Beating top OTT streaming platforms such as Roku and the Apple TV to the punch, Amazon on Thursday introduced a new version of the Fire TV that supports 4K/Ultra HD and Amazon's Alexa platform, along with a “Gaming Edition” of the Fire TV and an array of new tablets.
Amazon, which offers a small but growing library of UHD content from its own service as well as from Netflix, said the 4K-capable Fire TV is available for pre-order for $99.99, with plans to start shipping the model on October 5.
Examples of shows available to the new Fire TV in 4K format include Amazon’s Transparent, Better Call Saul, American Hustle, and Amazing Spiderman 2, as well as Netflix’s Narcos. The new Fire TV supports HEVC/H.265, a codec that is about 50% more bandwidth-efficient than H.264. Amazon said it will also use HEVC to deliver HD streaming in 1080p format “in the coming months.”
Amazon noted the new 4K-capable device is 75% more powerful than the previous generation and that it will also bake in support for Alexa, the a voice-based platform (also built into the Amazon Echo) that provides access to digital music, weather, traffic and other information. Also on board: 8GB of on-device storage (plus a microSD slot for up to 128GB more), a MediaTek 64-bit quad-core processor, a dedicated GPU, and 802.11ac MIMO WiFi.
Amazon’s 4K-powered launch comes amid the backdrop of continued UHD activity percolating among a set of major U.S. MVPDs.
DirecTV recently introduced its first UHD-capable box, the 4K Genie Mini, which works in conjunction with the DirecTV Genie HD DVR (model HR34 and above). Pricing on the new device varies per customer, but the value of the 4K Genie Mini is $99. DirecTV also offers UHD fare by linking its Genie HD DVR to 4K TVs from Samsung and LG Electronics, and plans to extend similar support to Sony 4K sets. Among other U.S. providers, Comcast offers a 4K streaming app for Samsung TVs, and is closing in on the launch of 4K-capable boxes for its X1 platform. Dish Network isnearing the debut of a 4K service that will run on a new UHD-capable Joey box.
Amazon said the new Fire TV now offers more than 3,000 “channels,” apps and games.
Amazon also introduced the Amazon Fire TV Gaming Edition, a $139.99 option that bundles the new Amazon Fire TV box, a new game controller (featuring a headphone jack and voice search), a 32 GB microSD card, and two games: Shovel Knight and Disney’s Ducktales.
Amazon’s new Fire TV lineup comes the week after Apple introduced a new, more open Apple TV device that does not support 4K/UHD. Roku is rumored to be working on a 4K-capable version of its streaming platform. According to Parks Associates, Roku led the OTT streaming device sector with 34% of units sold in 2014, followed by the Google Chromecast (23%), Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV.
Amazon is also launching the Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote, offering that duo for $49.99, with shipments slated to begin October 22. Amazon still sells the Fire TV Stick (without the voice remote) for $39.99.
Amazon also blasted out a variety of new Fire tablets:
-Fire tablet – a $49.99 device (or a “six-pack” for less than $250) with a 7-inch display, front and rear facing cameras and up to 128GB of expandable storage.
-Fire HD8 and Fire HD 10 – HD tablets with 8-inch or 10.1-inch widescreen displays, and Fire OS 5 Bellini, a new UI that integrates more deeply with Amazon-exclusive services.
-Fire Kids Edition – a $99.99 device tailored for kids, including a new child-proof case a year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited (20,000 curated, age-appropriate websites and YouTube videos), that follows up last year’s version, which sold for $149.