing channels by voice will only work with the fire TV voice remote

  14. hegemon13 says:

    The recording/transcoding system seems like a terrible design that provides the worst combination of storage use and playback performance. Ideally, the device should transcode to H.264 while recording, not while playing back. This would allow for much smaller file sizes compared to MPEG2, and therefore many more hours of recording capacity. It would also mean that the device would not have to transcode during playback, so the number of playback streams would be limited only by the storage bandwidth. And because the stored files are smaller, even the read performance on the storage would be improved.

    Everything about this smacks of a rushed design intended, first and foremost, to lock users into Fire devices for playback. HDHomeRun is still a much better option.

  15. Jerry says:

    Where is your Amazon source for the support for Dolby 5.1 that you advise in this article? I cannot find this specification anywhere on the Amazon Recast website, or the Amazon FAQ’s.

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