How cord-cutters can tap into the Amazon Fire TV's hidden channel-surfing powers

With a bit of setup, you can use a Fire TV to browse across all your favorite channels.

Jared Newman / IDG

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One of the neatest features on Amazon’s Fire TV devices is incredibly easy to overlook.

I’m talking about the Channel Guide, which lets you browse through a grid guide of your favorite live TV channels straight from the Fire TV home screen. You don’t need to waste time loading an app just to see what’s on, and you can even build your own meta-guide that covers both streaming and over-the-air channels.

Although the Channel Guide got a major upgrade last month with new streaming sources such as Sling TV and YouTube TV, it still doesn’t get prominent billing in the Fire TV menu system. And to really make the most of it, you’ll need to customize exactly which channels appear in the grid. But if you’re in the habit of channel surfing during moments of indecisiveness, it’s worth taking a few minutes to set it all up.

Finding the Fire TV Channel Guide

There are three ways to access the live TV guide on Fire TV:

  • Under the Home tab at the top of the home screen, scroll down to “On Now,” then scroll left and click on “Guide.”
  • Under the Live tab, scroll to the bottom and select “Channel Guide.”
  • On your Alexa remote, hold the mic button and say “Channel Guide” or “open the Guide.”
ftvguide1 Jared Newman / IDG

Scrolling left from the home screen’s “On Now” row reveals a link to the Fire TV’s Channel Guide. 

You should now see a cable-style grid guide with up to 14 days of programming that you can scroll through, and any apps you’ve installed that support Amazon’s guide should show up in this menu automatically.

Fire TV Channel Guide: Sources and limitations

As for which apps and streaming services support the Channel Guide on Fire TV, it’s complicated.

If you’ve replaced your cable bundle with a live TV streaming service, most of those should appear in the guide, including AT&T TV Now, Hulu + Live TV, Philo, Sling TV, and YouTube TV.

ftvgrid2 Jared Newman / IDG

Most live TV streaming services can feed into the Fire TV’s grid guide.

A couple of free streaming services—Pluto TV and Red Bull TV—also integrate with the Fire TV’s Channel Guide. The former only includes about 50 of the channels you’ll find inside the actual Pluto TV app, but it’s still a nice way to supplement the number of channels you can flip through.

A handful of premium streaming services can stream their live channels through the guide as well, including HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, Epix, and PixL. The drawback here is that they’ll only show up when you subscribe through Amazon Channels, not through their individual apps. If you’ve signed up directly through a service’s app, you might want to drop the subscription and sign up again through Amazon to get the live TV integration. (You can see a list of all the Amazon Channels you’ve subscribed already to via this link.) 

Perhaps best of all, the Fire TV Channel Guide can display over-the-air channels if you have an Amazon Fire TV Recast DVR or an Amazon Fire TV Edition television with an antenna plugged in. That means you can combine antenna channels with streaming services such as Philo or Sling TV in one overarching guide.

recastguide Jared Newman / IDG

With a separate Fire TV Recast box, you can stream local channels onto your Fire TV Stick, streaming box, or smart TV.

You can also get antenna channels into Amazon’s guide through AirTV, a networked TV tuner that integrates over-the-air channels with Sling TV. Because Sling TV works with Amazon’s Channel Guide, the antenna channels from AirTV should show up as well.

Keep in mind that the Live tab on the Fire TV home screen also features live content from other sources, including Twitch, MLB TV (via Amazon Channels), and NBA League Pass (also via Amazon Channels). Unfortunately you won’t see content from these sources inside the grid guide.

Using the Fire TV Channel Guide

Once you’ve got some sources in the Channel Guide, your next step should be to bookmark some favorite channels and perhaps hide the ones you’d never watch.

  • Head to the Live tab on your Fire TV home screen, then scroll to the bottom and select “Settings.”
ftvguide2 Jared Newman / IDG
  • Select “Manage Channels,” then choose one of your TV sources to bring up a channel list.
ftvmanage2 Jared Newman / IDG
  • Click on any channel in this list to add it to your favorites, or hit play/pause to hide it from the guide.
ftvfavs Jared Newman / IDG
  • Repeat this process for all your other channel sources.

Now, head to the Channel Guide and hit the menu button on your remote. From the pop-up menu, select “Filter Channels,” to view just your favorites or just one specific source. You can also add more channels to your favorites list from this same menu.

ftvgridfav Jared Newman / IDG

In most cases, selecting a channel from the guide will take you into the corresponding app, and you won’t be able to browse Amazon’s guide while watching live TV. (The exceptions to this rule are Pluto TV, Fire TV Recast, and direct antenna input on a Fire TV Edition television, as these sources play directly through Amazon’s menu system.) To get back to Amazon’s guide after you’ve selected a channel, just hit the back button once or twice.

One other caveat: Although Amazon’s Channel Guide replicates the channel-surfing experience of cable, it doesn’t do DVR for streaming TV. To record live streaming channels, you’ll still need to jump into your live TV streaming app of choice and use whatever DVR features it includes. Amazon’s grid guide is nice, but without more elaborate workarounds, the dream of a truly universal streaming menu remains elusive.

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