By Dan Moren
September 17, 2015 7:32 AM PT
FireTV not going quietly into the night
I’ve been pretty vocal about my use of the Amazon Fire TV over the past several months—a feeling that was reinforced the other night when I tried to watch HBO GO on my second-generation Apple TV and it crashed three times in the first 2 minutes of an episode. That said, I’ve been casting amorous glances at Apple’s new set-top box, and I think it likely to dethrone the Fire TV in my living room.
But Amazon’s hardly rolling over. The retail giant announced today a new version of the Fire TV, which brings a few new features, among them two heavy hitters: 4K video support and Alexa integration.
With all the improvements to the Apple TV, one thing that didn’t get added was support for 4K video: Apple’s box still maxes out at 1080p. Granted, there’s not a huge amount of streaming 4K video yet, but that’s likely to change rapidly.1 Amazon lists support for 4K on its Prime Video and Amazon Video2 services, as well on Netflix.
The Alexa integration comes right on the heels of the newly-announced Apple TV’s Siri features. Alexa, Amazon’s intelligent assistant, has only thus far lived inside the Amazon Echo, and the voice features of the Fire TV were limited to doing a simple voice search. Now, however, you’ll be able to do some of the same things that Siri on the Apple TV allows for: “Show me movies with Benedict Cumberbatch”3 for example. That’s in addition to many of Alexa’s basic features, like sports and weather; however it doesn’t appear to support timers and alarms, according to The Verge. And I doubt it supports clever features like the “What did he say?” feature demoed at last week’s event, which jumps back 10 seconds and turns on captions. (The Fire TV Stick also got the software updates, including Alexa, though I don’t believe it will support 4K.)
Even better, since Alexa is part of the latest update to Fire OS, existing Fire TV and Fire TV Stick owners get it for free, so I’ll be putting it through its paces when I get the chance.
The intelligent assistant integration is a major strategic advantage for Apple and Amazon. As much as the Roku might succeed as a video player, I simply don’t think it has the resources to devote to creating a similar feature. It might be able to roll out some simple voice search, à la Fire TV version 1, but consider that Apple and Amazon have devoted a ton of time and energy into developing Siri and Alexa for other projects, before transitioning them to their TV platforms. Roku, on the other hand, only really builds set-top boxes; building an intelligent assistant from scratch would be challenging.
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