In a market inundated with completed streaming video gamers from the likes of Roku and Google, Amazon has discovered a solution to stand out by integrating its ever-improving voice assistant, Alexa, with its Fireplace TV platform.
The result’s an intrepid experiment in the way forward for residence leisure, one during which voice can – and rightly ought to – exchange the distant.
The Amazon Fireplace TV Dice is greatest described as a blueprint for the longer term, one that may look totally realized – or half-built – relying on what companies and options you employ each day. In case your video streaming wants start and finish with Amazon’s video service, there may be possible no higher gadget on the planet proper now … nonetheless, for those who’re planning to observe movies on companies like YouTube, YouTube TV and iTunes – or, if you would like a streaming participant with the entire most cutting-edge AV applied sciences – you’ll must look elsewhere.
None of that by itself is a damning criticism towards the Fireplace TV Dice. As a streaming video participant, it provides a reasonably strong set of options and its brawny permits for 4K HDR streaming, even when it lacks the help for high-end video codecs like Dolby Imaginative and prescient.
Ultimately, it’s not the or the function set that limits the Amazon Fireplace TV Dice – it’s Alexa that time-and-time once more proved to be the largest assist, and the largest fault, of Amazon’s huge enterprise into voice-controlled video territory.
Launch date and value
The Amazon Fireplace TV Dice is on the market within the US beginning on June 21 2018 for a value of $119.99 (round £90, AU$160). Amazon hasn’t mentioned when – or even when – it should convey the Fireplace TV Dice to a different territory outdoors of North America, however we’ll actually revisit this part when Amazon makes that announcement.
Earlier than we push on, we must always state two clear caveats to this overview.
The primary is that, whereas a lot of this overview will give attention to the utilization of Alexa and the way it compares to the standard expertise of utilizing a distant management, it’s value noting proper up on the prime that the Fireplace TV Dice does, in reality, include a distant.
Which means irrespective of how pissed off you might be with Alexa and its potential that will help you navigate the confines of the Fireplace TV OS, at any time you may merely decide up the distant and use the navigation buttons to get you the place you need to go.
The second is that Alexa, whereas being the marquee function of the Fireplace TV Dice is on the market on nearly each present mannequin of the Fireplace TV and Fireplace TV Stick by way of the voice distant – each of which can be found for lower than the marginally costly Fireplace TV Dice.
These two key factors are straightforward to brush over within the race to judge Amazon’s voice-first expertise. Reviewers are eager to berate, reward and critique the Fireplace TV Dice, however realizing that its marquee function is discovered elsewhere for much less and distant can – and can – typically be a extra pragmatic possibility over utilizing voice instructions assist put the participant in perspective.
After all, that mentioned, merely having the choice to shout voice instructions at a small, box-shaped participant with out a distant in hand is the distinctive promoting level of the Amazon Fireplace TV Dice, and with its eight far-field microphones, the Fireplace TV Dice is extremely good at selecting up what you’re placing down – pretty much as good or even perhaps higher than the Amazon Echo Present or Amazon Echo are on the process.
To point that Alexa is listening, the Fireplace TV Dice has a glowing blue LED that sits alongside the highest fringe of the gadget, above which you’ll discover 4 management buttons for muting, elevating and decreasing the quantity and paging Alexa. The perimeters are coated with a reflective, black plastic that may smudge simply for those who’re too handsy whereas putting the system close to your TV.
Talking of placement, you’ll must be quite considered when integrating the Fireplace TV Dice into your property theater setup – it may well’t be too near your audio system lest they overwhelm the built-in microphones, however nonetheless must be inside line of sight to your soundbar, AVR and TV, because it might want to management these by way of a multi-directional infrared blaster and HDMI CEC.
Whereas that will sound like a attempting course of, it may be carried out comparatively rapidly and when you’re via it, you’ll have a reliable management middle to your residence leisure setup. Alexa, via its technological wizardry, can change the enter of your TV, increase or decrease the quantity of your soundbar and alter the channel in your set-top field utilizing solely voice instructions, and whereas the end result isn’t revolutionary, it helps make the Fireplace TV Dice a complete package deal and one we discovered ourselves having fun with – even when Alexa, inevitably, allow us to down.
When you’re setup it’s time to browse the streaming participant’s pool of content material – which, fortunately, is a reasonably deep aquifer: You’ll discover Netflix, HBO, Starz, Hulu, PlayStation Vue and Crackle, alongside smaller companies like The CW, NFL Community, AMC and extra, with new companies added repeatedly.
The notable exception right here, and the one which feels probably the most egregious omission, is YouTube – a mainstay on almost each different streaming gadget.
Should you’ve been following the tech information cycle, you’ll realize it’s as a result of Amazon and Google had a quick falling out not too long ago with one of many penalties being Google pulling YouTube from all Amazon units. There are, after all third-party methods to get on YouTube, however with out native help you’ll be hard-pressed to search out an app that helps the service in 4K.
YouTube’s absence is felt – as is iTunes’ – however they aren’t completely important to the Fireplace TV Dice’s performance … that spot is reserved for Amazon’s personal platform Amazon Prime Video. It’s one thing you’ll run into time and time once more, and whereas Amazon has taken critical steps to focus on content material from its different companions, you may’t escape the cloying feeling that Amazon Fireplace TV Dice is simply one other solution to promote Prime subscriptions.
Should you’re a Prime subscriber already, that received’t notably hassle you. You’ll discover few areas which you can’t entry and few exhibits and flicks on the varied residence screens which you can’t watch. Should you aren’t, nonetheless, the Amazon Fireplace TV Dice won’t be the most effective match and you need to as an alternative flip to Roku for a extra service-agnostic streaming field.
Lastly, it’s value noting that Amazon Fireplace TV Dice has the power to play some gentle video games as properly. The video games are normally akin to what you’d discover on the App Retailer or Google Play Retailer (which is smart as Fireplace TV OS is a variation of Android), however Amazon’s choices are smaller in quantity and lesser in high quality to what you’d discover on, say, the Apple TV 4K or Nvidia Protect, each of which supply high-quality (however nonetheless ephemeral) video games.
So far as efficiency goes, the Fireplace TV Dice is a reasonably powerful competitor, able to taking part in again 4K Extremely HD content material at 60 fps with HDR10 help and Dolby Atmos for audiophiles seeking to immerse themselves in a film or TV present’s soundtrack.
All these applied sciences work in tandem with the Fireplace TV Dice’s Quad core ARM Cortex-A53 1.5GHz CPU, Mali-450 MP3 GPU and Amlogic S905Z SoC to supply gorgeous visuals and quick load instances all through the OS. Going from a present on Netflix, again to the house display screen and right into a film on Amazon takes a matter of seconds on a 15Mbps or larger Wi-Fi connection, with mainly zero pop-in points alongside the best way.
Pop on a 4K HDR present like All or Nothing: Manchester Metropolis or The Grand Tour, and also you’ll be handled to a visible showcase of what the Fireplace TV Dice can do: The opening trailer for The Grand Tour shimmers as scenic vistas and million-dollar vehicles race previous the display screen, whereas the cerulean blue of Manchester Metropolis’s jerseys radiate ravishing shade tones.
Editor’s be aware: Quickly, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan will provide one other 4K HDR possibility with Dolby Atmos – a primary for Amazon Prime Video. When it arrives, Amazon could have lastly caught as much as Netflix with the Fireplace TV Dice because the flagship gadget to observe Prime Video content material.
After all, discovering 4K HDR content material isn’t at all times straightforward. So, ought to you end up watching HD/SDR movies, the Fireplace TV Dice does a great job working along with your 4K TV to upscale them for the upper decision, typically inflicting them to look simply pretty much as good as in the event that they had been in native 4K.
On a number of events we had been satisfied what we had been watching was truly 4K HDR when in reality it was simply common upscaled HD. This occurred whereas watching a All or Nothing: All Blacks, which surprised us with its extremely correct colours and expanded distinction.
After all, all of this reward comes with two large caveats. The primary is that, as a result of the Extremely is a 4K HDR streaming gadget, you truly have to personal and use a 4K HDR TV. This sounds foolish and but there will likely be various individuals who purchase an Extremely anticipating 4K HDR efficiency on a 1080p TV. Belief us, it occurs.
The second is that you simply’re going to wish that 15Mbps or larger connection to observe movies in 4K HDR. You may be capable of scrape by with rather less than that, but when the Fireplace TV Dice detects a a lot slower connection pace, it received’t feed you 4K content material.
It doesn’t matter what setup you’ve, you received’t be capable of get Dolby Imaginative and prescient from the Amazon Fireplace TV Dice – an enormous drawback in comparison with the Apple TV 4K which provides each Atmos and Imaginative and prescient in a single package deal. Imaginative and prescient, keep in mind, provides a barely higher model of Excessive Dynamic Vary that helps brighter TVs and masters content material on a scene-by-scene foundation quite than utilizing a set vary for the complete movie or present.
Let or not it’s mentioned that nobody wants Dolby Imaginative and prescient and content material right here will look almost pretty much as good with out it however, wouldn’t it have helped? Definitely. On a system that does a lot else proper, nonetheless, it’s exhausting to carry one minor omission towards it.
Alexa as a sensible assistant
Simply as essential as strong video copy expertise is the Amazon Fireplace TV Dice’s potential to host Alexa – Amazon’s sensible assistant. We’ve seen Alexa on a half-dozen platforms up to now (typically solely in audio kind) however none of its prior iterations have shined as brightly because the Fireplace TV Dice, which provides the proper homestead for the sensible assistant.
We name it “good” as a result of a big-screen TV provides visible cues along with the audio you’ll hear on different platforms – an important part when you’ve skilled it.
Having a display screen means you’ll be capable of see merchandise before you purchase them for those who use your Amazon units for purchasing; seeing the lyrics for any track you play on Prime Music and exhibiting you your entire choices once you seek for exhibits and flicks on Prime Video.
Greater than easy comfort, having a video part opens a plethora of latest expertise. When you’ve got a suitable sensible digital camera, you should utilize the Amazon Fireplace TV Dice to point out you a reside video stream of what your digital camera is seeing. If you’d like restaurant suggestions or film instances, these too will pop up on the display screen, alongside their scores and distance from your property. Alexa might actually do all of this by way of voice, however having a display screen to show visible info radically improves the usability of the system.
Sadly, nonetheless, Alexa continues to be in improvement and its interpretation and navigational expertise are typically … properly, missing.
One instance of that occurs once you go to observe Netflix. You’ll be able to completely ask Alexa to open the Netflix app however, when you’ve got a number of accounts setup, you received’t be capable of use your voice to pick your specific account and might want to find your distant.
One thing equally irksome occurs when the Fireplace TV Dice goes into sleep mode: Should you pause video for a couple of minutes, the Fireplace TV Dice will cease all video that’s on-screen and activate a screensaver. Whenever you return, you may’t ask Alexa to “resume” or “resume what I used to be taking part in” and should return and find that content material. That’s simpler mentioned than carried out for exhibits like, say, Stranger Issues, however far tougher for those who’re watching a present with an extended title.
Making issues worse, Alexa, for all its developments in the previous couple of years, nonetheless requires exact language to function. To start out an episode from the start, you may’t “Alexa, begin this episode over” and should at all times say “Alexa, begin over” to get the end result you need. It’s that approach for fast-forwarding or rewinding or playback controls of any kind – you both have to say it in Alexa-speak or decide up your distant and do it your self.
All of this occurs on prime of Alexa’s regular misinterpretations and foibles. Asking questions outdoors of primary trivia can nonetheless typically result in the dreaded response of “I don’t know find out how to assist with that but” and typically even whole non-responses to inquiries.
It’s not that Amazon’s rivals – Google Assistant and Siri – don’t have these issues, they do, however they really feel extra pronounced right here than on some other platform.
The Fireplace TV Dice is, by far, our favourite Amazon streaming gadget – higher in so some ways than the Amazon Fireplace TV dongle that was launched in 2017. That’s largely as a result of the truth that the Fireplace TV Dice not solely provides hands-free controls for video playback, however can even do all of the heavy lifting of controlling your property leisure setup. Add to that the simple-but-brilliant visible cues Amazon has added for Alexa’s primary talent set and you’ve got a really robust contender for the most effective streaming video participant.
The place the Amazon Fireplace TV Dice goes awry is with its lack of the most recent streaming applied sciences – sure it has Dolby Atmos, however you received’t discover Dolby Imaginative and prescient as a part of the package deal. Alexa, for all of its strengths nonetheless fails on the most important of moments, requiring you to revert again to the distant the minute you’re feeling comfy with an all-voice managed future.
Should you can look previous the minor foibles, the Amazon Fireplace TV Dice is a brilliant, visually adept streaming video participant, one that would sooner or later exchange the distant … and the Roku, too. Till that day comes, nonetheless, you may simply need to hold each.