Amazon's Fire TV devices have been massively successful over the years - in some cases even more so than Echo and Kindle. So it comes as no surprise that Amazon has a pretty big stake in this hardware division.
And it's not only in the position to sell you the device, but the content through Amazon Video too.
That's why plenty was made of the new version of the Fire TV, launched at its Seattle HQ alongside a huge refresh of its Echo devices.
Pocket-lint was one of just a handful in the room, to check out the all-new Fire TV with Alexa voice remotebefore this device goes on sale in the UK and US in November.
Amazon Fire TV preview: Design
- See Amazon Fire TV Amazon US - Amazon UK
- Much smaller design
- Hides behind the TV
- Controlled via remote with Alexa
The days of having a set-top box in a cabinet under your TV seem to be dwindling. The new Fire TV is just as powerful as the box that launched in 2015, but considerably smaller and in dongle form.
Measuring just 65 x 65 x 15mm and weighing 87g, it fits in the palm of your hand, designed to hang out the back of your TV via a connected HDMI cable that you plug into a spare HDMI socket.
You can see where Amazon got the inspiration from, with those Mountain View rivals and the Chromecast adopting exactly the same approach. The advantage this brings is that there's no box cluttering up your house. You will need to connect it to a power socket, but everything you need is in the box.
Because the device is designed to be hidden, there isn't really that much to the small black box. There are no controls, no on lights, nothing. Instead all those controls are off-loaded to the accompanying remote. You get a navigational clicking circle, playback controls, and back, home, and menu buttons - it's the same Alexa voice remote that you get with the latest Fire TV Stick, so the big thing is that you're getting voice control too.
At the top is the all important Alexa button that allows you to talk to you Fire TV to perform voice searches, playback commands and other tasks.
Amazon Fire TV preview: 4K HDR
- HDR10 support
- 60 frames per second
A new model means more power, and the new Fire TV can deliver 4K HDR at 60fps. That's better than the 4K-only approach of the older model. The Fire TV has gone with the HDR10 format when it comes to 4K HDR and the box doesn't support Dolby Vision like Apple's 4K Apple TV.
That might sound bad, but is it not. HDR10 is widely supported across almost every modern 4K TV, while Dolby Vision is only supported by a fairly limited number of sets.
On the box, 4K HDR content is available via Amazon Prime, Netflix and other supporting apps depending on the subscription you have. You can buy 4K movies from Amazon too, but unlike Apple's offering there are no free upgrades from titles you've already bought in HD, and the prices are considerably more expensive.
We've enjoyed Amazon 4K HDR content on a number of smart TVs over the last year and it's very good. We look forward to watching more on Amazon’s own box, but at this stage have no concerns that it won’t deliver.
Amazon Fire TV preview: Performance
- 8GB internal storage
- Faster processor
- Dolby Atmos support
To be able to deliver that fantastic 4K picture, the device has been beefed up on the spec front. The new Fire TV features a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of memory, 8GB of internal storage for games and apps and Dolby Atmos support. That will bring a rich audio experience, but really depends on having content with Atmos encoding and a sound system that offers support. Currently, there aren't many sources of Atmos content that you can stream, but this might signal that it is about to change.
In our demo we were able to see the menu interface and control in action, like quick switching between apps following voice commands (under two seconds), and everything seemed very quick and slick.
We weren't able to play any games or really push the system, although we look forward to testing the box when we get it in for review.
The beefed up processor clearly helps though, and it felt noticeably quicker as we watched our Amazon demo dude navigate around the menus.
Amazon Fire TV preview: Voice control
- Alexa baked in
- Support to connect Echo
- Search for shows across apps
The processor has the added benefit of making voice control a much smoother experience. Like with the Fire TV Stick, it's centre stage of the experience with you being able to perform a number of searches and similar functions to the Amazon Echo speakers. However, the speed of use is better this time out.
Plus, thanks to further behind-the-scenes work with the various content apps available, you can simply ask Alexa to suggest dramas or comedy, while saying "Alexa play Narcos" will jump you straight into the Netflix app because the Fire TV knows that's where it's available. Yep, you won't need to know what streaming service it's available on.
It's very intuitive.
Although not available at launch in the UK, you will soon be able to use an Echo, Echo Plus, Dot or other Echo device to bark orders at your TV instead. That means, in most instances, you can ditch the remote altogether.
If you've already taken the step of buying a Echo, the new Fire TV is a very logical move. The interface is clean, the 4K HDR crisp and there is plenty of content to enjoy too.
Where Amazon's Fire TV really appeals though is the connectivity with Alexa and what that can bring once you start adding other pieces of the puzzle to the mix.
Whether that's voice controlling the playback of your movies and TV shows in the same way many have become accustomed to with music via Echo, or merely stopping mid flow to check on a smart camera you've got elsewhere in the house, it's one of the key stand out features. It's here that you can see the real merit of Amazon's Alexa ecosystem and what the Fire TV offers.
While Apple has chosen to offer cheap movies and the lure of casual gaming, Amazon's Fire TV offers a much stronger smart home experience and it's almost half the price.