Amazon is joining Roku and Google in embedding the capabilities of media-streaming dongles and set-top boxes into TVs.
At CES, value-priced TV brands Westinghouse Electronics, Seiki and Element Electronics each launched four Amazon Fire TV Edition 4K UItra HD TVs, which are targeted to cord cutters. They run on the Amazon Fire TV OS, access the same Cloud-based content as Fire TV media streamers, and integrate over-the-air TV channels, streaming content, and apps into a single onscreen interface. The UI makes it unnecessary to toggle between separate streaming and over-air broadcast menus, the company said.
The TVs can also be controlled by voice via an Alexa-enabled remote.
Each brand, owned by Tongfang Global of Diamond Bar, Calif., will offer 43-, 50-, 55- and 65-inch Fire-equipped TVs, which will be available before the end of the second quarter. Prices weren’t disclosed.
Element TVs are available in such chains as Walmart, Target and Meijer. Westinghouse TVs are primarily sold through Best Buy and Target, and Seiki TVs are primarily sold through Amazon and hhgregg, said Tongfang marketing VP Sung Choi.
The Fire TV models will offer some features not available in the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Fire TV set-top box, including the integration of streaming and over-the-air TV content into a single UI. The TVs also sport a different look and feel plus more memory, a spokesman said.
The TVs’ Alexa Voice Remote taps the Alexa Voice Service to enable natural-language voice control of the TVs’ media-streaming apps, over-the-air channel changing, and “skills,” including control of smart-home devices from more than 50 companies, including select Samsung and GE major appliances.
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A total of more than 3,000 skills can be activated by voice with voice responses, including purchasing items on Amazon, ordering an Uber ride or Domino’s pizza, asking questions of Wikipedia, creating shopping lists, checking personal calendars, getting traffic reports and the like.
Consumers can use their voice to select more than 300,000 TV episodes and movies available through the TVs’ video apps, including Amazon Video, Netflix, HBO Go, Showtime Anytime and Sling TV, which offers live TV-channel streaming.
The voice remote lets users search across apps for TV shows, movies, actors and genres. Alexa on Fire TVs “provides a similar if not identical voice experience to Alexa on Echo-family devices [speakers],” a spokesman said.
In the future, Amazon plans to deliver Alexa control of Fire-equipped TVs through the far-field microphones built into the $179.99 Amazon Echo and $49.99 Echo Dot Wi-Fi/Bluetooth speakers, enabling users to engage in a conversation with Alexa from across a room, Westinghouse said.
Amazon also plans deeper integration of Alexa voice control into core Fire TV entertainment experiences, such as scene navigation and voice control of third-party apps, Westinghouse noted. Amazon also wants to coordinate media playback across Alexa-enabled devices.
TV features: The TVs support such 4K streaming services as Netflix and Amazon. Specs include 3GB RAM, 16GB of onboard storage, built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, four HDMI 2.0 inputs supporting 60Hz 4K video and HDCP 2.2, Ethernet port and two USB inputs, one of which is USB 3.0. They lack high dynamic range (HDR) and wide color gamut but will be Netflix-certified.
Smart-home integration: For smart-home adopters, the brands that integrate with Alexa read like a who’s who of smart-home suppliers. Suppliers of Alexa-compatible smart-home hubs include HomeSeer, Ingersoll Rand’s Nexia, Insteon, Logitech Harmony, Lowe’s Iris, MyFox, Samsung SmartThings and Wink.
Control4, which sells custom-installed smart-home systems, recently added Alexa voice control, as have ADT, Alarm.com and Vivint, the suppliers of professionally installed security and smart-home systems.
In addition, multiple brands of smart plugs, in-wall dimmer switches, smart bulbs, thermostats and door locks talk to Alexa.