Amazon announced two new Fire TV products during its big online hardware event on Thursday. Amazon’s Fire TV gadgets compete directly with Roku and Apple TV, offering people access to popular apps such as Disney+, Netflix, Hulu and more.
Amazon says people are spending more time in front of TVs than ever before due to the spread of coronavirus. It sees the TV as the center of the household and wants to get even more features in front of users to keep them coming back. The new features may help it compete more aggressively against Roku, which still has a 50% market share of global connected TV streaming hours with strong growth opportunities, according to an analyst note from Deutsche Bank in August.
The new Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick Lite will be the first of Amazon’s streaming gadgets to offer a redesigned home screen. The new features announced Thursday will be available later this year, starting with these devices, but it will not be on them when they begin shipping next week. The changes will also come to existing Fire TV devices, beginning in the first quarter of 2020.
Here’s what you need to know.
Easier to find stuff to watch, new user profiles
Amazon’s vice president and general manager of Fire TV, Sandeep Gupta, told CNBC that Amazon received feedback from users suggesting the home screen was too cluttered. Amazon worked on a redesign to make it easier to find stuff to watch and to quickly jump into live TV.
“Today, you can search for comedies, or stuff by Tom Cruise, but we’ve tried to make a landing spot for when you don’t know what you want to watch. This shows you stuff that’s free, movies and TV shows, broader categories, apps and more,” Gupta said. Gupta said the quick access to a TV guide will provide a familiar experience for people transitioning from cable TV to streaming.
The new software supports up to six user profiles. That means you can log into your profile and see the shows and movies Amazon recommends to you, while your significant other can use a separate account for their own personalized recommendations. You can also create profiles for children that will show only kid-friendly content you’ve approved. Previously, you’d have to switch profiles inside each app, such as Netflix or Hulu, to see content recommended to you inside those apps.
The latest software provides a new option to see your Ring or Alexa-ready video cameras on your TV through picture-in-picture — kind of like seeing a small window on your screen — while you’re watching movies or TV shows.
Finally, Amazon is expanding its Alexa voice assistant on Fire TV. Gupta told CNBC that there are billions of requests to Alexa and that it has seen an 80% growth in requests on Fire TV over the last year, although he did not provide specific figures.
“It’s a good indication people like Alexa and are using it more to manage shopping routines, recipes, whatever it is, in a centralized place,” he said. Alexa’s responses now pop up and cover just a small part of the screen so you can keep watching or doing what you were without being interrupted.
Video chat for Amazon Fire TV Cube
Separately from the Fire TV sticks, though still part of the new software that will roll out to other Amazon Fire TV gadgets during the first quarter of 2021, is new video chat support.
People who own the second-generation Fire TV Cube will soon be able to add a Logitech webcam for video chat through Fire TV. It’ll support Alexa video calls and, later, Zoom. It won’t work on the Fire TV sticks since it requires a USB port that’s only found on the Fire TV Cube.
New Amazon Fire TV Sticks price and release date
The Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick Lite are relatively similar. They’ll cost $39.99 and $29.99, respectively. The Fire TV Stick offers support for newer technologies, such as HDR and Dolby Atmos if your TV and speakers support them. Neither support 4K video and are capped at 1080p, so don’t buy them if you have a 4K TV and want the best quality possible.
If you need 4K, look at the Fire TV Stick 4K, which costs $49.99 but doesn’t ship with the new software. The Fire TV Stick 4K will receive the new software at a later date, but the new Fire TV features announced Thursday will first roll out on the new Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick Lite later this year. The Fire TV Stick Lite is more basic, without Dolby Atmos and some of the more advanced Wi-Fi support for more stable streaming. Both are said to be 50% faster than the last-generation Fire TV Stick, however, and both come with voice remotes that you can use to speak with Alexa to open movies, TV shows, apps and more.
Pre-orders for the new Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick Lite begin on Thursday and they’ll begin arriving to customers on Sept. 30.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Amazon said its new Fire TV features will be available later this year on the new Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick Lite and at a later date on the Fire TV Stick 4K. The new software will not be on the new devices at the time they are shipped next week.
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