Amazon’s new Fire TV looks more like a Chromecast than a typical set-top box. It’s a small rectangle attached to an HDMI cable, meant to go right behind your TV. But the tiny thing packs heat: It supports 4K and HDR, Dolby Atmos sound, and all the games and apps on the Fire TV. And most important, it supports Alexa, which Amazon hopes will be the remote control of the future.
Amazon’s announcement was full of little digs at the new Apple TV. It’s $69.99, not $179.99—for $79.99, you can get a Dot and a Fire TV together. Amazon’s hardware chief Dave Limp reminded a roomful of reporters that Fire TV did 4K 18 months ago, while Apple just announced it two weeks ago. And instead of a big, bulky box underneath your TV, this one hides behind it.
Small streaming dongles are wildly popular, from the Roku Express to the Chromecast Ultra. But Amazon has a distinct advantage in the form of Alexa. The new Fire TV can be controlled with a voice-enabled remote or another Alexa device, and Amazon’s worked with Hulu, Showtime, and others to let you control all your content with your voice. It’ll quickly switch between apps to find the right thing to watch, instantly picking up where you left off. And you can watch live TV, too: “Go to Food Network,” for instance, takes you straight to Hulu’s live TV. You’ll have to pay for a lot of services to make it all work, but it seems promising.
As Amazon continues to invest heavily in video content, from the NFL to potentially James Bond, the Fire TV becomes a massively important device. Not only is the TV the center of many people’s homes, it’s the screen in front of which they spend the most time. It’s a great way to present Amazon content to people, and to train them how to use Alexa—it starts as a killer universal remote, and morphs over time into something much better. As we’ve seen from the Apple TV, voice control can make streaming TV wonderful, and nobody does voice control as well as Alexa.