During Amazon’s annual Devices and Services keynote, the company revealed a refresh to its Fire TV Stick 4K products. We were also given a look at the newest addition to the tech giant’s product family, the Fire TV Soundbar.
With the introduction of new Fire TV products, Amazon is also upgrading the user experience when interacting with menus and Alexa’s integration. Much of this revolves around deep generative AI enhancements. It was revealed during the event that Amazon has upgraded Alexa using an advanced large language model (LLM). This brings surprisingly new ways of interacting with the Fire TV’s user interface.
We had the chance to go hands-on with Amazon’s new Fire TV products. Amazon’s recent hardware showcase revealed the second-gen Fire TV Stick 4K and Fire TV Stick Max. At first glance, there isn’t much here. Both streaming sticks look identical to their predecessors. However, Amazon’s refresh takes place under the hood, with many long overdue new features.
At a baseline, Amazon is improving the processing power of the entry-level Fire TV Stick 4K and the Max. From the sounds of it, this may only be a minor improvement but a step up nonetheless. HDR10+, Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision support are also included. There’s also the addition of Wi-Fi 6e support. Ideally, this should make streaming content more speedy and responsive in many homes.
On top of the Fire TV Stick 4K, I also got a chance to take a look at the Fire TV Soundbar. It has a fairly modest design, capable of being mounted on a wall or resting atop a media centre. However, despite its size, it packs a pretty significant punch. During the on-site demo, I listened in as a representative showed off the soundbar’s audio. While an open-space showroom filled with journalists in conversation isn’t the best environment to test audio, I saw the potential of the Fire TV Soundbar.
While the dialogue was a bit muffled, the range in volume and bass was distinct. One of my core complaints I have with soundbars is the disparity between volume and dialogue clarity. I could see it being a viable option in a more practical living room setting. However, much like any audio device, it’ll take a more pragmatic approach to testing in order to know for sure. Fortunately, Amazon is delivering the soundbar at a reasonable cost. So, if you’re not finicky with balanced audio levels and want some deep bass, you could find yourself more than happy with the Amazon Fire TV Soundbar.
With an optical port, the device is compatible with any contemporary manufacturer’s display, Amazon confirmed. There’s also Bluetooth and HDMI with ARC and eARC support. Plus, Amazon has integrated physical buttons on the top of the soundbar, which is great. I’ve long forgotten what it’s like to have access to tactile buttons on a soundbar instead of remote or onboard touch-sensitive buttons.
Hardware is only one main aspect of the Fire TV line this year. Software is also getting a major overhaul thanks to the addition of generative AI. Amazon Fire TV is adding a new ‘Continue Watching’ row on the Home Screen. It’s a nice perk that it pulls from all your installed streaming apps. Theoretically, if you’re rewatching Succession on Crave but want to catch the latest episode of Ahsoka on Disney+, these tiles can be found on the Home Screen. This gets rid of the need to bounce between apps.
Alexa and its new generative AI functionality are playing a significant role in Fire TV. Users will be able to search for content and find suggestions all by having fluid conversations with the virtual assistant. For instance, in a practical demo we took part in, I opted to find a movie directed by Christopher Nolan. I asked, “Alexa, find me a movie directed by that guy who made Inception.” I was brought to a screen featuring Memento, Interstellar, and other Nolan-made films in seconds. I asked a number of other search-related queries and received accurate recommendations. From asking Alexa for genre-specific titles to shows featuring a specific actor, Alexa delivered on all fronts.
While also a neat party trick, there are several practical uses to gain from this feature. If you can’t remember the name of a movie or want to go down a rabbit hole on an actor’s filmography, Alexa’s new features are great. Adding to that, these new AI-powered features can also tap into third-party streaming apps. Unfortunately, many of the apps showcased in the demo were U.S.-exclusive services like MGM+, MAX, and Peacock.
Finally, Amazon is also using AI to enhance its Ambient Experience. The feature, which turns your TV into an in-home art gallery is being expanded. With the addition of 100+ new images to the gallery collection, AI Art support is being added. Users will soon be able to upload an image and use it as a personalized background. Adding to this, Alexa can use generative AI capabilities to transform the image using various art styles like watercolours or Monet-inspired.
Unfortunately, all software features, including Alexa’s AI enhancements, won’t be available for the foreseeable future. The first step in the planned rollout is to deliver these improvements to users in the U.S. later this year.
The Amazon Fire TV Soundbar is also available to order now for $199.99. Shipments are already being fulfilled in Canada.
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