With smart TVs quickly replacing streaming pucks, sticks and dongles as the primary means of streaming video in the living room, Amazon is using its annual September home entertainment hardware refresh to make its biggest push into the smart TV business yet.
Amazon on Thursday officially announced its own Amazon Fire TV-branded smart TVs, introducing two "Amazon-built" product lines specifically tailored to its Alexa voice technology.
The higher end Amazon Fire TV Omni series, debuting in October, will feature 4K screens in 43-, 50-, 55-, 65- and 75-inch iterations, with retail pricing starting at $410 and topping out at a relatively tame $1,100. The Omni series will include 4K Ultra HD (UHD) resolution, as well as support for HDR10, HLG and Dolby Digital Plus.
Of course, Amazon has been licensing its Fire TV OS to smart TV makers for several years. In fact, as part of its latest product refresh, Amazon also announced Thursday new Fire TV-enabled models from Toshiba from Pioneer.
But as anyone who looks at the roller coaster ride rival Roku endures on the Nasdaq can tell you, merely licensing your OS has disadvantages--as in, your smart TV OEM partner could one day decide to ditch you for Google.
As The Verge and other Amazon-literate tech blogs note, Amazon is also working with a smart TV OEM partner for the new Amazon-branded sets--most likely China's TCL.
But the "Amazon-built" agenda seems to be about more thoroughly embedding Amazon features--specifically Alexa--into smart TVs, in an architecture that Amazon seems to own.
Notably, the new Fire TV Omni sets will include far-field microphones and enhanced Alexa voice features. The Alexa integration not only helps users do basic things like change channels, and interact with other Amazon home management technology, such as Ring doorbells, Amazon sees it as a leg up in the Holy Grail race to become The Streaming Company That Masters Search and Recommendation.
Here are the Alexa features Amazon that Amazon says will soon be enabled in its Fire TV sets:
> “Alexa, what should I watch?”: Need a new source for great movie and TV recommendations? Alexa Conversations for Fire TV allows you to ask Alexa for a recommendation just like you would a friend or movie expert. Alexa offers tailored TV show and movie recommendations from your favorite streaming apps like Prime Video, allowing you to refine searches by genre, actors, award-winning movies, and more, all from the comfort of your couch. “Alexa, what should I watch?” will launch in beta this year.
> “Alexa, Play Something” from Netflix: Exclusively available on Fire TV and debuting this Fall, Netflix is making it easier to find something to watch. Netflix members love the “Play Something” feature today, and soon you can simply say, “Alexa, Play Something on Netflix” from the Fire TV home screen and Netflix will launch a show or movie you might enjoy.
> “Alexa, play TikTok”: Fire TV was the first to support TikTok videos on streaming media players in the UK, Germany and France, and soon, you’ll be able to access TikTok content in the U.S. and Canada. No more huddling around a cell phone to see the latest viral video—from your Fire TV, you can view and discover TikTok feeds and use AutoPlay, which will serve a continuous content feed without interruptions. Just say, “Alexa, play TikTok” to get started.
> Discover more with X-Ray on Prime Video: X-ray is an exclusive feature on Prime Video that helps you learn more about what (or who) you’re watching on Fire TV. While watching Cinderella, just ask Alexa for information in the moment, such as “Alexa, who is this actor?” to see details about the actors in that scene appear at the bottom of your screen. You can also get bios, filmographies, facts, trivia, character backstories, photo galleries, bonus video content, and more, so you don’t have to pick up your phone.
For more price-conscious consumers, Amazon is also debuting the Amazon Fire TV 4-Series of 4K smart TVs, a lineup fo 43-, 50- and 55-inch sets starting at $370.
"We’ve reimagined what a TV can do by building it with two of our most popular experiences at the core—the intelligent always-available power of far-field Alexa, and Fire TV’s content-forward approach to entertainment,” said Daniel Rausch, VP of Amazon Entertainment Devices and Services, in a statement. “Our new Fire TV Omni Series smart TVs, with hands-free access to Alexa, make controlling your TV faster, simpler, and more natural."
Also buried within Amazon's bigger smart TV announcement Thursday is news of a next generation HDMI stick, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, which Amazon says is 40% more powerful than its first streaming stick, and comes with support for WiFi 6.
Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. His reliable mid-range jump shot, deft ambidextrous post-up game and tough interior defense have been criminally overlooked.
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