Clearly not impressed with Apple's recent update to its Apple TV media streamer, Amazon today unveiled a new, updated Fire TV settop box that will incorporate Alexa, its own digital personal assistant, as well as support for 4K UHD videos, something the Apple TV will lack, at least for the time being.
And unlike Apple TV, which is now priced at either $149 or $199, depending on internal memory, the new Amazon Fire TV player will retain its $100 price when it becomes available on October 5th. (The company is accepting preorders starting today.) Amazon says that Alexa will be rolled out to current Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick owners via a free software update.
The upgraded Amazon Fire TV wasn't the only announcement made this morning. Amazon also unveiled a new $50 Fire TV Stick, which also gets Alexa and new voice remote, plus a slate of new tablets, including a much-rumored $50 model call the Fire.
Even though the old Fire TV was no slouch in the speed department—it was among the faster, most responsive players in our streaming media player Ratings—the new model gets a 64-bit quad-core processor and a dedicated graphics processor, making it 75 percent more powerful than its predecessor, Amazon claims. Other specs include 802.11ac MIMO Wi-Fi, 8GB of onboard storage for games and apps, plus the ability to add up to 128GB of extra storage via its microSD card slot.
Fire TV's support for 4K video and HEVC coding, a new, more efficient compression standard that can handle higher-resolution video, isn't surprising give that Amazon's Prime and Video streaming services offer 4K content. The company is the only major streaming player to include UHD support from these services, as well as from Netflix. (The Nvidia Shield, a game machine masquerading as a media streamer, also supports 4K videos.) In addition to 4K shows and movies, Amazon says, 1080p content will also be encoded in HEVC, which means you'll be able to receive higher-quality HD streams even at lower broadband speeds.
The addition of Alexa—the voice-powered, cloud-based digital assistant that made its first appearance in the Amazon Echo Bluetooth speaker—means that Amazon Fire TV's voice-recognition features will get an upgrade. In addition to being able to search for content using natural language commands, you can speak into the remote to ask Alexa for all kinds of information, ranging from sports scores and traffic updates to music selections, with corresponding content displayed on your TV screen. Amazon has been steadily increasing Alexa's capabilities, and we fully expect the technology to include more hub-like control of elements within the home.
One other cool feature, called Mayday Screen Sharing, lets a technician gain remote access to your Fire TV to answer questions, walk you through operations, or perform diagnostics and fix problems remotely. The permission-based service is free, and operates
24/7, 365 days a year.
The new Fire TV Stick, which comes with a voice remote and Alexa, will be priced at $50 when it starts shipping October 22nd. (The current Fire Stick is still available, priced at $40.) The new Fire TV Stick has a dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, Dolby audio, and improved Wi-Fi performance, Amazon says. Since the Fire TV Stick lets you to connect to Wi-Fi networks that require a password—such as a hotel room—without installing additional software, you can bring it along with you when you travel.
To go along with the players, Amazon also announced a new, optional Fire TV game controller, which has voice search, improved game controls, plus an audio jack for private listening, something championed by Roku in its Roku 3 player. Amazon is also offering a $140 Gaming Edition of the Fire TV, a bundle that includes the player, the game controller, a 32GB microSD card, and two games.
New Fire Tablets
Amazon's announcements weren't only about streaming players. Three new tablets—the Fire tablet, Fire Kids Edition, and Fire HD 8 and 10—were also unveiled. The low price of the $50 Fire tablet is likely to generate the most buzz, as it includes a quad-core 1.3GHZ processor, a 7-inch wider-angle IPS display, front- and rear-facing cameras, and up to 128GB of expandable storage via its microSD slot. Have a bunch of kids at home? Amazon is offering a six-pack of the tablets for $250, a $50 price break. And for parents whose kids have outgrown Amazon FreeTime, there's now an Activity Center that lets you track their activities, such as what website they're visiting and how much time they spend playing games. The Activity Center will be offered as a free Fire OS update in the coming months.
Amazon is also offering two new Fire HD tablets—at 7.7mm, the slimmest Amazon tablets so far—with either 8- ($150) or 10.1-inch ($230) widescreen HD displays. Both have 1.5Ghz quad-core processors, stereo speakers with Dolby Audio, front- and rear-facing cameras, and microSD card slots for up to 128GB of expandable storage. The Fire HD 8 comes in four color choices—black, magenta, blue, or tangerine—while the Fire HD 10 is available in black or white. All the new Fire tablets start shipping September 30.
Finally, the new Fire HD Kids Edition—at $100, $50 cheaper than last year's model—bundles the new Fire tablet with an updated kid-proof case, one year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, plus a collection of human-curated, age-appropriate websites and YouTube videos. The package is backed by a two-year warranty.
Of course, we'll be getting all these products into our labs as soon as they become available. We're especially excited about comparing the new Apple TV to the new Amazon Fire TV to see how they compare, particularly since on paper they're the two most competitive new players. If you're thinking of getting a new streaming media player this fall, let us know which one and why in the comments section below. And check back later for our full evaluations of the newest Amazon media players and tablets.
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