Amazon on Thursday announced its first self-branded smart TVs and a new 4K streaming media player called the Fire TV Stick 4K Max.
The tech giant has previously partnered with Best Buy to sell various Toshiba and Insignia TVs that run Amazon’s Fire TV operating system. It has also launched TVs in India under its AmazonBasics brand.
Here’s a list of size and pricing details for each of the new Amazon TVs:
Amazon Fire TV Omni Series
Amazon Fire TV 4-Series
Amazon says each model will be available in the US starting in October at Amazon and Best Buy, just ahead of the holiday shopping season. The 50-inch 4-Series and Omni Series TVs will be $110 off as part of a limited-time preorder promo starting today.
Each of the new TVs uses an LED panel with a 4K resolution and support for the HDR10 and HLG high dynamic range standards. Only the 65- and 75-inch Omni Series models support Dolby Vision HDR, however. Those two also have a design with slimmer bezels. All models support Dolby Digital Plus audio as well.
The rest of the specs appear to be somewhat basic. Each set includes four HDMI ports, including one HDMI 2.1 port that supports eARC for easier connectivity to soundbars and other AV equipment, though there are no advanced gaming features like variable refresh rate (VRR) or the ability to play in 4K at a smoother 120 Hz refresh rate. Instead, each panel maxes out at a more common 60 Hz. Amazon confirmed that the TVs do not support full-array local dimming, either, which suggests their HDR performance and overall contrast will be a few steps below that of the best midrange TV panels.
Last week’s Insider report said that the new Amazon TVs would be manufactured by third parties, one of which was popular Chinese TV maker TCL (which also makes a TV called the 4-Series), though Amazon would not divulge specifics when asked about its supply chain for the new models.
TVs built around Alexa
Instead, Amazon primarily wants to push the new sets’ software features, particularly their tight integration with the company’s Alexa voice assistant. The Omni Series sets have a far-field microphone array built in, making it possible to summon Alexa just by saying, “Hey, Alexa,” without using a remote, regardless of whether the TV is on or off. (The usual Alexa voice remote still comes included, though.) We’ve seen similar functionality built into other smart TVs before, and the rival Google Assistant can be accessed hands-free on smart TVs from TCL and the like.
Fom there, you can direct Alexa to search for content, pause shows, adjust the volume or TV brightness, change to a different HDMI input, control Alexa-compatible smart home gadgets and view security camera feeds in a picture-in-picture overlay, activate customizable “routines,” and so on. A new “Alexa Conversations” feature arriving in beta form later this year will let the assistant offer you customized movie and TV show recommendations when you ask, “Alexa, what should I watch?” Integration with Netflix’s “Play Something” shuffle feature—which quickly pulls up a new movie or TV show the service thinks you’ll like based on your past viewing habits—will arrive later this fall, and non-olds will be able to use Alexa to launch and navigate the TikTok app. You can hook up a USB webcam to the TV for video calls, too, and Amazon says official Zoom support will come to the Omni Series later this year.
Also of note, those with Echo speakers can hook them up to the TVs through the Alexa app and use them as wireless TV speakers. Amazon says this feature will work on the Omni Series, 4-Series, and other Fire TV models and support everything from the higher-end Echo Studio to older-generation Echo Dots (though the larger and newer speakers will generally sound better).
There is a physical mute switch on the bottom bezel of the Omni Series that cuts off its built-in mics, but after a number of data collection mishaps from the Echo device family over the years, an Amazon TV anchored by the experience of using always-on microphones doesn’t seem like the most sensible choice for the privacy-conscious.
As with most of its Alexa equipment, Amazon is selling these TVs on the idea of a simplified user experience, seemingly more than pure image quality. And since these are the first widely available Amazon-branded sets, we won’t be able to fully judge the image quality until the TVs are out in the wild. The company says the main difference between the Omni Series and 4-Series is how you interact with Alexa—via the far-field mics on the former and a traditional voice remote on the latter—more than how they actually look (though the Omni Series should be a step up from the 4-Series). And while some features like Zoom calling will hit the Omni Series first, most of the Alexa- and smart-TV-related features will also be available on the 4-Series and other non-Amazon-made Fire TV sets.
All that said, Fire TV as a platform is still a mostly known quantity. We’ve found it lacking in notable ways compared to Google’s TV OS, particularly when it comes to search result accuracy, as it prioritizes Amazon’s own Prime Video service over other streaming apps and stuffs ads into the UI. Many will still prefer the comfort of a remote over frequent voice commands. But like similarly streaming-focused TVs running Roku OS, past Fire TV models have proven popular, and like most Alexa devices, these new sets are priced aggressively. If you’ve already thrown in your lot with Amazon, the new models could be a good value, depending on how their picture quality shapes up. If nothing else, it seems safe to assume the new sets will be highly visible to prospective TV buyers when they browse through Amazon’s storefront.
A new Fire TV Stick, plus more Fire TVs
If you’re sitting on an old Fire TV streamer, the new Fire TV Stick 4K Max might be of interest. As its name suggests, this is an upgraded variant of the popular Fire TV Stick 4K, now running on a beefier 1.8 GHz quad-core processor, 750 MHz GPU, and 2GB of RAM (compared to a 1.7 GHz chip, 650 MHz GPU, and 1.5GB of RAM before). Amazon claims it has “40 percent more power” than the Fire TV Stick 4K and will slot in as the most performant Fire TV Stick in the company’s lineup as a result. The device supports newer Wi-Fi 6 networking for those with that equipment, too, and it’s said to use 15 percent less power while in low-power mode. Otherwise, the general functionality of the device is largely unchanged.
Amazon is particularly pushing the device as an optimal way to use the company’s fledgling Luna game-streaming service, which also received a number of feature updates on Thursday. The same caveats noted above regarding the Fire TV OS still apply, but the Fire TV Stick 4K Max will ship in October and be priced at $54.99. That’s $5 more than the MSRP of the three-year-old Fire TV Stick 4K, which will remain available.
Finally, both Amazon and Best Buy announced that new Pioneer- and Toshiba-branded 4K Fire TVs are in the works, though details are fairly light on both. The former will come in 43- and 50-inch sizes and be priced at $369 and $469, respectively. They’ll support HDR10 and Dolby Vision, with the smaller model hitting in late September and the larger one coming in early November. The Toshiba announcement is more of a teaser than anything; the companies say these sets will have built-in mics like the Omni Series, support local dimming, and come in 55, 65, and 75 inches. But they’re only “expected by spring 2022,” with no pricing details available.
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Listing image by Amazon