Amazon is officially in the TV business. The company has announced its first lineup of Amazon-branded 4K Fire TVs, which will begin shipping in October. This is a major expansion from the company’s “Fire TV Edition” collaborations, where its popular streaming software comes preloaded on sets manufactured by other TV makers. But with its new Omni and 4-Series, Amazon is describing these as “Amazon-built TVs.”
The Omni series is the higher-end of the two, and beyond offering better picture quality, its other key selling point is hands-free voice control. Amazon includes far-field microphones in each model of the Omni series, which comes in 43, 50, 55, 65, and 75 inches. (Only the 65- and 75-inch models have Dolby Vision, but the others at least get HDR10.)
The company believes that by building the TV itself, it can create a more seamless Fire TV user experience than ever before. That’s led by the content-forward Fire TV interface and wide app selection, but Amazon believes that Alexa voice controls add a major convenience factor. On Omni sets, voice commands are always available — even if the TV is off. These voice commands can be used for finding something to watch, like usual, but you can also adjust the TV’s brightness, volume, or switch inputs with Alexa.
Amazon says that over the last two years, customers who used voice features engaged with content twice as much as those who didn’t. And built-in mics are becoming more common on TVs; Sony already makes some models with them, and TCL recently introduced new Google TVs that will ship with far-field microphone arrays.
The Fire TV Omni sets also include picture-in-picture for checking your smart home cameras, and you’ll see your Ring doorbell feed whenever someone is at the door. Amazon says it will be adding a “smart home dashboard” later this year for more comprehensive controls over your connected home gadgets.
Here are other new features that are in the works for Fire TV, which will come to these TVs and the company’s other streaming devices:
“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.
If you already own Echo speakers like the Echo Studio (or a pair of regular Echos), those can be wirelessly linked to Omni-series TVs to provide richer audio than the TV is otherwise capable of on its own. This Alexa home theater audio mode supports streamed content, but Amazon says it also works across cable boxes, gaming consoles, and over-the-air antenna programming. It’s a feature that’s also available on the cheaper Fire TV 4-Series sets. Amazon says a pop-up will appear in the Alexa app for compatible sound devices.
Amazon might call these “Amazon-built” TVs — and the company’s advanced far-field mic tech is definitely present — but it’s also very likely that Amazon has struck partnerships for much of the other hardware here. I’m almost certain that TCL is manufacturing one or both of these TV lineups. They definitely have that TCL look to them, and the port layouts between something like the TCL 6-Series and Fire TV Omni are nearly identical:
If that’s the case, these aren’t TCL’s latest and greatest panels: Amazon’s Fire TVs lack HDMI 2.1 features like 4K at 120Hz, though they do support auto low-latency mode — which Amazon says will also help the responsiveness of its Luna cloud gaming service. Amazon also isn’t really going into specifics about whether they’ve got full-array local dimming or other display tech details. Similar to the existing roster of Fire TV Edition sets, the prices for Amazon’s first TVs reflect a focus on providing a good, if not top-tier picture for your entertainment.
Fire TV Omni Series pricing:
75-inch: $1,099.99 (with Dolby Vision)
65-inch: $829.99 (with Dolby Vision)
Fire TV 4-Series pricing:
Alongside its first “self-built” TVs, Amazon and Best Buy are also announcing more Fire TV sets from Toshiba and Pioneer. Toshiba’s models, coming in spring 2022, will integrate far-field microphones, and Pioneer will release budget-priced 43-inch and 50-inch sets. (This is “Pioneer” in branding only, which might be hard to swallow for those who fondly remember the Pioneer Kuro plasma from many years ago.)
In some ways, the Omni and 4-Series represent Amazon’s most ambitious step into the living room yet. But even for customers who aren’t shopping for a new TV, the company’s goal remains having a Fire TV product for everyone. Between these TVs, streaming sticks, and products like the Fire TV Cube, Amazon’s lineup is getting quite expansive.