Amazon is officially in the TV set business.
After years of selling Fire TV devices that plug into third-party HDTVs and teaming with TV makers for Fire TV-based products, the ecommerce giant is rolling out the first-ever Amazon-built TVs: the Amazon Fire TV Omni Series ($410 and up), which provides hands-free Alexa voice navigation, and the value-priced 4-Series smart TV line ($370 and up). They’re set to ship in October.
In addition, Amazon is baking in new features to the overall Fire TV platform, including bringing TikTok content to the platform in the U.S. and Canada; letting users access Netflix’s shuffle-mode feature via Alexa; and being able to ask Alexa for movie or TV show recommendations. The company also is bowing the new Fire TV Stick 4K Max ($55), which it says is more powerful than the prior-generation model and is Amazon’s first streaming media player to launch with Energy Star certification and Wi-Fi 6 support.
The new Amazon-branded Fire TV sets offer customers more choice and will let the company more easily integrate new features, according to Daniel Rausch, VP of Amazon’s Entertainment Devices and Services division. “At Amazon, deep selection is important,” he said.
With the Fire TV Omni line, “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,” Rausch added. He declined to identify manufacturing partners for the Amazon-designed TV sets.
Even as it launches its own branded TVs, Amazon is expanding its partnership with Best Buy — which currently sells more than 80 Fire TV television models in the U.S. and Canada. The two companies are introducing new Fire TV-based TVs from Pioneer (to begin shipping in late September) and Toshiba, which is building smart TVs that use a four-microphone array for far-field Alexa support like the Amazon Fire TV Omni. The new Toshiba Fire TV televisions are expected to be available in the spring of 2022.
Moreover, the Amazon-built TVs will be available — starting next month — in the United States exclusively at amazon.com and Best Buy. Customers who buy Fire TV smart TVs on Amazon can continue to pick them up at their local Best Buy store.
The baseline Fire TV Omni Series, with support for 4K Ultra HD, HDR10, HLG and Dolby Digital Plus, will be available in three screen sizes: 43-inch ($409.99), 50-inch ($509.99) and 55-inch ($559.99). The Fire TV Omni Series with Dolby Vision will be available in 65-inch ($829.99) and 75-inch ($1,099.99) models.
The Fire TV Omni’s hands-free Alexa voice controls are always available — whether the TV is on or off or when using an HDMI input. Users can ask Alexa to tune to a specific show or live event without needing to specify channel, streaming service or input device to switch to. The feature also lets you use voice commands to control playback, closed captions and brightness, manage TV or soundbar volume, switch inputs, and more.
The Fire TV Omni Series integrates smart home features like Live View Picture-in-Picture, which allows you to check your smart cameras without interrupting your TV viewing and can show your Ring video doorbell view when someone is at the door. Later this year, a new smart home dashboard for Fire TV will let you view and control compatible connected devices throughout the home.
Amazon is betting that the ambient, hands-free voice controls will give it an edge in the competitive TV market. The new sets will go up against major smart TVs from major brands like Vizio, Samsung and LG — as well as Roku-based TVs from TCL, Hisense and others.
The Amazon Fire TV 4-Series line (which includes an Alexa voice remote but doesn’t have hands-free Alexa voice support) will be available in 43-inch ($369.99), 50-inch ($469.99) and 55-inch ($519.99) screen sizes. Starting Thursday, Amazon is offering a $110 discount on preorders of the 50-inch Omni and 4-Series models for a limited time.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max, a 4K Ultra HD streaming media player with Dolby Atmos and Wi-Fi 6 support, also is set to start shipping in October in the U.S. Priced at $54.99, the new HDMI-based adapter provides 40% more processing power than the Fire TV Stick 4K, providing smoother streaming in 4K and cloud gaming with Amazon Luna, per the company. It comes with the latest Alexa Voice Remote and is Amazon’s first streaming stick to offer Live View Picture-in-Picture.
Along with the updated hardware lineup, Amazon is tricking out Fire TV devices with new Alexa features and support for third-party services.
Fire TV was the first streaming platform to support TikTok videos, initially for customers in the U.K., Germany and France. Soon, according to Amazon, Fire TV users will also be able to access TikTok content in the U.S. and Canada, including via an autoplay feature that serves up a continuous content feed.
This fall, Amazon will add the ability to launch Netflix’s Play Something shuffle feature by saying, “Alexa, Play Something on Netflix.” The voice-activated Play Something capability will be exclusively available on Fire TV.
In addition, the company is adding an entertainment-specific Alexa Conversations feature to Fire TV, to let you query Alexa for movie or TV show recommendations based on your installed video services. “Alexa, what should I watch?” will launch in beta this year, according to Amazon. And, for the first time on any smart TV, Zoom video calling will be available natively later this year on the Fire TV Omni Series.
Finally, Amazon announced a new feature for its Luna game-subscription service: Luna Couch, which lets subscribers invite friends to play multiplayer titles together — even if they don’t have a Luna account.